Young, old, fast and slow turn out for fifth SpokeFest

Bicyclists head west on Spokane Falls Boulevard on Sunday morning during the fifth annual SpokeFest. (Colin Mulvany)

They pedaled bicycles and tricycles. They rode tandem. They pulled baby trailers or had toddlers riding in a back seat. Just about every mode of pedal transportation was in evidence Sunday during the fifth annual SpokeFest that drew 2,000 riders to downtown Spokane.

Participants had their choice of a one-mile family ride through Riverfront Park or road rides of nine, 21 or 47 miles. About 400 people signed up for the 47-mile route that left downtown at 8:30 a.m. The rest of the riders left at 9:30 a.m.

Event organizer Bill Bender took up position at the finish line shortly after 10 a.m. as a one-man welcoming committee, applauding finishers and giving them high-fives as they rode across the finish line.

The earliest finishers were from the nine-mile route or the more advanced bikers on the 21-mile route, Bender said. The fastest riders on the longer route had an average speed of 21 miles an hour, “which is smoking on a bike,” he said.

Several years ago, Bender was on the city of Spokane’s bike advisory board when he and other board members began considering how to increase interest in bicycling. Their thoughts turned to Bloomsday, which everyone from serious runners to slow walkers can do. “We thought of doing something along the same vein,” he said.

Thus the nonprofit SpokeFest Association was born. The first SpokeFest five years ago attracted 1,200 riders, and nearly half of them signed up the day of the event, Bender said. Now the event includes vendors, food trucks, live music and a bicycle-safety rodeo. It is run by volunteers.

Susan Pugh, an avid cyclist, has ridden either the 21- or 47-mile route at SpokeFest every year. But this year she signed up to do the family ride in Riverfront Park with her young grandson, Caden Pugh, who was perched on a tiny bicycle with training wheels attached.

“We’ve had him out on the Centennial Trail a couple of times,” she said. She thought SpokeFest would be an excellent introductory experience. “What a great place to start,” she said.

Pugh and her grandson waited patiently in a group of families with young children by the Rotary Fountain while Otto, the Indians mascot, worked the crowd before the ride. “It’s awesome,” Pugh said of SpokeFest. “I hope it just continues to grow. I think it’s a great opportunity for all levels of cyclists.”

“Remember, this is a ride, not a race,” volunteer Jeffrey Adams said before the family ride began. “The most important thing is to have fun.”

Kate Holland, of Mead, was also in the family ride group with her husband, her two sons and the two sons of a friend. The youngest was perched on the back of Holland’s tandem bike. The family rides together frequently, she said.

As the families wound their way through the park, more and more riders crossed the finish line on Post Street by City Hall. Some pedaled at a leisurely pace while others blazed by at full speed. Bender confessed that his hand would be sore from high-fives by the time the course closed at 2 p.m., but said he always stays until the end. “Last year at 2 p.m. we had a 7-year-old girl come in off the 47-mile course with her 9-year-old brother,” he said. “They bit off a little bit more than they could chew, but they made it.”

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