Thursday, May 8, 2014

Double Down Weekend: Central Arkansas Cycling In All Its Glory

With the Southwest Tandem Rally bringing 100 tandem teams to Little Rock and the Rock City Racing Criterium and 5K going on for two days at downtown locations, I expected a big weekend for cycling in Central Arkansas, and there were no disappointments. That is, other than the fact that I couldn't be everywhere for every
event. I left the house on Saturday around 8:00 and finally rode slowly up the last hill home around 4:30 that afternoon with only about 65 miles on my legs but with a full day of cycling exposure.

Southwest Tandem Rally

Good roads, perfect weather, great event organization, Capital Hotel bike valet,
fine dining, Diamond Bear brewery stop, and a load of Arkansas hospitality. No wonder these riders look so happy!
Seeing this many tandems in one place is not a common sight. Teams prepare to roll out from the Capital Hotel.
Things could not have been better for a weekend on the bike. Even the recent persistent winds laid down for the day on Saturday, and with it the clouds of pollen that we've been experiencing.  I expected the usual praise for the Arkansas River Trail System, but the largely-Texan crowd of tandem riders seemed most impressed with our roads. While Arkansas has its share of chip-and-seal, most of the popular road rides in Central Arkansas cover smooth asphalt.
Tandem teams crossing the Clinton Park Bridge
Tandems stream across the BDB on a perfect spring morning.

While the tandem riders were impressed with our bridges and trails, they seemed most pleased with the quality of our roads.
Many of the bikes were very nice and sported some features that us run-of-the-mill road riders don't often see. Check out the website of SWTR sponsor and participant House of Tandems to see what is possible when you start adding saddles to a bike. There was even a "triplet" tandem (does that make any sense?) at the rally and House of Tandems  has 'em.
This ti frame caught my eye. Note the frame couplers for travel, belt drive, and huge rear brake rotor. I commented on the size of the rotor and the captain said, "Yeah, we were glad to have it descending Mont Ventoux." If you're going to drop the name of a climb to a cyclist, that's a good one.
All together, now, climb!
As I rode from downtown to the Ferndale area with the tandems, I was given an opportunity to view the local scene from the eyes of outsiders, and that view is remarkable. We started in a vibrant urban center, passing the Clinton Library, Heifer Project, and a wetlands park, crossed 3 bike-pedestrian bridges as we made our way along the river through a chain of well maintained and very active parks, passing a skate park, soccer fields, equestrian resources, and community gardens as we headed out to miles of lightly traveled suburban and rural roads. It is easy for us locals to overlook our resources, as we have seen them grow and be connected over time, but to visitors who get to see the current picture all at once, our cycling scene is nothing short of spectacular.
The SWTR riders enjoyed some Arkansas hospitality along the route as this family set up to share refreshments, a view of Pinnacle Mountain, and, perhaps most importantly, a restroom.
I guess that by nature the people who ride tandems are a congenial bunch, because I found everyone that I encountered to be friendly, outgoing, and simply having a whole lot of fun on the bike. Folks, we were glad to have you and you're welcome back any time! Let us know that you're coming and we'll talk to the weather man about providing another perfect weekend.
Our community owes a big "thank-you" to Rod and Teresa Hernandez, their crew, and the local interests like the Capital Hotel, Diamond Bear Brewery, the DoubleTree Hotel, Heifer Project, Orbea, and Spokes. Together, they helped to not only bring this group to our city, but to show off some of the best that we have to offer.
Rock City Racing
The action downtown was fast and furious all day Saturday and Sunday as Rock City Racing brought crits to two locations.
The pack flying toward the start/finish line of Capital Ave.
Saturday's racing was in the bustling 3rd and Rock area downtown. Many people visiting the River Market area found their way over to watch some of the action and venues along the course were full. Local businesses like Dugan's Pub and Zin Wine Bar  generously offered gift certificates to be awarded as race primes on designated laps.

At the South Main finish line.
The SoMa disrtict was a happening place on Sunday.
Criterium Races are fun to watch and there are classes for just about anyone with the nerve and the bike handling skills to operate in a high speed pack on a technical course. Many of the course marshals who controlled traffic on the course were residents of the neighborhood.
Thanks go out to the CARVE and SimplexQ teams for organizing and running the races and to all the volunteers and sponsors who made it possible,
We're a bike town and many local businesses are recognizing the fact that bikes mean business, and they are capitalizing on the fact. Cycling is bringing visitors, driving sales, and entertaining tourists, so let's encourage more events like the Tandem Rally and the Rock City Crits.

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