Rotary hears from Potomac Pedalers
Planning for this fall’s Back Roads Century Bike Ride in the Eastern Panhandle is well underway, the head of the sponsoring organization told the Shepherdstown Rotary Club on March 29. The event is scheduled for the September 17-18 weekend.
Speaking at the club’s regular weekly breakfast at the Bavarian Inn, Matt Birnbaum, who chairs the Potomac Pedalers bicycling organization, said last fall’s ride here was well-received by riders and the community alike. He said his group is looking forward to holding the event in this area for many years to come.
Potomac Pedalers, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, is a nonprofit educational, recreational and social organization for bicyclists. With more than 3,000 members, it is the largest such organization in the metropolitan D.C. area and one of the largest in the U.S. It is also one of the oldest: It is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The organization is very active, sponsoring more than 1,000 rides in the region each year. The Back Roads Century Bike Ride is its main annual event. Always held during the third weekend of September, it is considered one of the premier cycling events in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Back Roads Century Ride is a tour, not a race. Participants can choose to follow a variety of carefully designed routes at their own pace. The routes vary in length from 21 to 100 miles. All of these rides take place on Sunday. There are also more informal rides and other activities on Saturday, to encourage people to come and stay the whole weekend.
For many years, the Back Roads Century was held in and around Clarke County, Virginia. Last year, it was shifted to the Eastern Panhandle, with Shepherdstown as the starting and finishing point.
Birnbaum said the organization has been very happy with the move. The Panhandle is far away enough from D.C. to give participants a chance to get away from the city, but still close enough to reach easily. The region’s mountain scenery is a major plus, and so is the support and encouragement the organization has received from local officials, businesses and residents.
Last year’s Back Roads Century drew more than 2,000 riders. Birnbaum said the vast majority (75 percent) came from more than 50 miles away. Twenty-five percent stayed overnight in the area for at least one night.
Birnbaum said the local economic impact was considerable. He said the average rider spent $112 in the area. In addition, organizers made a serious effort to rely on local businesses for the goods and services needed for the event. In all, he estimated that last year’s event generated $300,000 in new economic activity for the area.
Birnbaum said safety is always a prime concern for Potomac Pedalers, and last year’s event ranked well in that regard. Cooperation with local law enforcement agencies was excellent and only one accident, involving an older rider, was reported.
He said the overall relationships with local governments and businesses were also excellent. Shepherd University and the Shepherdstown Visitors Center were particularly helpful, he said, with the university providing parking for the event and the Visitors Center providing useful guidance and advice and facilitating local contacts.
Looking ahead to this year’s Back Roads Century Bike Ride, Birnbaum said safety will again be a major emphasis.
He stressed that his organization also wants to do better job of communicating with local residents, through both regular news media and social media, so residents can better understand the event and know what to expect from it.
In addition, every effort will be made to continue and build upon last year’s relationships with local governments and businesses. As part of that effort, grants will be given to Shepherd University and the Shepherdstown Visitors Center, to thank them for their continuing assistance. Grants will also be given to local organizations that provide facilities for rest stops for cyclists.
To enhance the experiences of participating cyclists, and to help promote the Eastern Panhandle historical and environmental resources, organizers are working with the Visitor’s Center to develop handouts that point out these resources along the tour routes.
Birnbaum noted that an event of this kind requires many volunteers, and he said the Potomac Pedalers will welcome community members who would like to help. Specific areas where assistance will be needed will include staffing parking areas and rest stops.