Richard Hughes stares through a window at Full City Coffee Roasters on 13th Avenue and High Street. The rain drizzles down in a steady pour, a late weather shift for the rainy Willamette Valley. A cup of green tea steams a floral aroma out of his hand as he watches cars and bikes seamlessly interact at the intersection on the corner.
It’s intersections like this that Hughes works to make safe. As the president of the Greater Eugene Area Riders cycling club (GEARs), he works as a voice for the bike riders in the Eugene and Springfield area. Not only as an advocate, though; he is the Chief Operating Officer, group ride leader, financial advisor, and public relations spokesperson as well.
Regardless, after five years at the mantle, Hughes believes it is time for him to step down.
“My term is coming up at the end of November, and I’ve decided not to run again,” Hughes says. His glasses hang tight on the bridge of his nose, further exaggerating his J. K. Simmons-esque features. “We need a different perspective.”
Hughes rode his bike to work when he could down in California. It was tough sometimes riding a bike around Los Angeles county: drivers are dangerous, smog is thick, and bike regulations weren’t what they are now.
Hughes was, at his highest position, the Manager of the County recorder’s office and non-judicial county clerk. In short, Hughes approved, denied and worked with transfer taxes and related charges. He was so versed in the subject that he was able to write a handbook for other counties to follow.
“I became the Czar,” he says. His eyes get bigger with his smile as he reminisces of his past career.
In light of those developments, he believed that he performed the duties worthy of promotion and life-long employment.
“I thought I would still be working there — name on the door, rug on the floor,” Hughes says. “And, like most people that I know who retired early, I had a change of boss.”
Hughes’ change of boss was more than just a habitual change for him — the younger superior told the veteran Hughes that his performance was not up to standard and asked him to change. Priding himself as an understanding employee, Hughes asked his new boss what he wished him to do. He gave Hughes no advice or direction, and Hughes knew it was his time.
After leaving a job he anticipated being at for the rest of his life, Hughes wanted to escape from the bubble he created for himself. With a shot in the dark, he figured he would try his luck up north with his brother in Ashland, Ore. After “drifting” around southern Oregon area for a while, he wandered up north and discovered Eugene.
GEARs is coming up on 22-years-old, sustaining membership at a low but steady rate for 17 of them. By the time that Hughes got into office, there were less than 100 members, most of who were racers — and only racers.
“I tried to lead rides when I first got here,” says Hughes. “I would look away to check my bike or something, look up, and all of the riders would be gone. I would catch up to a couple of people who had popped a tire and ask them what happened.
‘We decided we didn’t want to take your route,’ they says (sic). That’s when the culture needed to change in the group.”
Hughes knew exactly how to change that culture; his 27 years of experience, many of which were managerial, helped him learn how to lead people. So, he began making the transition.
The first order of business was getting the club’s financials in order. Once again, his previous work experience helped him determine that GEARs was not only a non-profit club, but also a “bike charity.” Then, in order to get more of a public presence, Hughes worked with other members of the board in starting a commuting education course and a local business discount for GEARs memebers. When membership was low, he proposed a sort of diversion program to the city of Eugene for cyclists who get a ticket. When they are booked, they have the option to pay the fine or take his cycling education class. The court accepted, and GEARs furthered its stake in the cycling community.
“Richard has done a great job engaging, delegating, and making things happen at GEARs,” says Shane McRhodes, a fellow GEARs member and coordinator of Safe Rides to School, a Eugene advocacy group. “It takes leaders like him to keep a volunteer organization like this moving forward.”
Hughes has continued transforming the club. Now, GEARs is the public political voice for riders on the streets and the connection between bike riders and their city. Not only is Hughes beginning to work with the University of Oregon to create an iPhone app giving downtown bike tours for students, but he is also recruiting students from the University to serve on their board.
“I want to make a bridge with the community and the town and GEARs as the medium,” Hughes says. “GEARs is an older club — It’s a group of older guys. I’m thinking, ‘This is not what we represent.’ Of course, everybody looks at each other and laughs, asking ‘Yeah, what’s wrong with that?’ And, I says (sic), ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, but this club is either going to grow or it’s not going to exist.’”
Hughes has since recruited two University students who are taking their stand on the GEARs board.
“I’ll give them as much assistance or mentoring as they want,” Hughes says. “I’ll show them where the cookies are hidden, and they can go from there.”
Now, Hughes gets ready for his next adventure. He leads at least one ride a week, mapping out others that range from 15 to 100 miles for future rides. But, from now on they are all casual.
It’s time for Richard Hughes to finally retire.