Kim True took a sharp career turn about three years ago, trading in a lawyer’s briefcase for the saddle of a bicycle. After practicing law in Portland for more than 25 years, True became the ride director for BikeMaine, which offers a 350-mile-plus bicycle tour of Maine. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine sponsors many one-day rides, but formed BikeMaine to develop a longer tour. The second BikeMaine will be held in September and offers an eight-day tour of a stretch of Maine, including the Sebago Lake region, Androscoggin and Kennebec counties down to Boothbay Harbor and along the coast back to Westbrook. The ride costs $875, including meals; options like tent setup or a lodging options are available for additional fees. True said the ride has the potential to bring economic growth to small towns not normally on the path of tourists.
Q. How did BikeMaine come about?
A. The board of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine was approaching its 20th anniversary a few years ago and wanted a new challenge. We’ve put on one-day rides and those have been going on for 13-plus years. In other parts of the country, weeklong touring rides have been very popular. One, Cycle Oregon, it’s like a moving party each year. In those states where they have these week-long rides, bicycle tourism has taken hold and a lot of money comes into the state. In Iowa, they bring in more than $1 million a day in bicycle tourism and a lot of it is directly attributable to their weeklong ride. So, the board decided it would be a good challenge to bring on. An advisory committee was formed and brought in people from around the state to look at different issues, so that included marketing people and bicycle company owners and the Maine Office of Tourism and just people passionate about biking. The Ride Committee was appointed and applied for grants and we got to a point where we could hire a ride director to move forward. I was hired in 2012 to chart out a route and get weeklong trip going.
Q. How long did that take?
A. There are a lot of moving parts, but the Ride Committee first started meeting in November of 2011 and I was hired in September of 2012. Our first ride started on Sept. 7, 2013, with 251 riders.
Q. How was the route selected?
A. We wanted it to be a loop ride and wanted to include Bar Harbor the first year because it’s such an iconic community that would attract people from around the country. The Maine Downtown Network was involved because they work with communities throughout the state to certify them as Main Street towns and we knew that those were the kind of communities that our riders would appreciate. They also had an organization in place that could help us work with the communities when they’re going to have 250 people camping in their downtown parks. Then it was a matter of filling in the gaps. We thought that when people think of Maine, they often think about the Maine children’s camp experience because they might have done it themselves or knew someone who had. So we worked in Camp Jordan (the Bangor YMCA’s camp in Ellsworth) so riders could sleep in a bunkhouse for an added fee and we had s’mores and a baked bean supper and dancing. It was really a positive experience.
Q. What are some of the other towns and cities you focused on last year or plan to visit this year?
A. We really didn’t want a large city, so last year instead of Bangor, we started and ended in Orono and thought it was a great theme to be in a college town. We rode right onto campus, right through a big Black Bear helmet. In each community, we try to tell a story about Maine, from the Maine summer colony experience or our summer camp experience, and through that people from throughout the country are able to learn new things about the state. Also for people from Maine – Maine people think they know Maine but when you go at a slower pace, you really learn the state and stop along the way and visit small communities where you may not stop at if you’re going 60 miles an hour. You meet with local people and get to know the community through their eyes. Our riders loved it. This year we’re doing the same things. We’ll have Norway, which represents the shoe-making community, we’ll have our summer camp experience in Winthrop this year, we’ll have Boothbay Harbor, where we’ll be staying for two nights and riders will get an opportunity to shop in the town or go to the aquarium there and go to the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Then we go to Bath and tour the Maine Maritime Museum and Bath Iron Works. So there will be a lot of opportunities for people to learn about Maine’s history and Maine culture.
Q. How much of an economic impact does BikeMaine have?
A. Last year we left $235,000 in the communities we went through. There was about $85,000 that BikeMaine paid for directly for things like lunches, and then the bikers rented tents and there were community relation fees. Along the route where we bought lunch, that money went back into the communities through groups like soup kitchens and American Legions. And we did a survey after the ride, asking riders to estimate what they spent in addition to their registration fees. It was an average of $575 per person.We’re still young and growing. We took on a hotel option this year because we knew that many people are not as interested in camping, but they love the ride. We’ve partnered with Summerfeet, a Maine company that provides the lodging option in hotels along the way and will transport people and their baggage to the hotel where they will stay overnight. And one of the things we learned in 2013 is that the boilers in a lot of schools where we showered couldn’t provide enough hot water, so New England Mobile Shower, a new Maine company, will bring in a truck that has mobile showers. The truck will be premiering at BikeMaine and started directly as a result of BikeMaine.
Q. How big do you think BikeMaine can get?
A. We had 250 riders last year and we’re looking to top that number this year and are well on our way to doing that. We have people from 34 other states who have already signed up and we have people from Japan and from Australia coming. We’re really the first ride of this type in the Northeast and not everyone gets it. They see these longer rides as fundraisers and we’re offering something different – a vacation and a way to learn about a state and meet people from around the country who share a passion for biking.
Q. Have you always been a bike rider?
A. I did a lot of biking in high school and college and then I became a parent and continued to do a lot of biking. When the kids started getting ready to leave home my husband and I got a couple of road bikes and got back into it. We did what I called “credit card biking,” where we’d bike and then stay overnight at a bed and breakfast and go to a nice restaurant for dinner. There are a lot of communities it was fun to go off and cycle to. It’s a great way to learn the state and I learn something different every road I went on.