Like many athletic activities in Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic, cycling has taken its share of lumps. There’s also a silver lining.

The restrictions of large gatherings and social distancing has impacted area bicycle clubs during prime riding season. The Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association has been particularly affected. The club helps build and maintain area trails and also provides guided tours to promote area riding. The association lost time on the trails and money. Club president Chris Riley said bike association had three rides scheduled over three months, and all were canceled. The rides included an auction/fundraiser, a large ride/race that would have been held in Augusta this month, and an all-women’s clinic in July.

“The fundraising aspect is hard, because a big part of what we do is build and maintain bike trails,” Riley said. “And it’s expensive. We have a crew of three trail builders every summer, we have to keep them going, and we have a lot of volunteer work, materials and lumber for bridges. It all adds up. I’m a little bit anxious about 2021 and how we’re going to come through this.”

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a non-profit organization in Portland that promotes riding and bike safety throughout the state, has also canceled several rides and demonstrations.

“We do a lot of education work, especially with kids, so this would be the time of year we’d be in schools,” Bicycle Coalition of Maine executive director Jean Sideris said. “Teaching kids basic bike skills and bike maintenance, how to be a good biker. We’ve sort of moved all that to online videos of bike safety aimed at kids. We’d also host rides, evening rides, a couple of weekend rides, things like that. We’ve pretty much canceled all of those. We also have a week-long bike ride every September, called BikeMaine, that moves around to different parts of the state, and we’ve had to cancel that as well. So (the pandemic) has had a big impact.”

All is not completely lost, however. Like road races, some biking events have gone virtual this summer. One of those is arguably the state’s biggest ride, The Trek Across Maine, which benefits the American Lung Association. Now in its 36th year, this year’s Trek allows riders to pick a distance goal — 60, 120 or 180 miles — with a time frame from April 13-June 30 to complete the distance at a rider’s own pace. As of press time, the race has hit 64 percent (almost $411,000) of its $637,500 fundraising goal.

“I think some of the virtual stuff has been done really well,” Sideris said. “I’ve done The Trek Across Maine before and I’ve been following them. They’ve done a great job keeping up a community and being able to share stories at least, or pictures, or experiences if you can’t do them together.

“I think that’s probably why the virtual events kind of work, because people still want to talk about what they’re doing and share a place they got to go and got to enjoy their run or their bike or whatever their activity is.”

New England Mountain Bike Association in central Maine is still making progress building and maintaining trails, and has even seen an uptick in volunteers. The group hosts weekly trail building get-togethers — called Tuesday Night Trails — that has consistently attracted about 10-12 volunteers. Riley said over the 10 area trails that the organization maintains, a recorded mark of well over 300 hours has been put in during the spring season by volunteers.

“We’ve been hosting weekly trail building nights,” Riley said. “We can do it pretty safely, so we can social distance and still get trail projects done. Every Tuesday night we do that and sort of roam around the region… We’ll continue to do that, and those have been to a sellout crowd, which has been awesome. We’ve had just a huge response from the community that’s excited to come out, get out and see their friends and remember what it was like when we had a really kick (butt) riding community, and it’s still there, it’s just kind of in hiding.

“The upside (of the pandemic) is the generosity of the riding community has been overwhelming this year, so I’m super optimistic that we’re going to be fine.”

The easing of restrictions over the past month has allowed for smaller groups to hit the trails for riding, like the Kennebec Valley Bicycle Club. Club members are getting together over the past month for a weekly ride. The club had nearly 20 riders for its latest ride Sunday in Vassalboro.

Kennebec Valley Bicycle Club members ride through Vassalboro on Sunday. About 20 riders participated in the ride. Morning Sentinel/Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“We have been getting together on weekends this past month to go out and ride,” KVBC member Jim Merrick said. “We’ve been following the various protocols that the governor has with executive orders in place. So we’re restricting (riding) groups to less than 10, at least last month it was less than 10. We were staggering starts, letting a particular group go first, and then a second group if we had a group of more than 10 people for a ride. Everybody’s been wearing masks to start out with, at least when we meet at a ride location. We’ve been trying to send out waivers and sign-up sheets in advance, so they can sign them electronically or bring them with them so they don’t have to gather together and sign up with the same pen or anything like that.”

Merrick said interest in biking has grown during the pandemic.

“I’ve fielded a few inquiries of riders who haven’t ridden with us before,” Merrick said. “I do think there is an increase in interest. I’ve read that bicycle shops have very low inventory because they’ve sold so many bikes. I’m hoping that will continue into the fall.”

Riley is also hopeful that the latest bicycle boom remains.

“We’re making the best of it, and people are still out riding, they’re just riding in smaller groups,” Riley said. “They’re riding with people they’re comfortable with, with their friends, or some other private groups. I think people are finding ways of staying on their bikes and staying active, and that’s been great.”

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