BikeMaine 2014 – a weeklong tour that’ll take riders roughly 350 miles – kicks off on Sept. 6 in Westbrook, heading northwest.
The 275-strong group will cover 59 miles their first day, swinging up the west side of Sebago Lake, through Standish, Naples and Casco before stopping off for the night in Norway. From there, they’ll turn east, take a northward loop, then dive south again, traveling along the coast before ultimately returning to their start point.
Chris and Dave Beneman, of Scarborough, took part in BikeMaine last year and will do so again this year. “We’ve been on a variety of bike trips, and were excited about a weeklong trip here in Maine. Early September is such a beautiful time of year,” Chris Beneman says.
Kim True, ride director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, which orchestrates the event, worked with an event coordinator and a volunteer committee composed of 10 additional coalition members to hash out all the details.
The committee begins by picking a region of the state to explore. They next select a layover community – where the group will stay for two nights, not just one, and have an unstructured day, during which riders can take part in various activities, biking and otherwise. Once that’s settled on, they have a scaffold off which to build.
“We work with the Maine Downtown Network,” True says, “to identify potential host communities that have vibrant downtowns, places of historical and cultural interest, the organizational capacity to feed and entertain over 300 people and the willingness to work together to showcase the best the community has to offer.”
In general, True finds candidate towns are exclusively accommodating. Even given the challenges associated with a sudden influx of hundreds of athletes, all carrying gear and accompanied by support staff, municipalities recognize the economic and PR benefits of welcoming the BikeMainers.
Most riders tent out, but there’s no requirement to do so. Other riders make their own arrangements to stay in hotels, and the coalition is partnering with Summerfeet to offer a hotel service. Summerfeet makes all the hotel arrangements and provides transportation between the BikeMaine village and the hotel.
Hot showers are available as well. Last year, BikeMaine relied on local schools, but not all could handle the BikerMainers’ hot water needs. So, this year, the coalition has leased a 16-stall mobile shower truck from New England Mobile Showers to travel with them all week.
“Every town is different,” Beneman observes. “[And biking] gives us the chance to slow down, see things at bicycle speed and interact with the residents. People we meet in towns and along the ride are very friendly. There’s a lot of local history, and BikeMaine does a great job of pointing out things to see and planning activities along the way – going up the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory last year was one of the highlights.”
These goodies come at a cost, of course: each rider pays $875 up front to register. That fee may seem steep, but riders clearly get a great deal for their money: 18 meals, including a lobster bake, access to the BikeMaine Village and its amenities, luggage transport, a fully supported route with maps and rest-stops, nightly entertainment, a T-shirt and the opportunity to explore a long list of communities in a unique fashion.
“We feel it’s a very good value,” Beneman says. “It’s pretty all-inclusive.”
“This year, we’re bringing along some Westbrook High School students who are enrolled in the school’s WRENCH program to assist with camp setup and minor bike repairs,” True says. In addition, 20 volunteers travel with the pack to erect and strike the BikeMaine Village and drive the luggage and supply trucks, and 25 more post route signs, establish rest stops with snacks and drinks, operate HAM radios and provide medical care.
A hard day’s ride is a hard day’s ride, no matter how much roadside support riders receive, so those nights of relaxation are important. Professionals from the host communities offer massage, yoga, and locally concocted libations. This year’s entertainment includes various musical performers, a contra dance, and a night of comedy. Acts include North of Nashville (Westbrook), Bold Riley (Norway), the Gawler Family Band (Winthrop) and more.
The coalition doesn’t consciously pick a theme for the tour; it just so happens that sometimes a theme emerges on its own, a la “Pedaling the Waterways.” Three of this year’s six “BikeMaine Villages” are located on water, and the course itself looks out over some of Maine’s most scenic freshwater and saltwater vistas, including Androscoggin Lake, the Kennebec River, and the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
“When we were sketching the route, it became clear that every day, the route was following, skirting and crossing multiple bodies of water,” True says.
This is only the event’s second year, but it’s already turned into a sizeable affair. Last year’s 251 riders has jumped to 275 in 2014, for instance. Many participants hail from Maine, of course, but many more, in fact, come from beyond our borders.
“Two-thirds of our riders from out of state,” True says. “They’re coming from 34 states and Canadian provinces, as well as from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.” Participation by Mainers themselves is actually down this year.
The coalition would’ve capped registration around 350, so they fell shy of their limit, but are OK with even, if modest, growth.
“We want the event to grow at a measured pace,” True says, “to ensure that we have the necessary systems and support in place. We continually assess feedback from our riders, volunteers, host communities, partners and sponsors to make sure we’re producing a high-quality event.”
The coalition, a nonprofit boasting about 5,000 members, aims simply to make Maine better for biking and walking. True sees progress toward this goal accelerating in the future.
“BikeMaine is still in its startup phase,” she says. “We expect to turn a profit next year, at which time 40 percent of the proceeds will be used to support the coalition’s programming and 60 percent will be returned to the host communities in form of grants to support their biking and walking initiatives.
“From the very beginning, however, we’ve assisted local service organizations with fundraising by having them provide services for a fee to our riders. We also partner with nonprofits throughout the state to assist them in furthering their missions, such as with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.”
Importantly, BikeMaine is not a race.
“Everyone rides at their own pace,” Beneman says. “We ride in small clusters most of the time. Sometimes we move along at a pretty good clip; other times we might be more leisurely, chatting with other riders if we are on a quiet country road.”