The bicycling world has an event for every gear in the cog set this weekend, with local trail grand openings and 40th anniversaries of transcontinental treks.
“I can imagine people asking ‘Why do I see so many cyclists with all this gear biking through town?’” Adventure Cycling executive director Jim Sayer said. “It’s like the swallows of Capistrano – everyone’s coming back for the reunion.”
When the United States celebrated its 200th birthday in 1976, one of the events was a coast-to-coast bike tour dreamed up by a handful of Missoulians. Bikecentennial helped popularize the idea of cycling vacations and established roots of biking innovation deep in the Missoula Valley.
Hundreds of those cross-country travelers pedaled their way to Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in downtown Missoula this week. Among them was Myrna Rafalovich, whose 14-member “Sprocket Rockets” team helped pioneer the 4,228-mile route 40 years ago.
“Yesterday, I met four other guys who were biking to Missoula for the event, including a board member of Adventure Cycling who’s riding from Los Gatos, California,” Rafalovich said. “Pretty much anybody moving this direction is coming for the party.”
Those coming from the south will roll the first rubber on the newly paved Lolo Segment of the Bitterroot Trail. The official ribbon-cutting takes place at noon on Saturday at Traveler’s Rest State Park in Lolo, with performances by Missoula International Choral Festival choirs, group rides and storytelling.
The new trail removes bikers from the constricted and twisty Highway 93 passage above the Bitterroot River between Missoula and Lolo – ironically one of the biggest disincentives cross-country riders had for making a side-trip to Missoula while pedaling the backroads of Montana.
A $4.6 million federal grant combined with grassroots partnerships of local riding groups, city, county and state agencies brought the trail to reality this year. Public rides from Missoula. Stevensville, Hamilton will all convene at Lolo for the midday festivities, and those who register in advance can take advantage of aid stations along all the routes.
The trail opening was timed to coincide with Adventure Cycling’s 40th anniversary Bikecentennial celebrations and the peak of summer riding season. In honor of the anniversary, biking celebrities including “Bicycle Nomad” Erick Cedeno, long-distance chronicler Willie Weir and Trans Am race winner Lael Wilcox will be in town telling stories and giving clinics.
Sayer said the 40-year span marked some remarkable changes both culturally and technologically. The Bikecentennial sprouted in the same garden that fertilized the Missoula Children’s Theater, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other enduring Missoula institutions. It depended on people willing to pedal heavy bikes loaded with heavy camping gear between waypoints where door-knocking might produce a floor on a community center to sleep on. Now, light-weight carbon fiber frames and waterproof gear bags make the road experience more comfortable, while cell phones provide satellite mapping options and an array of stopover food and rest options.
Adventure Cycling travel initiatives director Ginny Sullivan said industry surveys show communities increasingly want to be known as “adventure travel” destinations. Bike tourism not only brings hotel, restaurant and souvenir dollars, but it tends to spread the wealth into remote, rural corners where riders seek less-traveled roads.
“This is a weekend to ride a bike, go to the trail opening or take in all of Bikeapalooza,” Sayer said. “Just celebrate bike-riding in western Montana, and find out what an incredible resource you have right here in Missoula.”