It took a large dose of creativity to save one of the South Sound’s oldest bike rides.
Last spring, the Peninsula Metric Century was flatlining. Only a few people had registered for the tour of the rolling Kitsap Peninsula, leaving the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club with a tough decision.
Cancel the ride and say goodbye to its second-largest fundraiser, or try to revive the three-decades-old ride.
Several weeks before the event, organizers reclassified the ride as a free club event and a small group of members rode the route keeping the event alive another year. Then they set about making changes for this year, the 34th ride.
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They capped the number of participants for the June 5 ride to keep down costs and encourage people to register in advance. They brought in a food truck (VietNom Nom). They gave free entry to an estimated 40 members of the Major Taylor Project, a program designed to get underserved youth into cycling.
As a result, the Peninsula Metric is once again showing signs of life. “We’re pretty darn happy,” said Bob Myrick, a club member since 1985.
Cycling is as popular as ever, but clubs and other organizations are finding it’s not always easy to get riders to turn out for their events.
South Sound rides such as the May Day Metric and RAPSody Ride disappeared in recent years (although the RAPSody Ride is scheduled to return in August as a free, self-supported ride for members of its five founding clubs).
Larger rides aren’t immune. The Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic traditionally sells out in late February or early March. This year, registration was still open as of June 17.
So why is it getting harder to get cyclists to ride? There are several reasons.
TOO MANY, TOO MUCH?
The biggest reason, says Wheelmen’s president Darrell Eslinger, is a hefty schedule of rides, all of which charge an entry fee and sometimes require fundraising. “Oversaturation,” Eslinger said earlier this spring. “There are more rides than ever and people have only so much time and money to spend.”
On June 26, the South Sound is home to two rides. Capital Bicycle Club’s Two County Double Metric Century starts in Tumwater, while Pierce County Park’s Tour de Pierce gets rolling in Puyallup. And they’re the day after the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Red Bell 100 ride from Redmond to Bellingham.
Most rides are affiliated with a cause and some require participants to raise extra money. Courage Classic (Aug. 6-8) raises money to battle child abuse
In recent years, the fundraising minimum increased to $750 from $500. Last year, the event had almost 200 riders less than its 550-rider limit, said event manager Ciarra Hannah. This year the ride returned to past fundraising requirements, and as of mid-June the ride was nearly sold out.
“We want to keep it approachable,” Hannah said of the ride, which is celebrating its 25th year.
Obliteride, in its fourth year, raises money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and is taking a similar approach. It cut fundraising minimums nearly in half for its rides. Cyclists must raise $500-1,000 depending on the distance they choose.
Obliteride spokeswoman Amy Anderson said turnout is up about 30 percent compared to last year for the Aug. 13-14 rides.
Cost and a saturated market are hardly the only factors.
The Wheelmen spend about $5,000 per year to advertise their ride with Seattle-based Cascade, the nation’s largest bike club, Eslinger said.
“But how do you reach people who don’t ride?” Eslinger said. It’s a question clubs are still trying to answer.
THE LITTLE THINGS
Even if you get riders out, little things can discourage repeat business.
Poorly marked courses, routes that include questionable roads, and boring or inadequate food annoy some riders. Several ride organizers say getting enough volunteers to stage a ride is becoming more challenging.
Eslinger said it seems many participants also look for a souvenir (a patch, medal, shirt, etc.). “And that’s one of those things you have to look at as part of the price,” Eslinger said.
The Wheelmen gave away ear covers and patch kits at recent rides, Myrick said.
Some smaller rides, including the Wheelmen’s Daffodil Classic and Peninsula Metric, don’t offer numbered bibs for riders. Using a wristband might save money and be a bit more environmentally friendly, but bibs are a souvenir for some cyclists. Bibs also send a subtle message to motorists to stay alert because that cyclist they just passed is likely one of many on the road.
THE OPEN ROAD
Ride organizers also must compete with the call of the open ride. Many experienced riders already take long weekend rides along riverside trails, through the mountains or wherever else they like. Why pay to do the same thing?
That question, too, has many answers.
One is to support the cycling community of which they’re a part. Capital and the Wheelmen use profits from their rides for advocacy work. The Wheelmen also sponsor and cover insurance for rides for women (Velofemmes) and kids (Kidical Mass Tacoma).
Another reason is to support a cause. “Rides like Obliteride are a very personal experience,” Anderson said. “And it’s nice to be part of a positive community.”
Perhaps just as important a reason to participate in a local organized ride is to help keep alive events that serve, for many, as a gateway to the sport.
South Sound residents can choose from two rides on June 26.
TOUR DE PIERCE
When: 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Location: Washington State fairgrounds, Puyallup.
Mileage: 12, 30, or 50 miles.
More info: piercecountywa.org.
TWO COUNTY DOUBLE METRIC CENTURY
When: 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Location: Tumwater City Hall.
Mileage: 11, 25, 50, 70, 100, or 127 miles.
More info: capitalbicycleclub.org.