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Local bike clubs advocate for safe riding, maintained trails

Like the two pedals it takes to move a bicycle forward, it takes two priorities working in tandem to keep the Rogue Valley’s biking clubs going: a passion for the activity and a spirit of advocacy.

Gary Shaff, president of the Siskiyou Velo bicycle club, says, “a critical part of the club’s goal is that everyone, independent of age, should be confident riding their bikes on city streets.”

Local cycling clubs draw a crowd of diverse ages, interests and experience levels. To ensure differences in background don’t translate to discrepancies in cycling enjoyment, though, the clubs often engage in outreach and education to make the activity safer and more accessible.

For Siskiyou Velo, which gets its name from the French word for bicycle, that focus is trained mostly on city and county streets — thoroughfares that in theory could be useful for commutes to work or quick outings.

Shaff says that use is still more theoretical than practical, as outside of the Bear Creek Greenway, many streets don’t yet afford cyclists the protection they desire.

“The facilities on the whole are not separated from the traffic, and most people ... riding in that position find themselves feeling uncomfortable or unsafe,” Shaff says. “As it is now, the vast majority of people only feel safe riding on the Greenway. It’s a terrible shame, because that basically eliminates the use of the bicycle for any other use outside of recreational.”

Siskiyou Velo works with the city of Medford in developing its Transportation System Plan, which outlines objectives for various modes of transportation, including bicycles. The group has held rallies on the topic, amid its other social gatherings, such as its annual ice cream social and “BBQ and Bike Wash.”

Other groups, such as the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association, go beyond city limits, swapping out pavement for dirt trails that require no small degree of care and attention.

Bill Roussel, president of RVMBA, says his club invests more effort and time in the trails than the public roads see.

“I’d say we’re doing a better job than the government is with the infrastructure and our roads,” he says. “I see this every year with the influx of more and more people getting on bicycles. If we lose access to what we currently have, these trails are going to be overcrowded, overused and start to require more maintenance than they already require.”

Volunteers regularly attend to trails with equipment owned by the clubs, from rakes and saws to Pulaskis.

RVMBA is a local chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association, and an individual membership comes with an annual $30 fee.

Although it is possible to participate in some RVMBA activities without being a dues-paying member, Roussel says it’s in the club’s best financial interest for people to register. Insurance costs, upkeep of equipment and events all pile on costs for the organization.

“If you want somebody to keep working for you to maintain these trails and to keep them open, we’ve got to have this group,” he says.

Many cycling enthusiasts, however, are looking mostly for a social group to simply push the pedals with. Both groups and others in the valley organize community rides all year long for riders of all skill and fitness levels.

Siskiyou Velo posts a ride calendar on its website at www.siskiyouvelo.org, with a combination of recurring weekly rides and nonrecurring outings to various Southern Oregon destinations.

RVMBA hosts the annual Spring Thaw Mountain Bike Festival in Ashland, along with many other events and rides that are posted on its website at rvmba.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RVMBA/. This year’s Spring Thaw, the 27th annual event, is scheduled for May 17-18.

Other bike groups exist primarily in online forums, such as the South State Cycling Club and #TeamNoExcuses Biking Club, which communicate mostly through Facebook groups.

The valley’s bicycling community also offers myriad opportunities to stretch competitive muscles, with a number of races throughout the region.

Rogue Valley Race Group has an active calendar of events, from the Table Rock Time Trials in March to the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Bike Race in August (http://mtashlandbike.com/).

The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (http://obra.org/) is one of the largest racing networks, with between 4,600 and 5,000 members, according to its website. In addition to racing, it builds community around service projects and volunteer opportunities, from officiating races to promoting bike tourism locally.

“Not only are you getting physical activity and improving overall health,” Shaff says of his club’s outings. “You’re also getting to experience the outdoors in a way that driving in an automobile can’t afford, because you’re going too fast to get the details, and walking can’t achieve because it’s a relatively slow activity.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Rich Julyan makes a turn in the Table Rock Time Trials in March 2018.
Members of the Siskiyou Velo Club ride along Eagle Mill Road during a regularly scheduled Wednesday morning ride in Ashland.