Bicycles of all kinds will become a significant part of the Bitterroot Valley’s economic landscape this summer, as hundreds of cyclists are introduced to the valley’s splendors.
At least three major group tours will pass through the valley, along with hundreds of independent touring cyclists, and five one-day cycling events are also planned between now and the end of August.
That’s in addition to the normal use that valley roads receive each summer from local residents commuting, exercising, training for events, or just enjoying the countryside from the saddle of a bike.
The multi-day tours all follow the same general route, a 400-mile ride that begins in Missoula, passing through the Bitterroot, looping through the Big Hole via Jackson, Polaris and Wise River, then on to Anaconda, Philipsburg, Drummond and Ovando, before returning to Missoula.
In addition to those multi-day tours, three one-day “charity rides” and two triathlons will raise money for local nonprofits.
That’s sure to generate some extra cash flow for various local businesses, and puts fundraising for those nonprofits firmly on two wheels. All together, these events will kick local, bicycle-based economic development into a higher gear.
The first big ride to come through will be the Adventure Cycling Association’s “Cycle Montana” tour, with 75 riders departing the group’s Missoula headquarters on June 23, camping that night in Darby. The tour is fully-supported, meaning that riders need carry little with them during the day. Their gear – tents, clothes, toiletries, etc. – will be transported to the camping site, and they’ll be met in Florence and Hamilton with food and drinks to fuel their ride.
The tour will roll down the bike path adjacent to U.S. Highway 93 from Lolo to Woodside, then divert west to approach Hamilton via Ricketts Road and West Main, avoiding the dangers of 93 through town. They’ll ride the shoulder of 93 from south of Hamilton to Lost Trail Pass.
At their Darby overnight camp, they’ll have catered meals awaiting, and a chance to visit the Bitterroot’s own bicycle manufacturing shop, Lightfoot Cycles.
That tour will be led by Hamilton resident Tony Neaves who, when he’s not on the Adventure Cycling payroll, works at Valley Bike and Ski. His wife, Annie Creighton, will also be helping out with the tour, which they helped to develop.
According to Madeline McKiddy, tour specialist at Adventure Cycling, the riders will be accompanied by a mechanic, a masseuse, seven Adventure Cycling support staff members, and a catering crew.
Not every cyclist enjoys staying with the pack for the entire tour, and tour designers allow for that. Instead of camping, some riders choose to stay in local lodgings, and others enjoy checking out local cafes and watering holes.
“Our participants like to explore, and we encourage that,” McKiddy said.
Adventure Cycling also developed the “TransAmerica” bike route that passes through the valley, followed by hundreds of coast-to-coast cyclists annually.
The Adventure Cycling group will be followed by a group of 24 riders plus staff, organized by Cycling House, a Missoula business that offers serious training for serious cyclists. They’ll make a higher-velocity pass through the valley on July 15-16, camping overnight in Sula.
The following week will bring the most visible of these group rides, when Bicycle Rides Northwest (BRNW) swarms the valley with 300 riders plus support staff and vehicles. On Sunday, July 21, they’ll pedal from Missoula to Darby, their overnight campsite, before pumping up Lost Trail Pass to the Big Hole.
Many such tours offer “extras” for their riders, and Bicycle Rides Northwest not only includes massage therapists, but also schedules daily enrichment activities and entertainment. Maura Schwartz is in charge of programs for BRNW riders, providing them with historical summaries of Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot, the passage of the Nez Perce in 1877, natural history notes, and other information.
She also highlights places of interest for riders who might wish to divert, such as Travelers’ Rest State Park, the Daly Mansion, and the Ravalli County Museum. In Darby, they’ve also arranged for visits to Lightfoot Cycles, and an evening lecture by local adventurer Jon Turk.
Schwartz and her husband, Stan Nowakowski, recently helped to get a route near their Madras, Ore., home designated an “Oregon Scenic Bikeway,” and Nowakowski spoke of the significant economic contributions of cycle tourism, noting that Oregon recently pegged that statewide impact at $420 million annually.
Montana could benefit from highlighting appropriate bike routes to attract cyclists. “The National Forest ‘Scenic Byway’ designation is a big plus for the riders,” Nowakowski said of the Wise River segment, but Montana lacks any specific “bikeway” designations.
Some communities have been easier to work with than others, both he and Creighton observed. “Communities like Ovando really wanted us,” Nowakowski said, while others were less welcoming, or wanted to impose too many conditions.
The local, one-day cycling events begin with “Spokes and Suds for CASA” on June 22. Bitterroot CASA’s parent organization sponsors a fundraising bike ride from Glacier to Yellowstone in September, and the local group decided to tie in to the cycling theme, with breweries as optional destinations.
One group of riders will depart Hamilton’s Red Barn Bicycles, pedaling over Skalkaho Pass to Philipsburg, where the Philipsburg Brewery will welcome them with food and entertainment. The other ride will depart Hamilton’s Higher Ground Brewery for Stevensville, with the Blacksmith and Wildwood breweries welcoming riders. More food and entertainment await the cyclists on their return to Hamilton. Full information is available at www.spokesandsudsforcasa.com.
The “Ride de Root” is a July 13 hundred-miler (with a shorter, 42-mile option) to benefit the Darby Booster Club. That all-paved road ride will be supported with food and water stops along the Darby-to-Stevensville loop, and a post-ride barbecue. For more information, visit their website at www.ridederoot.com
The Bitter Root Land Trust holds its annual “Tour of the Bitterroot” mountain bike ride the following weekend, on July 21, with a route that commences at Red Barn Bicycles, climbs up the Skalkaho Highway, then diverts onto unpaved Forest Service roads, returning riders to Sleeping Child Road to complete a 48-mile loop suitable for mountain or hybrid bikes.
A shorter, family-friendly option offers a paved out-and-back road ride up Sleeping Child, and the post-ride barbecue also features the kids Dirt Road Derby. More information can be found at www.tourofthebitterroot.org.
Finally, two triathlons give road and mountain bikers a chance to shine. The Lake Como Triathlon, on July 27, offers a combination of Forest Service roads and some singletrack, amounting to 12.6 miles, to test mountain bikers, in addition to a Lake Como swim and a trail run around the lake. Proceeds benefit the Lost Trail Ski Patrol, Lake Como Trails Club, Trapper Creek Job Corps Student Government, and the Ravalli County Search & Rescue. Details at www.lakecomotri.com.
August 24 will see the Bitterroot Triathlon, centered on the Hamilton Aquatic Center, sending cyclists on a paved, 20-kilometer out-and-back on paved roads east of Hamilton, in a fundraiser that benefits Emma’s House. The event sees hundreds of participants, with information and sign-ups available online at www.bitterrootclassictriathlon.com.
As Tour de France enthusiasts would say, “Allez, allez!”