Bike Race to Grandfather Mountain moves to June in 2014

Jul. 31, 2013 @ 06:20 AM

For 25 years, a cross-county bike race that draws hundreds of cyclists has been held on the third Sunday in September, but starting next year, the race will move to the first Saturday in June, a more favorable date for both riders and organizers.

Formerly known as the Bridge to Bridge Cycling Challenge, this year’s Bridge Incredible Challenge Bike Ride from the streets of downtown Lenoir to the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain more than 100 miles away is set for Sept. 15 and has already registered participants from about 20 states.

Caldwell Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Ashley said a number of factors contributed to the date change, including economic impact and weather concerns. But mostly it was the consideration of the riders’ yearlong training and ride schedules.

Jeff Welch of Luna Cycles in Lenoircalled the date change fantastic, saying that more riders are more likely to participate in a June race than a September one.

Welch said that while cyclists are spending the winter months training, they are focusing on the big races of the year, and the June date will mean that riders are more enthusiastic and “spun up” for the race. By September, riders are worn out, which has contributed to the race's waning participation.

There are three primary rides of 100-plus miles, also called "century rides," in North Carolina, with "The Bridge" currently coming last. The other two are Assault on Mount Mitchell, a ride from Spartanburg, S.C., to Mount Mitchell, near Burnsville, in late May, and Blood, Sweat and Gears, a 100-mile loop that starts and finishes in Valle Crucis in late June.

The new date will make the Bridge ride the second of the season and keep all three within a window of just over a month.

Ashley said the race boosts the local economy, with riders and spectators selling out local hotels and bringing their business to local restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores.

The race costs the chamber $36,000 to $45,000 but doesn’t make much money for the chamber, which coordinates up to 600 staff hours and approximately 500 volunteers working a total of 2,500 hours to put on the race, Ashley said.

The change took some coordination with the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, who allows bicycles on the mountain only for the Bridge race.

Organizers are currently competing with many more races in North Carolina than when the Bridge first debuted in 1998, when there were only a few rides. Now, more than 150 rides happen in North Carolina every year.

Another change to the scheduling of the ride is the move to Saturday instead of Sunday, which Ashley said will give riders Sunday for traveling, help ease traffic in the community and make the race a weekend-long event.