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News / Life / Clark County Life

Ride Around Clark County: Annual bike outing returns with four updated routes

Rides offer rest stops, refreshments and help if there are mechanical issues

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 19, 2024, 6:05am
3 Photos
Bikers take a break from the 100-mile Ride Around Clark County loop at the Clark County Fire &amp; Rescue Station 24 in Ridgefield in 2019.
Bikers take a break from the 100-mile Ride Around Clark County loop at the Clark County Fire & Rescue Station 24 in Ridgefield in 2019. (Columbian file photos) Photo Gallery

Living and driving in Clark County may lead you to think you’ve seen the place. But have you ever taken a self-propelled tour of the local landscape on two wheels, not four?

The Vancouver Bicycle Club’s annual Ride Around Clark County event, set this year for July 27, is your opportunity to admire sweet scenery, enjoy lavish spreads of snacks and get the workout of your own choosing.

“During the pandemic, many people were introduced to indoor (stationary) cycling, and that’s great, but I personally feel there’s no substitute for the fresh air and sunshine of an outdoor ride,” said Mike Detlef, a Vancouver Bicycle Club board member.

Ride Around Clark County is a fully supported bike outing. Routes are mapped out and easy to follow. Volunteers sweep the routes (in cars, not on bikes) to make sure everyone is OK. If you do get into mechanical trouble, help is just a phone call away. Rest stops and refreshments are plentiful, including sandwich bar and one beer or soft drink when you’re done (included with registration).

VANCOUVER’S BIKE SCENE

Learn about Vancouver Bicycle Club training opportunities, weekly rides and special events like the Ride Around Clark County at vbc-usa.com online.

Learn about the nonprofit, co-op Bike Clark County shop and its youth courses in basic bike maintenance as well as “bike leadership” skills (citizenship, mentoring, first aid) at bikeclarkcounty.org online.

To pay for all that, registration starts at $35 (for shorter routes) and goes as high as $70. Whatever revenues are left over are donated to Bike Clark County, a nonprofit, cooperative bike shop in downtown Vancouver.

The event has long offered four different routes for cyclists of different abilities, from short and flat to long and hilly. This year all routes have been updated. They begin and end at the Bike Clark County shop at 1604 Main St., Vancouver.

River Run (18 miles round-trip; 234 feet elevation): For bike newbies, dabblers and families with kids, there’s the flat out-and-back to Frenchman’s Bar Regional Park. This route passes through the Fruit Valley neighborhood and stops in at the seldom-visited Vancouver Lake Wildlife Area at the end of Laframbois Road. Then it U-turns, connects with Lower River Road and continues out to the Columbia River. On a clear day you’ll see mountains and ships.

Town and Country (34 miles round-trip; 657 feet elevation): Cyclists up for more distance and challenge can add a second leg — and a tiny taste of Scotland — to the River Run. After returning to base (and snacking) at Bike Clark County downtown, continue eastward along the central Vancouver streets that local bike commuters fondly call the “Scottish Highway”: McLoughlin to MacArthur to McGillivray. You’ll turn around in Cascade Park and head back downtown. While mostly flat, this route also demands a bit of climbing but rewards you with a bit of coasting.

Metric Plus (66 miles round-trip; 2,781 feet elevation): Ready for rural scenery, big hills and a whole new approach? This huge, clockwise loop heads north out of downtown Vancouver through Felida, Salmon Creek and rural Sara before veering east toward Battle Ground. After that, the loop zigzags southeast through the countryside, passing between Green Mountain and Camp Bonneville and rounding the southern tip of Lacamas Lake before heading back to base.

Century Plus (104 miles round-trip; 5,571 feet elevation): Even huger and steeper, this follows the Metric Plus route but adds an additional loop that veers north from Battle Ground all the way to the Cedar Creek Grist Mill in north Clark County. The elevations on this route will test you for sure. The mountain and forest scenery will reward you aplenty.

“People don’t realize how pretty it is up there,” Detlef said.

Stay right for safety

After running counterclockwise around the county for many years, Detlef said, the direction of the two longest routes — the Metric Plus and the Century Plus — was changed this year to clockwise. Detlef said that’s a subtle difference with an important reason: safety.

Cyclists tend to stay to the right but riding a counterclockwise route around the county forces them to make repeated left turns and cross oncoming lanes of traffic. But riding clockwise means fewer lefts and many more easy right turns from the right lane. That’s less complicated and less risky, Detlef said.

“We ended up with more right-hand turns, and we feel that’s safer,” Detlef said.

Get ready

If you’re tempted by the Ride Around Clark County but not sure you’ve got the skills or the oomph, consider signing up for a training ride series or a beginner bike-safety session. The Vancouver Bicycle Club is offering both this spring.

A series of weekly route training rides will begin in May and run through June, Detlef said. Guided by ride leaders, groups of cyclists will attack the Ride Around Clark County routes of their own choosing, gradually adding distances over the weeks. Visit the club website to learn more.

For newer or returning riders who want a beginner-level introduction or reintroduction to the basics of street riding, the club will offer its annual Road Cycling 101 series from May 15 through July 17. These are weekly outings that start at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays with safety topics like basic bike mechanics and rules of the road. After that, cyclists will hit the street for a few miles, escorted by a Bicycle Club instructor and assistant.

Get social

Concerns about cyclist safety are nothing new. They’re why the Vancouver Bicycle Club was first formed over 50 years ago, Detlef said.

“Not everyone is comfortable riding along our city and county roads, with good reason,” he said. “We’ve developed hundreds of routes that the club deems safe. They’re quieter roads that avoid dangerous intersections. The club leads rides on those routes at various skill levels.”

Check the club’s busy calendar page to find the guided ride that’s right for you. Listings include length and pace (in mph) for each ride.

Detlef himself leads a weekly ride (from midtown Vancouver to Salmon Creek and back) that’s nicknamed “The Earthquake” for no real reason except historical cycling legend, he said. In the 1980s, a group of cyclists returned from this route to discover that their stationary peers had felt an earthquake. Out on the road, the cyclists had felt nothing.

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Detlef leads his Earthquake outings at a pretty brisk pace, he said (18 to 20 mph for 32 miles, round-trip). For those who want an easier, shorter version, there’s also a “Mini-Quake” (12 to 14 mph for 22 miles) led by a different club volunteer.

That’s just a sampler of the many group rides available every week.

While the Vancouver Bicycle Club is open to everyone, Detlef confessed that it’s mostly populated by retired folks who are just as eager to socialize as they are to pedal. He said he’s a good example, having been an avid rider most of his life but a club member only for the past couple of years.

“Post COVID, I think people are so appreciative of the human interaction,” he said. “I have as much fun after the ride, talking over coffee, as I do out on the road. It’s a social club as much as a cycling club.”

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