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Senators Find Fellowship and Relief From Politics on the Bike Trail

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Beltway chatterers say Sen. Rob Portman is too boring to help presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney win the White House, but there’s one kind of trail on which the Ohio Republican defies conventional wisdom.

“Well, he’s not boring on a bike,” quipped Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), one of the Senate’s most avid bicyclists.

Kerry practically serves as the chamber’s ambassador of cycling, arranging long rides from his Georgetown home past Mount Vernon and back at otherwise tense moments.

He and Sen. Scott Brown went for a ride after the Massachusetts Republican captured the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat and broke Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority. The pair rode again on the day the Wall Street reform bill passed, with Kerry talking Brown into being the 60th vote to advance the bill.  And they reunited on a 110-mile leg of a charity race in the Bay State that same summer.

The bipartisan bike caucus expanded when Portman and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) joined the group in the middle of the intense and ultimately unfruitful super committee deliberations. And while no one is saying that the bikers are the next “gang of six” seeking to solve the Rubik’s Cube of revenues versus spending cuts, at least there is a small number of Democrats and Republicans talking to each other outside of the Capitol.

The group hasn’t gotten together in a while. Brown is engaged in an entirely different sort of race, trying to defend his seat against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Portman is deflecting a constant barrage of speculation that he could wind up as Romney’s running mate after successfully helping the former Massachusetts governor win key counties in Ohio’s March primary. There also was the logistical matter of winter.

“We’re planning it. ... We’re going out soon, we hope. It’s time to go,” Kerry said when asked when the group would ride next. “It’s a way to get away from the Senate and have a normal relationship and have fun.”

Many of the bike caucus Members express reverence for their colleagues’ cycling skills, even if they diverge in politics. Several aides, who asked for anonymity so they might speak more freely on the matter, conceded they usually decline to ride along because their bosses are pretty good for old guys.

And even if the rides have become more infrequent, observers say the ritual hearkens back to a time when lawmakers went home less frequently and spent more time in Washington, D.C., befriending colleagues with whom they sparred during the day.

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