It’s hard to ride very far in November in Roanoke.  It’s just too cold.  Sure you get the odd day when it’s not — and we all take advantage of those rare opportunities, but you just don’t get the urge to head out for a three hour ride like you do when the mercury tips up into the 70’s. To a certain extent, I need a bit of extra motivation.  Cranksgiving is a perfect example.


About 50 people lines up for the second annual Roanoke Cranksgiving.  The event started in Highland Park.

Let’s go crank

Organizers held the the second annual Cranksgiving ride in Roanoke on November 21.  We lined up with instructions to have a backpack, some cash, our bikes and a pleasant attitude.


Travis Steber

Organizer Travis Steber told us to all put our bikes inside a circle that had been marked out on the grass at Highland Park, and then handed out instructions for the “race.”

Steber had pre-selected a number of neighborhood markets including  both Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op locations and a Undergdog Bikes.  We learned we could earn additional points if we climbed Mill Mountain and snapped a selfie with a stranger at the Star, and for stopping at the Community Inn in Grandin Villiage for a beer.

He said, “Go!” and we were off.

Well, not exactly off so much.  As we grabbed our bikes from the circle there was immediate dissent over whether to climb Mill Mountain.  Our group of about ten all agreed we had zero interest in trying to win the “race.”  But a few were about as interested in climbing to the Star as they were being stuck in Interstate traffic.  Despite the moaning and groaning, the climbers prevailed and we were off to the overlook.

potts mountain

Lining up at Underdog Bikes

There was a large contingent from Lynchburg in our group and they suffered a few slings about the difference between a city with “real mountains” vs. their simple “hills,” but they took the ribbing well and climbed as happily as you can when the road tips up to 12-13 percent. (In parts)

At the top, we cornered a couple of tourists and snapped the required selfie.  We made sure not to introduce ourselves, otherwise we would no longer be strangers.


Group selfie with strangers at the Mill Mountain Overlook.  500 points.  Boom.

After the descent, we popped in to Underdog bikes, where there was a box of food.  Each of us grabbed a can or two for our back packs, ripped a numbered tab from a sheet of paper outside and headed for the next stop.

Part of the strategy is mapping out the best route to each of the required stops.  The first cyclist to each stop gets the tab with the highest number.  That number equals points, and the idea is to gain the most points by the time you finish.  In addition to the Star climb and the Community Inn beer, there are points for the heaviest food item purchased, and the amount of food you gather.


A nice “fixie” or fixed gear bike.

Some of the people at the starting line, among them a large collection of hipsters riding fixies, treated this event as if it was the final race of the NASCAR points series.  I’m pretty sure that by the time my contingent had figured out how to wear a backpack on a bike, and stopped arguing about whether to climb to the Star, that the fixie crowd had already bought their first can of Jolly Green Giant whatever.

We mapped out a reasonable course.  I can’t say that it was necessarily the best course, but it was reasonable.  I would guess that people with a sense for this would suggest you should try to make a broad circle so there is no wasted time.  In addition this would ensure you were among the first to each stop, earning the highest number of points.  We pretty much zigged and zagged as if we had started out with the beer stop.

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Ok — so GPS shows we meandered a bit.

No matter.  By the end of the day we had ridden a modest 15 miles, and each of us had collected a fair amount of food.  In most cases we opted for canned tuna or chicken as it is lighter and because protein is the hardest food source for food banks to acquire.

At the Mic or Mac in Grandin Village, I bought a can of pig brains, just because I had never before seen that food item for sale.  I reasoned that perhaps the food bank had never been able to offer this particular food item to anyone and that people must eat pig brains if some company took the time to package it.


Cranksgiving rider Karen Deer walks out of the downtown Co-Op store on the Roanoke City Market.

It’s one thing to be out riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway or some rural road.  But having a large group of us riding around town must have been either interesting, annoying or both.  Whenever we read criticisms of cyclists there is always some nasty reference to the tight fitting clothes, and the notion that we are all (at least till a few years ago) “Lance Armstrong wanna-be’s.”  You have to admit that to most of the general population, walking around in jeans and t-shirts, that cyclists kinda look like martians.

Steber said he selected the local markets in order to keep the money in Roanoke and to support small businesses.  I think this is admirable.  But I will say in a few of the stores, the clerks weren’t quite sure they loved their jobs so much when we martians descended upon them and formed long lines to buy a single can of green beans, tuna or pig brains.

Oh well.  They’ll learn.

The ride happily ended at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewery, where we emptied our backpacks of food and handed baggies full of our receipts and points tabs to Steber.  He added up the points while we all enjoyed a beer.


Some of the members of our group, post ride at Soaring Ridge.

Cranksgiving had been perfect motivation for a ride in November.

A couple of Cranksgiving notes from Steber. 

The event in 2015 had twice as many participants as the inaugural event in 2014.  He estimates that the approximately 50 riders collected 300 pounds of food for the Feeding America of Southwest Virginia food bank.  He said the event would come back next year as long as he still had the volunteers needed to organize and carry out the event.

The concept of Cranksgiving is not a Roanoke original.  Cities across the country and primarily along he east coast, according to Steber, are holding similar events.  It seems like a great idea.  It’s fun, it collects food for the hungry and of course there’s that thing about motivation to Ride in November.

By the way the heaviest food item was a fifty lb. bag of brown rice.