BikeVirginia 2007 Ride Report

Overview

Bike Virginia is a large five day state bike ride (and one of the few without a name transformed into an acronym full of hard consonants like RAGBRAI, GOBA, CANDISC, BRAG etc, etc.). Unlike many of these rides, rather than riding across the state and stopping in a different town each day, Bike Virginia this year staged multiple days out of each of two towns. Bike Virginia limits entrance to 2000 cyclists and seems not to have a problem with large numbers of unregistered riders. While their website claims an average age range of 35-50 years, my subjective impression is that this year it skewed a bit older. This may be a function of the fact that most days had multiple distance options and a relatively flat course making it more approachable for older riders. Bike Virginia's focus seems to be less on the party and more on showing off the states historical and natural treasures. This makes the ride a better fit for families than some others because there's less drinking and some legitimate educational content.

Will on Bike

Organization

What's really stunning about BV after doing RAGBRAI is the lack of lines. The only time I recall having to wait any time for anything was for a shower after the first century day. Even the porta-potty lines first thing in the morning were short. Camping was at a high school in one town, and a middle school in the other. Between the indoor facilities at the schools, the standard porta-potties, and a pair of "luxury" porta-potty units, the facilities were more than adequate. This extended to rest, lunch and dinner locations as well. Showers were provided both in the schools and a shower truck (which is far more plush than you might imagine).

Each day, except the last, had between two and four routes of varying distances to choose from. They were all extremely well marked with color coded signs. Someone always gets lost, but you have to really be snoozing at the wheel to do so. The maps came in a colorful unbound magazine format with routes, distances and descriptions of events for each day. Being unbound meant you could carry just what you needed for a single day. The only drawback was that it was expensive enough that there were no spares. If you lost any pages or disolved them in sweat, you were out of luck.

During parts of the ride that traveled on busy or dangerous sections of road, there was adequate police protection. The last day crossed two bridges and riders were grouped and given a police escort. On the day when we crossed to Jamestown on a ferry, riders were grouped by police and orderly filed on and off with the auto traffic. Massages, yoga classes, misting stations and a shaded hospitality tent were available every day.

Routes and Roads

Each day I chose the longest distance available except for the second century day. This meant that I rode 78, 107, 48, 62, and 49 miles. The organizers explained that they didn't provide an elevation profile this year because there wasn't one. That's a bit of an exaggeration but aside from a few rollers, it truly was mostly flat and for a midwesterner, it was mercifully free of winds. The routes took riders through some beautiful rural countryside. The routes are scenic and often pass through shady trees and by restored antebellum plantations.

There was a day and a half, however, on the Colonial Parkway which is paved with a concrete mix with a very course aggregate. If you look closely at the picture on this page, you can see the large embedded stones. This, after a chip and seal century, made me feel more physically beaten up after BV than I ever have on any other ride. You'll also note the expansion joint running the length of the road. A few years ago, a RAGBRAI rider was killed after getting a wheel stuck in one of these. This year, several riders had exactly the same kind of accident on BV though none were killed. This same day, the route took us along a paved path through the Yorktown battlefields. Unfortunately, many very small stones were getting embedded in tires along this brief loop. (I think it was about twelve miles.) The bike shop support group reported repairing 200 tires that day.

Towns

Rural Virginia isn't populated with the numbers of small towns that you see in midwestern rides like RAGBRAI and Bike Virginia reflects this difference. The only towns were the moderate sized cities of Hopewell, Williamsburg, and Petersburg and the small town of Smithfield. The first two were overnight towns, the last were pass-through.

Hopewell is an industrial city which has seen better times. It's probably best known for the kepone insecticide spill in the 1970s. These days it's not hard to find the poverty which has overtaken this area. Despite this, Hopewell provided good accommodations, friendly locals, and great entertainment from a pair of local bands at a downtown party.

Williamsburg, on the other hand, is a growing well-off community. There's an entire brand new downtown area called "new town" a short distance from the restored colonial town. While the streets were safer and the dinner at William and Mary College was superb, Hopewell threw a better party. Although the indoor jazz performance at the college was very good and a welcome respite from the oppressive southern heat.

Touring

Bike Virginia seems to take a special interest in displaying the historical and natural sites of import in the state. In Southeastern Virginia, this means battlefields and monuments from the civil and revolutionary wars as well as Jamestown and Williamsburg. Because of the heat and my delicate constitution, I passed on many of the opportunities to do some the touring. When the temperature and humidity are both approaching the high 90's, I like to start and finish early before the heat of the day becomes unbearable.

In spite of that, I made it through Blandford Church which has a still-active cemetery that was originally opened to bury 30,000 civil war dead, the Petersburg civil war battlefield park, Yorktown where the British were defeated and Colonial Williamsburg. There were opportunities to explore Jamestown, historic parts of Smithfield as well as some museums and other destinations. Some family members visited me in the afternoon after riding on a couple of days and we spent more time going through Colonial Williamsburg and New Town.

Food

The entry fee for BV includes lunch and food at all rest stops every day. Lunches were things like catered grilled chicken, a selection of boxed sandwiches, or Pizza Hut pizza. Full menues are available on the web site. Rest stops usually had fruit, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, gatorade, water, baked goods and other fast energy foods. Some were run by churches and community organizations.

Two meal plans are also available at additional cost. There's one plan for dinner and one for breakfast. Breakfasts were held at the campground in the school cafeteria and featured things like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles and pastries. Dinners varied each night and ranged from pasta to mexican food. I'd recommend the breakfast plan highly and the dinner plan is nice as well, though you might wish to try local restaurants instead. With the full set of meal plans, you can do Bike Virginia with no cash and just carry a credit card for emergencies. Perhaps the best dinner was an "all you can eat" night in the William and Mary college cafeteria. There was vegeterian pasta, burgers, fries, pizza, a full salad bar and more.

Another feature was that every day there was an ice cream truck and a fresh barbeque stand available on a cash basis at the campground every day. The barbeque is really nice for exhausted riders who'd rather just eat and get some sleep than go into town for food. The ice cream truck was really nice for taking the edge off the heat.

The People

I can't say enough good things about the organizers, the volunteers and riders. Everyone was super friendly. This is a really good ride to do alone because you will never feel alone. Even with my subpar social skills I was able to find people with whom to ride, eat, and enjoy entertainment. I think this is a more outgoing and friendly cycling crowd than even RAGBRAI. Although the locals were all really friendly one on one, there was never the enthusiastic welcome that riders receive in Iowa, but that's probably more because of the shear size differences between the events.

Accommodations and Cost

Bike Virginia offers outdoor camping on football fields, indoor "camping" in gymnasiums and discounts at hotels and motels in the overnight towns for a wide range overnight options.

Bike Virginia is not cheap. I spent $318 for registration and both meal plans. This, however, covers almost everything you need from food, to entertainment, to bag transport, to showers and SAG and more.

Conclusions

I had a great time and I'm glad I went. I highly recommend this ride.