February 10, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Inaugural BikeMaine should find riders aplenty

The announcement last week of a seven-day, 400-mile bike trek through Maine this September brings an unproven event to the state at a time when many lack a lot of expendable cash.

But the folks at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine have done their homework, a good three years' worth. They've traveled to other states where such long-distance, mass touring rallies take place. And they remain certain the BikeMaine tour will be an instant draw and eventually grow to 2,000 riders.

All they had to do was look around the country at the competition.

This year, Ohio will celebrate its 25th year hosting the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, billed as "an adventure on two wheels with 2,999 of your closest friends."

Such tours are about bicycling, but they are just as much about seeing and exploring small towns at a leisurely pace along a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path kind of route.

"I rode in (Ohio's ride). It was more of a research mission on my part. I was asking people in Ohio what they liked and didn't like. I asked would they come to something similar in Maine. And I was astounded that the overwhelming response was, yes," said Kim True, the BikeMaine director.

Registration for the first BikeMaine event opens to the public on Feb. 13 at 7 a.m. at www.bikemaine.org. The ride costs $875 and is expected to sell out, given it has a cap of 350 riders the first year (including 175 from out of state).

The tour will involve a week of pedaling 60 to 70 miles a day up through 24,000 feet of vertical gain. The host towns where riders will camp are Orono, Dover-Foxcroft, Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth -- all communities experienced in welcoming tourists.

The event will move around the state in the years to come, but True believes the first year will do well.

When the Dempsey Challenge was rolled out five years ago, it was unproven whether a day-long cycling fundraiser in Maine could draw thousands of riders from across the country, or even the world.

Yet in 2012, its fourth year, the event attracted 4,294 participants from 33 states and six countries to Lewiston and Auburn to ride. And the year before, 4,177 signed up to ride in the charity event that raises funds for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope & Healing.

These are the kind of numbers enjoyed by long-distance bike touring events across the country.

In 2012, Cycle Oregon drew 2,200 participants from 46 states and eight countries.

For 27 years, Colorado has hosted a seven-day trek through the Rocky Mountains that now draws as many as 2,500 cyclists.

Such an event was a natural progression for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, which runs the successful Lobster Ride and Lighthouse Ride.

"For the 20th anniversary (of the Coalition) we decided to bring on a new event, a larger event. We had a committee formed in the spring of 2011. We've been researching this," True said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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