This weekly ride has something for everyone — but the emphasis is on “Friendly.”
Roanoke’s Tuesday night ride had become a bit of a problem. According to many people, over the years it had become a victim of it’s own success. Too many riders in a bunch. Conflicts with motorists on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Too many strong riders — which made new riders or those with a bit less passion feel like it wasn’t the ride for them.
Enter Rob Issem, and a ride he dubbed, L’Eroica Roanoke — The Friendliest Ride in America. There’s a lot going on here. Not only is Rob trying to re-create a Tuesday night experience that is inviting to all — but he’s also asking those who have them to ride retro – steel bikes — just because it’s cool. Which it is — and many people showed up with 1980’s vintage bikes complete with down tube shifters.
In addition, he’s cobbled together a number of route variations so riders have a choice of distances and levels of difficulty. Each selection has a ride leader/sweeper — so no one is stranded.
The most difficult option involves riding up a section of Crowell’s Gap Road, which involves a climb on a gravel section that forces many riders (me included) to dismount and push for about two tenths of a mile. Fortunately the last tenth or so is less steep – so you can ride to the finish, where the stronger riders are ready with a cold drink and lots of applause.
Which brings me to the “Friendly” part of the ride. Even at the beginning of the ride, which leaves weekly from the Transportation Museum in downtown Roanoke at 5:45 Issem is emphasizing how important it is for the groups of riders to sort themselves naturally by ability. “There’s too many of us to have this big blob of cyclists riding through downtown,” he told the group of somewhere between 70 and 100 riders.
Beyond that, he asked everyone to obey the rules of the road, to avoid conflicts with motorists and to say hello to everyone — whether they be other cyclists, folks on the sidewalks, or even people sitting on their front porches. The overwhelming message being cyclists are friendly and a good thing for the Valley.
I did a story on the ride for the 11 pm news on WSLS10. I lamented the fact that I wasn’t strong enough to ride the gravel section to the top, (though I’m determined to get there by the end of the summer.) interviewed Pete Eshelman, Roanoke’s Director of Outdoor Branding, about how events and rides like this attract companies to the Roanoke Valley, and watched as Rob took his own advice saying hello to literally everyone within ear shot as we passed on our bikes.
The ride ends at Cornerstone restaurant on the Roanoke City Market where, we all carried our bikes inside, and enjoyed a sandwich and a cold beverage.
L’Eroica Roanoke? Is it Tuesday yet?