Inland Northwest cyclists are on roll with an expanding calendar of catered events that start in winter, freewheel through spring and shift to high gear heading into fall.
Fourteen area weekend bicycling events are scheduled in September alone.
Bicycling is riding a wave of popularity spurred by health organizations and harnessed by non-profit groups willing to stage events to benefit their charities.
The 14th Eight Lakes Leg Aches Ride, held annually on the first Saturday in August west of Spokane, registered 850 riders and raised nearly $75,000 for the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma Response Center.
“We grow a little bit every year in the number of riders and the donations we receive,” said Christie McKee, Lutheran Community Services events coordinator.
The ride featuring four routes ranging 15-75 miles in the Medical Lake area became even more attractive five years ago with sponsorship from Group Health.
“That allowed us to start and finish the ride at Group Health headquarters on top of the Sunset Hill,” she said. “Novice riders didn’t have to endure the long grade up Thorpe Road at the start and nobody had to ride down Sunset Hill with all the traffic at the end of the ride.
“Group Health opens their doors so riders have real bathrooms, tons of parking and a big canopy for getting out of the sun,” she added, noting some of the elements that set a ride apart.
Topping it off, the event was catered by Trezzi Farm’s Food and Wine from Greenbluff, producing post-ride penne pasta that got rave reviews.
“We also had Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a $1,000 bicycle donated for a raffle by ThisBikeLife,” McKee said. “All together, with great biking routes, it’s a wonderful event.”
August is one of the slower months for organized rides, but there’s always competition for fitness-related participants. Eight Lakes was held the same day as the Troika Triathlon and the Long Bridge Swim at Sandpoint.
“With state and federal funding cuts, an event like this is a huge benefit in helping us serve people who need our services,” McKee said.
Based on sign-ups, cyclists apparently see the charity as a win-win partnership.
SpokeFest, Spokane’s annual second Sunday in September event, debuted with 1,200 cyclists in 2008 and continues to ride a wave of popularity as the region’s largest cycling activity.
“We had about 2,000 riders last year from the 1-mile kids’ safety and handling course and 9-mile ride to the 47-mile course out to Four Mounds area,” said Bill Bender, a Spokane physician and SpokeFest founder.
The most popular route is the original 21 miler than follows the shores of the Spokane River in and out of Riverside State Park and back to the festivities downtown in Riverfront Park.
Bender likens the event’s success to a snowball rolling downhill “collecting other things with it.”
REI is sponsoring a Spoke-Ed Day on Sept. 8 to precede SpokeFest. Activities will educate families on riding skills and allow mechanics to check bikes for fit and safety.
Also on the eve of SpokeFest, the Lilac City Twilight Crit will debut in a spectator-friendly series of races and fun rides on a criterium course looping through downtown streets.
SpokeFest is one of the rare cycling events organized by cyclists to boost fitness and cycling education rather than some other charity. Entry fees are low – just $8 for kids and $12 for adults.
Yet the event raises enough money to make major contributions to the community. Central Valley School District won the SpokeFest 2012 Education Grant, which provides 30 bikes and helmets to the 13 elementary schools involved with the district’s bicycle safety program. In addition, the grant helps fund two certified instructors, Bender said.
Sign-up for this year’s SpokeFest look strong, boosted by sponsors offering prizes for bikers who register early. A new website offer was posted this week.
“It’s been an interesting thing, starting something new, getting some recognition and getting on the map,” Bender said.
“I’ve had patients in my office – people who didn’t necessarily know I was involved – tell me they’re trying to get in shape riding a bike for this thing called SpokeFest. That’s fabulous. That was the main goal from the start.”
The Coeur d’Fondo, which debuts this fall, fills a gap in the North Idaho cycling scene left by the defunct Tour des Lacs. The Coeur d’Alene-based event will offer four rides –15, 37 and 85 miles, plus the 108 miler around Lake Coeur d’Alene.
A Gran Fondo is a fun, spirited bike ride format. “It’s a charity ride with the clock running,” said Charlie Miller, North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation manager. “Challenge yourself against the clock, or just come and ride.”
The event has some sweet touches.
“We expect the 37-mile route to be popular because people will ride to Harrison and catch a lift back across the lake to the Coeur d’Alene Resort on a boat,” he said.
The foundation, which raises funds for preserving and expanding Idaho’s 23-mile share of the Centennial Trail, has depth in producing classy events.
“We’ve done the Coeur d’Alene Marathon for seven years, bringing it from 1,000 to 2,500 participants,” he said.
Some cyclists like events that create their own uncrowded post-ride party just for the riders, with food such as pizza, pasta and baked potato feeds. Coeur d’Fondo is tapping the city’s Oktoberfest.
It’s a bigger post-ride festival than the organizers could dream of putting together, Miller explained.
“Riders will get a ticket for a couple of beverages and food, and there will be a great party waiting for them at the end of their ride,” he said.
“We hope the fall colors and the Leavenworth atmosphere will be a combination that gets people coming in from longer distances, setting Coeur d’Fondo on their calendar to celebrate fall in Coeur d’Alene.”