As told by John H, who works here.
You might dream about spending a month riding your bike across the U.S. or Europe, on a fully-loaded touring bike with orange Ortlieb panniers loaded to the brim, tent strapped to your rear Tubus rack with a rainbow-colored bungie cord (complete with titanium springs and hooks). You might think about how you might keep your iPhone charged all day, or about what you are going to eat when you stop – will there be good beer? Is there a shower in your future? Are there bears or snakes? Will you get to use your new titanium spork?
For those of us who think about these things and realize how far-fetched a loaded tour of a continent-for-a-month might be, there are other nearby options that don’t mean a sabbatical from your day job and family responsibilities. For instance – Bike Virginia.
Bike Virginia is in its 25th year this year. It’s not a ride across Virginia like the name might make you think. Instead, it’s a carefully selected scenic area of Virginia (and sometimes neighboring states) where there are great things to see, small towns, lots of history, and a variety of carefully curated bike routes for all skill levels. Most importantly, it’s not a race. The routes are all supported by “sag wagons” if anyone has mechanical problems or gets tired of riding. There are stops every 12-18 miles with fresh water, fruit, Gatorade, baked goods, salty snacks – you name it. (During the 2011 tour, there was a stop with homemade chocolate chip cookies, banana bread and artesian water). Given the calories burned on the rides, it’s a no guilt vacation. You can eat and drink pretty much what you want.
As far as what bike to ride, there aren’t any rules except that your ride is tuned-up and ready to roll for the week on mostly-smooth country pavement. You can bring that fancy new pure OCLV 600-series carbon Trek Domane if you want, or you can ride your Columbus steel 1984 Tommasini Italian racer with the downtube shifters. You won’t need to be carrying much more than water bottles, a mobile phone and maybe a small camera. Even light-touring bikes aren’t particularly necessary, unless you have a Waterford or a Buchanan. (We even saw a few folks on fat tire cruisers and 80’s hybrids with Jackson Pollock paint jobs in neons and pastels). The bike you bring isn’t so important given the non-competitiveness of the event.
Bike Virginia typically centers around two “host towns” in Virginia with a “Tent City” set up at a nearby school. Your job is to bring your clothes, sleeping bag, a tent and whatever other goodies you can fit in two ginormous duffel bags with a 50 pound limit per bag. Two bags per person.
The day before the actual bike tour starts, you arrive, check-in and set up your tent. Showers are available and get your pasta/carbs on in prep for riding. It’s good people watching too…
This year the first host town was Berryville, Virginia – which happens to not have much at all to do with berries but a whole lot to do with history, farming and Patsy Cline.
There are several ride routes to select from the options each day – there’s an “easy” ride between 20-35 miles, a “moderate” ride of 35-60 miles and a more challenging ride that typically will run between a metric century (62.5 miles) to a full century (100 miles). If you have a fancy GPS device, you can download the maps to your device, or use old fashioned maps and cue sheets. But wait, even if you lose cue sheets or have a dead Garmin battery (like I did on the third day), the routes are clearly marked with signage telling you where to go depending on the route you’ve chosen.
The rides this year around Berryville were fantastic. The terrain was typical Virginia piedmont valley “rollers” – smooth country roads, some moderate climbs here and there, some fast descents (but nothing like say, screaming down Hamburg Road). There was plenty of tree coverage for hot days, lots of hay bales, some corn, a ton of cows, a miniature pony or two, and a llama farm. Back at “tent city” there was even a two dollar public swimming pool, a welcome respite from the 90 degree heat. Each route included a difficulty level, based around the number of vertical feet climbed. If you can ride 25 miles around the outskirts of Frederick, the easier Bike Virginia routes are cake.
“Erica descending slowly while absorbing the historical markers, cows and hay”
“Tent City #2, Shenandoah Junction. Lighter than carbon fiber kickstand.”
