EASTBROOK, Maine — More than 250 bicyclists from 34 states and three Canadian provinces braved the rain Friday as they pedaled from Bar Harbor to Camp Jordan in Ellsworth via scenic roads through eastern Hancock County.
The event was the seventh day of the inaugural BikeMaine 2013, an eight-day biking tour for experienced cyclists that was organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. The Bangor Daily News is a media partner for the tour, which is expected to end Saturday in Orono.
Tour participants began the trek Saturday, Sept. 7, in Orono and, while biking in a continuous counterclockwise loop, made overnight stops in Dover-Foxcroft, Belfast and Castine before arriving in Bar Harbor on Wednesday. Riders had a rest day in Bar Harbor on Thursday before resuming the trip Friday morning.
The bicyclists, who traveled alone or in small groups along the marked route, stopped at Cave Hill School on Route 200 to eat lunch and meet with schoolchildren to talk about cycling before resuming their wet ride.
Mark Ishkanian, vice president of the group’s board of directors, said Friday that by stopping at places like Cave Hill School, the group can connect cyclists on the tour with communities they pass through. Additionally, they can help spread the word to children that bicycling is a fun, healthy and practical activity.
On Friday, the group held a bike rodeo for pupils in the parking lot of the elementary school, teaching them about riding safety and techniques. They donated helmets to students that needed them as permanent gifts and, with the support of Anthem Blue Cross, provided the children with free bicycle lights and bells.
“Events like this are great because you get kids on bikes,” said Jim Tasse, the coalition’s education director. “These kids are so stoked about cycling. I don’t even think they’re aware it’s raining out.”
Ishkanian said the coalition plans to organize and stage a different weeklong tour in Maine every September. The 2013 tour had 258 registered riders, 114 of whom were from Maine, but he expects the number to grow as the coalition learns the ropes of staging such an annual event.
He said he wasn’t sure how big it would become, but the coalition hopes to find the “sweet spot” of just large enough to maximize the economic impact it will have on host communities while keeping the number of participating bicyclists at a manageable level, both for the coalition and the communities that host it. He said the coalition also hopes to start a grant program to help fund bicycle-related projects in communities that host the annual tour.
“We have to find that balancing point,” Ishkanian said of the tour’s potential growth. “More than anything, it’s a rolling exploration of Maine.”
He added that, though Friday was pretty wet, the group has had decent weather on other days. He pointed out that there has been pretty smooth riding for a first-year event.
“It’s been one high after another,” Ishkanian said. “I’ve not heard many complaints about the weather.”
Sean McCallum, a cyclist from Alexandria, Va., who has ridden in other organized recreational tours around the country, said he would give the coalition a B+ grade for the 2013 event.
“They’ve done a good job,” he said. “Maine is a beautiful state that has a lot of rich natural resources. I’ve really enjoyed and been impressed with this state here.”
Brad Smith, a cyclist on the tour from Jaffrey, N.H., said that he’s had a fun week. The group has had good weather on other days, he said, and are not just fair-weather cyclists. Everyone on the tour has had a fair amount of bike trekking experience, he said, and so are used to dealing with the elements.
“It’s been a fabulous week,” Smith said. “As long as you can get a hot shower at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what’s going on outside.”