A small group gathers in a parking lot with bikes resting against their legs. Laughter and constant discussion fill the breezy air as the fourth Pedal Peoria ride of the year begins.

Each summer Sheldon Schafer and Brian Cunningham lead tours throughout the Peoria area to anyone who has a bike and a free evening. This summer the ride events are at 6 p.m. every Thursday, apart from July 4 and Aug. 1.

“These rides show the hidden treasures of Peoria,” Schafer said, from arts and sciences to nature and history. The series was started back in 1998 with Schafer and friend Eric Hutcherson, who came up with the idea to make Peoria a bike-friendly city.

“Back then there wasn’t a lot of choices,” Schafer said. “Now there are dozens of bike trails in the area.”

Peoria resident Arthur Ching has been a regular rider.

“The weather is so great and I like being outside,” Ching said.  The changing of the scenario and the stimulation of all the senses is what makes this better than being indoors. It allows me to get to know the place I live a lot better.”

Ching is not the only rider who noticed that the Pedal Peoria ride series is much more than bicycle riding.

“I use to travel a lot and go on cruise ships and go see the cities and have a tour,” Mike Hinchman, a Peoria resident, said. “You go back home in Peoria and go ‘I don’t know much about my town,’ and I lived here most of my life. You get to see things you never thought were in Peoria. There is a lot of history here.”

Cunningham created a gargoyle-and-dragon ride last year because he noticed how many were in the city. He led the June 13 ride in East Peoria and joked that he still needed to remind himself of the routes.

“The rides do repeat every year and I still can’t memorize the routes like Sheldon does,” Cunningham said. “All of our rides have a cultural, historical component.”

Unlike more racing-oriented bicycle clubs, Pedal Peoria is a recreational ride where anyone can ride for an average of 10-14 miles long.

“You are not here to be in competition with one another,” Kim Bryan-Russell, a Peoria resident, said. “It is something you can do and enjoy and not feel like your standing on a treadmill going over and over again.”

The rides are meant to be enjoyable and on July 18, one of the best rides according to Schafer is the 50’s Soft Serve Ride. The ride will stop at 2 soft serve ice cream stands, ending at Lou’s Drive In.

“The ice cream ride actually came out under 10 [miles] probably because we were eating so much ice cream,” Schafer said with a laugh.

All one needs to do to participate in the events is to arrive on time, with a bike and cycling helmet. This Thursday will be a garden-and-prairie ride. Ride leaders will meet attendees at the Luthy Botanical Gardens parking lot.

The remaining rides and themes after this week are: Gargoyles and Dragons (June 27, leaving from Tower Park in Peoria Heights); West Peoria (July 11, from Peoria Riverfront Museum entrance at Water Street); 50’s Soft Serve (July 18, from the corner of Lake Street and Knoxville Avenue); Springdale Cemetery (July 25, from the PRM's Water Street entrance), and a Solar System ride (Aug. 8, from the Donovan Park parking lot).