Halfway through the 5-day tour, the host town moves. This is the day you take down your tent, stuff all your clothes and goodies back into your two duffel bags with the 50-pound limit. The bags are transported by the staff at Bike Virginia to the next camp location while you ride. The second host town this year was Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia, a small town equidistant from Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown. Bike routes during this day are typically a straight shot from one host town to the next, a little less intense to allow campers time to breakdown and set up everything. In the two years I have done Bike Virginia, the second host town is also a college town. This means varied food and drink options if that’s your thing. It’s the halfway mark on your soujourn, so you’ll have ample time to recharge with good food, good sights and entertainment. The last two days of the tour included a ride through Antietam (with a fantastic descent at the end) and about 12 miles on the C&O canal.
“West Virginia also has some very forward-thinking bicycling infrastructure, including this paved bike trail running parallel to an interstate”
“View from inside the tent at dusk..”
Speaking of entertainment, If you’re considering doing Bike Virginia but have a non-cycling family member or friend, there are tons of options; music, hiking, swimming, history, shopping, bus transportation to host town centers and historical sites. Downtown Berryville had some fantastic Bluegrass music, if that’s your thing. If you aren’t an outdoor camper, there are other solutions: hotels, air-conditioned gyms to sleep in, even a company that will set up a tent for you, serve you coffee and breakfast and tune up your bike.
The vendor area was also quite fantastic. Trek had a fully-stocked bike trailer there with an assortment of factory demo bikes, so you could check out a 2013 Madone Series 5.9 or even a 2013 Domane and ride it on one of the day’s routes. Get there early to reserve a bike, they are a quite popular to test-ride!
As the tour comes to a close, you can be proud of the anywhere from 200-450 miles you’ve covered in five days and go back to the real world with sore legs and a slight sunburn.
Next year, Bike Virginia is rumored to take place between Lynchburg and Richmond, and one of the host towns is in the real Farmville, home to Longwood University. If getting farther away from Maryland is your thing or if you happen to desire a change in scenery, you might check out Cycle North Carolina or even the legendary RAGBRAI across Iowa, one of the oldest and longest running multi-day bike tours.
Bike Doctor Shop Rides:
It’s a huge summer o’ shop rides!
Sunday evenings: If it isn’t raining horribly, meet at the shop at 5pm. We’ll hit the road around 5.30 for a 30-45 mile road ride at a decidedly casual pace. We occasionally hit dirt roads, but it’s a road ride so you can bring a road bike, we promise. The terrain will be hilly to downright mountainous, but done at a pace that won’t leave you gasping for air. We even take breaks. Bring these things with you: Bright Lights (front and rear), spare tube (at least one), pump/co2, some food, some money for soda or whatever along the way.
Tuesdays: 8am road ride from Starbucks on 7th street. 45 miles or so right now, by the end of the summer we will be doing 80ish. This is a long ride, with no fixed schedule, and ridden at ‘James touring pace’ which is to say slow. Climbing, back roads, stuff you maybe haven’t seen. Bring: food, money, tubes.
Wednesdays: Hill ride with Cory, Brian is on Vacation!. Meet at the shop around 5, wheels down at 5.30 in the evening. Fast (but not insane fast) road ride up into the mountains, back down again, back up again, and down again. Back before dark but bring a rear blinkie in case of mechanicals.
Thursdays: Mountain ride with Team Flying Dog. Meet at 5.30 at the foot of the dirt section of Mountaindale Road, by that big maintenance shed. Hilly, technical watershed mountain biking, but a relaxed pace. Back before dark.
Sunday Mornings: Women’s beginner road rides from the Starbucks in the Westview Shopping center. 8AM 12-18 miles on low traffic roads. Rides will be led by Tracy, who works here, and know the roads well, and all that good stuff. These rides are starting to get a good turn out, but the mileage will go up soon, so get in on it before it does, so you can start easy.
The women’s ride is geared toward most ages and most abilities. It’s still a road ride, not a casual family saunter though, so bring a road bike, please!