Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bike the Bend Ride Report

Sunday, I had the pleasure of riding the Bike the Bend for Literacy ride which benefits the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County. I would be doing the ride a disservice by failing to mention the goal of the literacy council, which is ending intergenerational cycles of illiteracy by improving adult literacy skills and generating community-wide literacy awareness. The ride itself is routed through the country roads north of Sugar Land on the Southwest side of Houston. If you're a Houstonian and haven't ridden through the roads around Fulshear and Brookshire, you're missing out on some of the best cycling in the city. The roads have wide shoulders, little traffic, and are swamped with cyclists on the weekends. The ride organizers picked the perfect location for their route. There were three options for ride length, 19, 32, and 59 miles for cyclists of all skill levels.

After two solid days of rain, I awoke to clear skies, sun, and COLD temperatures (for Houston that is). Air temperatures in the morning were in the high 40's with a slight breeze from the North. The ride began from Foster high school in Richmond. There was ample parking as well as restrooms, water, and food available to riders before the start. By the time I arrived at 7:45 most of the riders were lined up at the start at the East end of the parking lot. I quickly joined them, and then the ride began. Thankfully organizers decided to stagger the start, sending riders off in groups of 100 with a minute or two between groups. Inevitably, I have found the start of charity rides to be the most dangerous time, with beginner cyclists struggling to clip in, or nervous about riding in close proximity with other riders. The staggered start made it smooth as silk.

Due to time commitments I chose the 32 mile route to ride. The first half of the ride was common to all cyclists and it was fairly crowded. It was impossible to pass cyclists without taking the lane of the road. Thankfully the presence of Sheriffs and SAG vehicles kept riders safe. I stopped at the first rest stop to get some air in my tires, it was very well stocked with food, and restrooms. After the first rest stop, the concentration of cyclists thinned out and the ride became much more enjoyable. My first of two major peeves of the ride came on the first turn off. The ride had volunteers at the first turn and signs labelled with only colored squares representing the routes. I could not remember for the life of me which color my route corresponded to and had to yell across the road to figure out which route I needed to take. I hope ride organizers invest in better signage for the route next year, because every rider I spoke with held this same feeling.

The 32 mile route. I missed the first turn due to poor signs.

The route itself went through quiet, winding country roads lined by white fences and green pastures. It was quiet and domestically picturesque. Most of the roads were in excellent shape, devoid of potholes, and very smooth. However, one stretch of road on the 32 mile route was in very poor shape with lots of cracks and some major potholes. In the future, ride organizers should consider driving the routes beforehand and marking potholes with orange paint for rider safety. If I have one complaint that I would like the ride organizers to take home, it is this - at the end of the ride, the turnoff to the school was extremely dangerous. There was no direction at the intersection and traffic on the road was busy and moving at 60+ miles an hour. Riders were forced to negotiate a move from the shoulder to the center turning lane dodging traffic the entire time. A rider in front of me came so close to a pickup attempting this maneuver I had to turn away for fear of the catastrophe I saw coming. Thankfully she narrowly avoided serious injury. I missed the turn to the ride finish msyelf due to a pack of cars and had to catch the second light. There needs to either be ride volunteers or police officers present to help cyclists finish. Better yet, rather than having riders turn right onto FM 723, have them continue straight past the light and turn right into Foster.

With that grievance aired, it's hard to ignore the highlights of the ride. The peaceful route, the wonderful weather, and courteous riders all made this an event I will be attending yearly. The volunteers were friendly and helpful, the rest stops were fully stocked and staffed with mechanical support as well. The positives of this ride far outweighed the negatives. However, I am looking forward to what was a good ride becoming a great one with some minor changes.

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