Take a tour of Clark County on two wheels

Southwest Washington's largest cycling event offers 18-, 34-, 65- and 100-mile rides

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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photoThe Ride Around Clark County cycling event includes four organized bike rides aimed at various skill levels.

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Ride Around Clark County

What: Southwest Washington's largest cycling event, with 18-, 34-, 65- and 100-mile loops through the countryside. Hosted by the Vancouver Bicycle Club.

When: Registration begins at 6 a.m. Loops are open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 4.

Where: All rides start and end at Clark College, Hanna Hall, 1820 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

Admission: $35 for 100-, 65- or 34-mile loops; $25 for 18-mile loop; $15 for ages 13-17; free for children 12 and younger with paid adult.

Web: Vancouver Bicycle Club

One of the best things about going on a big, well-organized bike ride is that you can quit if you need to, said Wade Leckie, owner of Bad Monkey Bikes in Vancouver.

That's not to say you'll want to stop, but with support vehicles, mechanical help and refreshment areas, the 30th annual Ride Around Clark County is a much safer option than attempting a stamina-breaking ride on your own, said Leckie, who plans to ride in the event this year.

"I like to recommend it to folks that are trying to work up to a century (100-mile ride)," Leckie said. "The longer rides are great because there's so much support. There are a few cars that drive around, and they'll pick you up and haul you back to the start if you feel you just can't make it."

The event includes four organized bike rides aimed at various skill levels.

The 18-mile loop, the shortest, is always popular with beginners, said Joseph Blanco, board secretary of the Vancouver Bicycle Club, which organizes the event.

"It's pretty flat," Blanco said. "We get a lot of kids, families, people who don't ride much. It's a very family-oriented, easy ride."

A bit more advanced is the 34-mile loop, aimed at the intermediate crowd, he said.

The 65-mile loop is perfect for advancing riders that are trying to train for the 100-mile, but aren't quite ready yet, said Leckie, who is also a club member.

"It's a great confidence-builder for a lot of people," Leckie said. "I have a few of my customers doing that one because they're still working up to the century."

And the 100-mile loop is for advanced riders to share strategies and compare their skills with other experienced riders.

"When you see 1,100 cyclists or more going on this ride, you realize, I'm not the only cyclist out there," Leckie said. "I encourage everybody to go out and try it. It's a great time."

Before any of the rides, club members check participants' gear and safety equipment. They'll also offer tips and even teach new riders a few mechanical things, such as how to change a flat tire, Blanco said.

"All of our rides have mechanical support, food stops and monitors to make sure everybody's OK," Blanco said. "If somebody has a flat tire or a breakdown, we'll help them."

Each year, the Ride Around Clark County draws between 1,100 and 1,800 people, depending on the weather, Blanco said.

Everyone is welcome, not just members, and people who join the Vancouver Bicycle Club at the event will be eligible for discounts right away, he said.

Rides cost between $15 and $35, depending on age and loop length, and members get a $5 discount.

The fees pay for food and support, but anything over that amount will be distributed among seven charities the club supports, Blanco said.

Besides the annual event, the club generally hosts between 20 to 30 rides for smaller groups each week. It can be a great way to meet new friends and get involved in the cycling community, Blanco said.

"It's camaraderie," Blanco said. "I think a lot of the time, whether it's the Ride Around Clark County or the club rides, people just enjoy riding with each other."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.