By TRICIA N. HAYES | June 26,2012
Interest in cycling in Vermont has resulted from press coverage in travel and regional publications.
Learning to ride a bicycle is a childhood feat never forgotten. The adage of ”once you learn to ride, you never forget” seems to hold true for casual and competitive riders, from the youngster who can ride but can’t yet tie his shoelaces, to the pro on the Tour de France.
In Vermont, bicycling or cycling has long been a favorite for locals and visitors, offering a chance to pedal past bucolic countryside scenes such as working farms, and through historic villages.
“Among visitors planning a Vermont vacation, cycling ranks number two after hiking among the many opportunities for outdoor recreation in Vermont,” said Jen Butson, communications director for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.
“Of the 38,381 requests for a vacation planning packet during [fiscal year] 2011, 10.6 percent specified biking as an interest, versus 19.9 percent who indicated an interest in hiking,” said Butson. Fishing was the third-most frequent interest at 7.8 percent, she said.
Amy and Robin Verner, owners of Battenkill Sports Bicycle Shop in Manchester Center, said interest in the sport appears to focus on recreational riding. “Our new club, the Manchester and Mountains Bicycle Club (www.mmbc.com), has attracted locals and second-home owners to our spring-through-fall schedule of events,” said Robin Verner.
In particular, area riders support many nonprofit causes through riding. This year, the club will sponsor a ride up Skyline Drive to Mount Equinox as part of the local Rotary Club’s Lyme Challenge.
Part of the public’s interest in cycling around Vermont has resulted from press coverage in travel and regional publications, explained co-owner Amy Verner. “The Mettawee and Battenkill valleys are favorite destinations,” she said.
Mount Snow resort has actively courted riders since 1986. “Mount Snow is home to the first mountain biking school in the U.S. back in the early 90s,” said communications manager Dave Meeker. “The sport had some substantial growth in the 90s. [In] the early 2000s there seemed to be a plateau, but now, with the resort embracing lift-serviced mountain biking, we have seen more growth in cycling overall.
“Every summer we have lots of cycling groups come through the resort and the local area. Our experience has been good: normally, they stop into the bike store and ask questions about local places to ride, eat, and basically where they can have the most have fun on their bikes. There is plenty of riding to do in the area, everything from a scenic road ride to mountain biking through the woods.”
And, who is doing the riding? The sport really “transcends a number of generations, and with the new technology in bikes and safety equipment, we’ve found that more people are apt to give it a try,” Meeker said. “Once they give it a try, a large percentage of people find that they love it and decide to make some discipline of cycling a part of their lifestyle.” Amy and Robin Verner agreed, pointing to the popularity of their ride-and-dine events as well as recreational ride destinations.
Visibility for Vermont as a cycling destination is getting a real boost this summer. The Vermont Challenge, set for August 15-19, expects 1,000 to 1,500 riders and their families. Riders will participate in four, three and one-day events traversing southern and central Vermont. The event is designed with multiple distance options, encouraging serious racers, less-competitive riders, and “club” cyclists.
“The idea of The Vermont Challenge was hatched back in July of 2011 while John Sohikian, a long-time second-home owner in Vermont and avid cyclist, was riding the Tour de Bondville with Sky Foulkes, general manager, and Michael Cobb, director of marketing at Stratton Mountain Resort,” said Janet Bumstead, vice-president and chief operating officer of the Vermont Challenge.
“They discussed how riding in the southern and central parts of Vermont was a hidden gem, and that there was a need to open the riding experience to the greater bicycling community,” said Bumstead. When the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing seconded the idea, the Vermont Challenge became a reality.
The Vermont Challenge has major host-venue sponsors including: Stratton Mountain Resort, Okemo Mountain Resort, the Town of Killington, and the Manchester and The Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce. In addition, The Vermont Challenge is supported by The Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce, Killington Chamber of Commerce, and Magic Mountain, along with numerous training-product sponsors.
A percentage of the proceeds will go to the Stratton Foundation and form the basis of its Vermont Challenge Community Support fund, which is designed to give back to each participating community that is supporting the event.
The future of cycling in Vermont may rest on the expansion of trails and designated riding areas. Current trails in Stowe, Montpelier and Burlington help riders enjoy a safe riding experience, said Robin Verner.
“In the future, we hope to announce plans for a Manchester route connecting with the current Wendy’s Way,” she said.
Cycling might just be the recreational activity to take folks from childhood through retirement while offering the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.