When it was time for his second COVID-19 shot in early April, Steve Baltazar made the round trip from his home in Battle Ground to Vancouver’s Tower Mall mass vaccination site by bicycle.
“It was going to be one of the nicest days for cycling, so I thought, gotta do it!” Baltazar, road captain for the Vancouver Bicycle Club, told me in email. “Made the 18-mile ride in with two minutes to spare! Then I rode about 22 miles to get back home, feeling great as I smiled at the thought of finally being vaccinated!”
Even as the pandemic boosted interest in cycling, it put the brakes on the bike club, which didn’t host meetings or group rides and suffered declining membership. The club’s signature community event, Ride Around Clark County, didn’t happen in 2020. But widespread vaccination has the Vancouver Bicycle Club rolling again with offerings you don’t need to be a member to enjoy.
“Things are opening up again and people are coming together again,” said club officer and frequent ride leader Jan Verrinder.
If you have gotten back in the saddle during the pandemic, and are looking to connect with the local cycling community, group rides are underway nearly every day. If you feel a bit tentative on two wheels, sign-ups are open for streetwise “Cycling 101” training outings on Monday nights beginning May 3. And plans are firming up for a slimmed-down version of the Ride Around Clark County event on July 24.
“We didn’t have lots of time to plan, so we dropped the prices and simplified everything,” Verrinder said.
Instead of five routes catering to ability levels from novice to hardened 100-miler, this year’s ride will offer just two routes for cyclists equal to hills and distances: a 34-mile loop around Lacamas Lake and back to downtown Vancouver (entry fee $20), and a 62-mile “metric century” that rounds Lacamas Lake, then heads north and west through Hockinson, Battle Ground and Ridgefield before returning to base (entry fee $40).
In addition to all that gorgeous scenery, the ride will feature snack stops along the routes, rolling mechanical support if you get in trouble, and a beer-and-refreshments scene at the finish. This year’s start and finish line is The Community Hub Bike Shop at 1604 Main St.
The Community Hub is operated by Bike Clark County, the nonprofit receiving proceeds from the ride. Bike Clark County is restarting several core educational and safety programs for young cyclists after a year on pause, said Peter Van Tilburg, the organization’s executive director.
Bike Clark County’s weekly after-school “Bike2Leadership” program, aiming to develop responsible young citizens through a thorough education in bike maintenance and traffic safety, began a new session this week. The middle school bike safety training program will start returning to local PE classes this fall, Van Tilburg said.
Meanwhile, the bike shop is doing booming business in spring tune-ups and sales of used, reconditioned bikes, which usually roll out the door within a day, Van Tilburg said.
But new bikes and some new gear just can’t be found, he said. The coronavirus pandemic and the recent Suez Canal blockage broke supply chains, he said.
“We put in an order in 2020 for 50 new bikes and they were supposed to arrive in April. Now that’s been pushed back to July,” Van Tilburg said. “There has been worldwide demand for bikes since the moment travel stopped. Everyone has been looking for an outlet.”
Some cyclists like to explore. Others appreciate an itinerary. Some are perfectly happy to take a round trip from home, while others like driving their bikes to some landmark or trailhead to start an adventure.
If you want to keep things simple, let your own wanderings generate commonsense bike routes. In my neighborhood, there are several parks and four school campuses, so I often cap off my work day with what I’ve dubbed the Felida Park Tour — a flat, easy 10 miles that sticks to quiet back streets, but still offers the option of a beer or meal at the Mt. Tabor Pub as a final reward.
If you’re riding with kids, consider their abilities, Verrinder said. A ride down the block or over to the schoolyard might be plenty for some, while others might enjoy a challenge. Just remember to keep it reasonable and ride single file, with a grown-up in the lead and another bringing up the rear if possible, she said.
“It can be fun to have a destination in mind, like Dairy Queen or the library,” Verrinder said. “Kids want to feel successful. They want to feel like they’ve accomplished something.”
Childhood bike rides with her dad were fun because he was always pointing out local landmarks and “quirky, weird stuff,” Verrinder remembered. Fortunately, Clark County is full of that.
Occasionally I traverse town via what I call “The Scottish Route” — McLoughlin to MacArthur to McGillivray — and then back along Old Evergreen Highway. The scenic journey includes a visit with Manny the pandemic mannequin, who’s still greeting passersby on Southeast 98th Avenue; a peaceful rest at Columbia Springs environmental education center; and, finally, an eclectic parade of waterfront mansions and mansion wannabes.
Try one of the county’s popular, paved greenways — Burnt Bridge Creek, Salmon Creek, Washougal’s Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail along the Columbia River waterfront — but always ring a bell or give a courtesy “On your left!” before passing pedestrians. Also, stay vigilant about your car and your valuables. I recently returned to the Burnt Bridge Creek trailhead at Fruit Valley Road after a couple of hours riding to find my car’s passenger window smashed by a disappointed thief who looked for loot but found nothing and didn’t even want my Yo-Yo Ma and Bob Dylan CDs.
Van Tilburg likes the city of Vancouver’s interactive, online bike street atlas as well as the paper version (available at The Community Hub), which highlight the entire county’s bike paths and bike-friendly roads, as well as some danger zones worth avoiding.
A great bike-route resource is hidden in plain sight on the Vancouver Bicycle Club website: more than 200 ride cue sheets combining maps, elevation diagrams and detailed route instructions generated by long-standing bike club members like Verrinder herself. These routes crisscross the county every which way and at every ability level. Some aim to train you up, like the “Throbbing Thigh Thriller” between Salmon Creek and Ridgefield. Others, like the “Lava Java Espresso” loop out of a Ridgefield coffee shop and the “Fish Taco Ride” between Minnehaha and a Ridgefield seafood restaurant, mainly mean to keep you fed and caffeinated.
They’re all simply suggestions, Verrinder said, and some are years old — so check ahead to make sure your destination café, pub or restaurant is still there. (My favorite restaurant discovery lately is The Pita House in Battle Ground, so I’m hereby inaugurating a round-trip “Falafel Fondo” from the Washington State University Vancouver campus.)
Also, consider time of day. A route that’s mellow in at midday may be crowded with cars during peak commuter hours. It’s never a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the route by driving it first, Verrinder said.
Before you go, always check your bike ABCs: air (in your tires), brakes (do they work?), chain (is it rusty or dirty?). Helmets are required by law in the city of Vancouver and a good idea everywhere.
Be sure to eat something that will keep you going before you head out. Bring water and a snack. Don’t forget your wallet and phone.
Legally speaking, bikes are vehicles in traffic, and riders must follow the rules of the road. Obey signs and signals just as you would if driving, and always use hand signals to communicate what you’re up to. Ride predictably; never startle drivers, fellow cyclists or pedestrians with surprises.
“Think for yourself,” Verrinder said. “Play nice and don’t forget to have fun.”