The Star City turned into Bike City on Friday. Nearly 2,000 cyclists converged on Roanoke for Bike Virginia, a five-day bicycle tour that starts today.
Roanoke and Lexington are sharing host duties for this year's tour on rural routes in Roanoke, Botetourt, Franklin and Rockbridge counties.
The Stubbs family of Greensboro, N.C., rolled into town late Friday afternoon in their Ford Expedition, which carried four bikes on a roof rack and was adorned with a license plate reading, appropriately, "LIKNBIKN."
David and Debbie Stubbs said this is their 11th visit to Bike Virginia. Or maybe it's their 12th. They couldn't remember for sure. Their two daughters had better memories.
"Last year was my first," said 13-year-old Rebecca.
"This is my first," added Lauren, 16.
David Stubbs said Bike Virginia is a lot of fun.
"You get an early start, get to your destination early then have time to do other things," said Stubbs, 48. "There's a lot of camaraderie, too."
The Stubbses planned to connect with friends from Phoenix and Cincinnati, riders they've met on previous tours.
Jerry Sbarra and Gil Sopher had already connected.
Sbarra, of Shoreham, N.Y., and Sopher, from Elkins Park, Pa., met on a tour six years ago.
"We get in touch maybe one or two times a year," Sbarra, a 64- year-old veterinarian said of his 68-year-old friend, who's retired. "One of those times is to do a bike ride."
This is their second consecutive visit to Bike Virginia.
"We enjoyed it a lot," Sbarra said of last year's ride in the Shenandoah Valley. "It was well organized and went smoothly.
"We haven't gone back to some other states."
Jane Vasileff and three friends from Jacksonville, Fla., are riding in the Virginia event for the first time.
"We do a lot of these," said Vasileff, 60. "You see some of the same people over and over again.
"Once you get the bug, you can't stop."
The tour starts with a loop ride starting and ending in Roanoke. Sunday the riders will pedal 71 miles to Lexington. Monday and Tuesday will feature loop rides starting and ending in Lexington. The group will return to Roanoke on Wednesday.
Riders who take each day's shortest option will cover 272 miles. Longer options push the potential mileage to 360. The rides range from today's 45-mile option to a 100-mile option on Monday.
Like similar bike tours, Bike Virginia draws many older riders. The average age of the riders is 51. This year's event attracted 57 entrants who are over 70. The Stubbs girls are among the 50 registered riders under 18.
Since Bike Virginia is a ride - not a race - most of the participants take it easy and enjoy the scenery.
"When you're on a bike you have a completely different perspective," said Steve Seibert of Chester. "You see things that you don't see when you're going 70 on I-81."
A few riders aren't as interested in sightseeing.
Fifteen-year-old Kevin Young of Chevy Chase, Md., said he planned to push himself.
"This is basically a training ride to get us ready for racing," said Young, who came to the tour with his father, Philip, but plans to ride each day with a friend who is also a racer.
Event officials said roughly 1,200 of the cyclists will stay in motels during the tour. The balance of the riders camp.
Roanoke's tent city was growing by the minute at the city's headquarters at James Madison Middle School. Organizers originally planned to use Victory Stadium as the Roanoke headquarters. They had to change after engineers deemed some areas of the stadium unsafe.
"Parking is our worst nightmare, but we just deal with it," said Bike Virginia's Kim Berry, who said Friday's registration and orientation were otherwise going smoothly.
Seibert and friend Dave Rowlett of Matoaca were pitching their tents under a big maple tree. The ground wasn't level but Seibert said he didn't mind.
"If you sleep with your head uphill it's not bad," said Seibert, a 53-year-old lab technician. "It's kind of like sleeping in a recliner."
Vasileff had other plans.
"Everybody wants shade," she said. "I'd rather have level."
Vasileff had staked out a flat area and was waiting for her friends to return with their luggage. She said she was looking forward to the Virginia route, although hills made her a little nervous.
"We've been training on bridges," she said. "Those are the only hills where we are."
She figured her special hill-climbing gear, or granny gear in cyclespeak, would get her through.
When it gets steep, she said, "The grannies can put their bikes in their granny gears."
BY THE NUMBERS
-1,975 Riders registered as of Friday afternoon.
-360 Combined distance of the five longest routes offered
-36 States represented.
-22 Number of miles Governor Mark Warner will ride Monday in
-57 Riders over 70.
-50 Riders under 18.
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