Once again spring has come and with it the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club’s Spring Summits Challenge.

2016-shirtThe Club designates ten climbs in the Roanoke area and gives riders the entire season to complete them.  So we have from March 20 to June 20 to ride these beasts and achieve the ultimate goal of any athlete – A tee-shirt that proclaims our achievement.

For the record I happen to be wearing my 2015 tee right now.  (Same as above only in blue.)


BRBC President David Sistler and John after climbing Peakwood in 2015.

I Interviewed club president David Sistler about the rides he chose for this year. The Challenge is his idea after all. And below I will share his thoughts about some new ways to measure the success of the event from the club’s perspective and also for cycling in general here in the region.

If you are not a Roanoke-based cyclist – I would encourage you to look at the maps and routes David has outlined on the club’s website because these are quality rides. Rides worth coming to Roanoke for and spending a long weekend or longer.

Roanoke’s reputation as a cycling destination is growing, but one of the hardest obstacles to overcome is knowing where to ride once you get here. There are no “flat” rides in Roanoke to speak of, but there are many opportunities for memorable or even epic rides and some of them are on this list.

David says he picked this year’s climbs from his list of favorite local challenges. He kept some of the originals from last year but added new ones this year. I think that’s smart. Climbs like the Mill Mountain Star and Peakwood are iconic and cool because they are actually within the city limits. I would have retained the Roanoke Mountain climb as another icon, but that didn’t make the cut this year. (David does suggest riding the Blue Ridge Marathon course which would nab you both Peakwood and Mill Mountain – and you would climb Roanoke Mountain anyway – just no points for that one.)Star

Also back are Mount Chestnut, 12 O’Clock Knob, Bradshaw, Bent Mountain and Cahas.

New are Porter’s Mountain, Thunder Ridge and Caldwell.  These will take me to areas I have never ridden, so I’m looking forward to seeing some new sights — If I remember to stop staring at the pavement in front of my front wheel.

I set out to do the YMCA of Central Virginia sponsored Storming Thunder Ridge ride in 2015 only to blow a spoke and limp home long before the climb. This is a great event and if you are looking for a chance to do Thunder Ridge, you should sign up.  Here is a link to the 75 mile option.

Thunder ridge profile.jpg

Thunder Ridge Course Profile from Buchanan — David’s recommended starting point.

“Thunder Ridge is a BIG climb for around here.  I think it’s a great bucket list climb that some people don’t realize is within their abilities with a little training and motivation.  Last year the biggest challenge in my mind was Potts; Thunder Ridge replaces Potts,” said Sistler.

He believes this is also the hardest of the Summits for 2016.

“Thunder Ridge will likely be the hardest for most everyone because it might take some people over 2 hours to do.  That’s mentally difficult.  It’s not as steep as Bent Mountain or Peakwood for instance, but it goes on forever.  Fortunately it’s still a beautiful ride.  That being said, Bent Mountain is long and steep which might make it more difficult than Thunder Ridge for some people,” he said.


the famous red mailbox at the top of the Bradshaw climb.  A great training ride for the early season.

Sistler said that adding Caldwell Mountain summit might have been the most difficult decision, because it’s a long loop and you pretty much have to do it all.

“Caldwell was the most difficult one as it is so remote and there was not an obvious short loop that includes the mountain… ” he explained.

I applaud the club for looking for opportunities to increase participation, as opposed to competition. Not that sprinting for the next stop sign doesn’t have its place. But there are far more cyclists who just want to get out and see the region than the hammer guys we all (well, many of us.) wish we could be.

Toward that end, the Summit rules have evolved a bit from last year, to encourage even more participation. You get more points for your proof-of-summit selfie if there are more people in it.


Left to right, John Carlin, Mary Carlin, Gretchen Weinnig, Barbara Butcher, Gary Butcher.  The Bent Mountain Climb “finish” is at the Poor Mountain overlook sign.

“Last year was successful in terms of individual participation, but we thought we could tweak the competition some to encourage group rides.  People still get a tee-shirt if the climbs are done individually.  This year though, doing them with a lot of people will net the most benefits with the top five points finishers being rewarded,” Sistler said. “The more ways we can encourage people to ride together.  Cycling is fun and I think it’s better from an enjoyment and safety perspective when done with friends.”

Sistler says people have been generally receptive to the new rules and that club memberships have increased. That’s good.

The weather has been lousy for the most part so far this spring, but it will be warmer and less windy soon, and it will be time to climb. I snuck in a climb on one of the few good days we’ve had and Bent Mountain has been checked off the list. I plan to ride myself into shape and attack the longer, harder rides in May and early June.

If misery loves company, then let’s get as many people as possible out there, and show how happy they are when they get to the top and pose for the group selfie.