The Amish Country Bike Tour will bring at least 2,500 avid cyclists to the Legislative Mall in Dover on Saturday morning for the start of the annual mass bike ride throughout western Kent County.
But a small army of volunteers is already working diligently to make it sure it all runs smoothly.
“It’s Delaware’s largest cycling event, but we just have a small staff of four.” said Lorraine Dion, the director of public relations for Kent County Tourism, which organizes the nonprofit bike ride. “We couldn’t do it without a whole lot of help.”
From baking pies to planning routes to stuffing registration envelopes, dozens of people begin working nine months before each bike ride to get things ready. Many of the same volunteers also work the day of the tour, helping the ride go smoothly and, afterward, cleaning up and getting ready for next year’s event.
Help on the road
With so many cyclists riding over five routes totaling more than 250 miles, coordination on the day of the race is the key to success, Dion said.
Kent County’s Division of Emergency Management sets up its portable command center at Legislative Mall, where the agency coordinates numerous simultaneous events, including the motorcycle riders and mechanical assistance crews who travel each route in case riders need help.
The safety of the riders is of paramount importance, said Dave Hall, a spokesman for the Kent County chapter of ABATE, a motorcycle rights group. For the past two decades, ABATE riders have ridden the routes and kept an eye out for bicyclists in trouble.
“There are so many bicyclists on the road, that if we were out there in cars, it would really clog the roads up,” Hall said. “Our motorcycles take up a lot less road space. We can mingle with them at a low rate of speed and help keep an eye on them.”
ABATE members make a difference because they’re more familiar with the county’s back roads than many of the bicyclists, who come from at least 25 different states each year, Hall said.
Between six and 10 ABATE riders continually patrol the routes, and will notify the command post if they find someone in trouble. They and the experts who drive the routes to help cyclists with mechanical problems all carry bike tour credentials to identify themselves.
“We won’t be leaving anyone out in the middle of nowhere,” Hall said.
During the 2012 ride, ABATE members went out to find two teenage brothers who were stranded when severe thunderstorms suddenly moved in. They found the brothers and brought them back to Dover, Hall said.
“People enjoy knowing we’re looking out for them,” he said.
Apple, peach and pumpkin − oh my!
The bike tour features four rest stops, including one in Harrington, Felton, Marydel and an Amish school house on Rose Valley School Road near Dover. All four provide riders with water, fresh fruits and healthy snacks. But it’s the school house stop that’s famous for its varieties of freshly baked pies, prepared at Byler’s Country Store in west Dover.
Each year, Byler’s donates 100 pies − peach, apple and pumpkin − with Dion’s office providing 150 more. This will be the second year Byler’s also will donate homemade shoo-fly pies, a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite.
The bakery staff starts work on Friday by getting the crusts mixed and prepared, said baker Abby Gish.
“That’s the only thing we do ahead of time,” she said.
The crew then arrives for work at 6 a.m. the morning of the tour to prepare the filling and do the actual baking.
“Then we slice them up, load them onto the truck and deliver them,” Gish said. “We slice them before they leave here because it can get pretty crazy at the schoolhouse.”
George Mende is in his fourth year of overseeing the rest stop at Felton United Methodist Church. He and his 20 or so volunteers start setting up on Friday, when the supplies and portable bathrooms are delivered. They then work from about 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday, take the day off Sunday, and spend most of Monday packing up.
“A lot of [the riders] stop here on their way to Harrington, the longer part of the route, and then they hit us on the way back to Dover,” he said. “We get ‘em both ways.”
Medne said he benefits in several ways from his volunteer work.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “It’s missionary work for the church, but you get to meet an awful lot of bikers, people from all over the country. I’m an amateur bicyclist myself and it just made sense to get involved.”
Financially, the Amish Country Bike Tour is a self-perpetuating event. Proceeds go back to Kent County Tourism as seed money for the next year’s event. Everything else is donated to children’s programs sponsored by the Central Delaware YMCA, the three churches that sponsor rest stops along the tour and the Amish School House Education Fund.
Dion estimates the nonprofit Kent County Tourism has donated more than $150,000 in proceeds during the years it has managed the bike tour.
“Our staff invests many hours in the proper execution of this event,” Kent County Tourism Executive Director Cindy Small said. “But it really does take a village to make it happen.”