Helmets and spandex riding gear may not sound like the most romantic things in the world, but on Sunday, couples boarded their bicycles and set out throughout Coral Gables to trace the historic love of city founder George Merrick and his wife, Eunice Peacock.
The expedition was part of Winter Wanders, a series of bike tours co-presented by the Coral Gables Museum and Bike Walk Coral Gables.
“There are obvious benefits to getting people outdoors cycling,” said Debbie Swain, vice chair of Bike Walk and a tour volunteer. “But the main thing is that it’s just fun. It’s a great way to see the city.”
The tours are offered on the third Sunday of each month for $10 a person, and each one sports a different theme — the result of collaborative brainstorming sessions between Bike Walk and the museum’s staff.
Past themes have included a “secret gardens” tour, which featured an expert from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, as well as a circuit of the Gables’ churches.
According to Caroline Parker Santiago, director of programs at the museum, the impetus for the bike tours came after museum director Christine Rupp led one herself.
“It was such a success — high turnout, beautiful tour — we realized the potential for doing it on a monthly basis,” Santiago said.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Sunday’s theme was “the romance of Coral Gables,” and riders stopped to learn about the various houses in which Merrick and his wife once resided.
“I brought a picnic basket for this,” said Marilyn Smit, who joined her husband on the tour for the first time. “We’ll have been together 34 years next month.”
After a brief spiel on safety and an introduction inside the museum, about 20 participants braved the brisk 50-degree weather and took off on their Raleighs, Treks and Townies.
Three volunteers from Bike Walk helped facilitate a safe ride as the group cruised down the road.
The first stop was 907 Coral Way — better known as the Merrick House — where Santiago taught participants about Merrick’s childhood and read from a book of his poetry as she leaned on her bicycle.
“He was quite the eligible bachelor,” she said, soliciting laughter from the crowd.
Other detours included the couple’s “honeymoon house” and their mansion across from the Granada Golf Course, which more recently served as the home of attorney Roy Black (known for his role in the 1991 William Kennedy Smith trial) and wife, Lisa Lea Haller (known for her role on Bravo’s reality TV show Real Housewives of Miami).
Finally, Santiago led riders to the home that Peacock lived in throughout the ’70s and ’80s, long after the death of her husband.
The owner of the home, Betsy McCoy, happened to be outside and treated participants to a peek of the backyard. She moved in with her husband, John Pallot, in January, unaware of the property’s historical significance.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I think that’s wonderful.”
The museum will now launch its Spring Pedals series, which includes a ride to Matheson Hammock Park for a BBQ, a tour focused on the city’s Spanish influence, and a route of Italian points of interest.
According to Santiago, the tours attract both avid cyclers and those who may not have ridden in a long time.
“We’re getting people active who typically wouldn’t hop on a bike,” Santiago said. “On every tour, someone has come with no air in their tires and we’ve had to fill them up.”
Conchita Gutierrez was one of those drawn to the tour for more than just the biking.
“I love the history of it all,” she said. “I’m really enjoying this.”
To Santiago, the success of the bike tours doesn’t come as a surprise.
“This city lends itself to bike tours very well — in the weather, in the urban plan, and in the historical, architectural and cultural richness,” she said.
It is recommended to RSVP ahead of time, as the tours can only serve a maximum of 50 people. Helmets are required for children under 16, and bicycle rentals are available across the street at No Boundaries.
There were no bicycles built for two on Sunday, but the tour culminated in a picnic lunch back at the Merrick House, where Marilyn and Rick Smit finally got to crack open their picnic basket and share some wine.