Cycle to Farm ride to push off from downtown
Some 300 bicyclists will push off from downtown Black Mountain on Saturday, leaving behind a significant economic impact on the town and a hefty contribution for local greenways that one day may extend to Asheville.
The fifth annual Cycle to Farm bicycling event July 16 has attracted riders and their families from as far away as California and Canada, many of whom build their vacations around the annual event and book a significant number of rooms in local hotels. Event safety director David Billstrom said cyclists had locked up nearly all the rooms at the historic Monte Vista Hotel, located a short distance from the starting line on Town Square.
The four previous Cycle to Farm events in Black Mountain have brought more than a quarter million dollars into the Swannanoa Valley, according to organizers’ estimates.
Registration is still open on the event's website (cycletofarm.com) for the 58-mile ride that begins with local treats by Dynamite Coffee & Roots and Fruits Organic Market. The tour takes riders to food samples at four area farms and concludes with a sit-down meal by Fresh Wood Fired Pizza (the meal is also available to riders’ friends and family for an admission price).
“These riders are used to getting a bagel and half a banana” on other rides and races, Billstrom said. “And here they getting (samples that might include) a slice of cucumber with goat cheese and strawberries, grilled sausages. And there’s a rumor of homemade berry ice cycles. The food is fantastic.
“And at the finish, many farmers are present, so the riders can meet them while they have a farm-to-table meal. This is a multiple location tailgate market where you happen to ride.” Ingles Markets and New Belgium Brewery are among the sponsors.
The riders, who will have the opportunity to buy farm products along the tour, will need some sustenance. The ride is challenging, with plenty of climbing. The total elevation gain is 5,300 feet. Nearly all of it rural farmland, the ride starts south on N.C. 9 and proceeds to the tasty treats at Rise Up Rooted Farm in Black Mountain. Then it’s on to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Cloud 9 Farm and Looking Glass Creamery, all in Fairview, before the return to the meal and after-party in Black Mountain. Riders’ purchases will be waiting for them at the end of the ride.
This the fifth Cycle to Farm ride staged in Black Mountain, but it will be the 10th that Billstrom’s wife Jennifer has produced (others have been in Asheville, Sandy Mush, Chapel Hill and Greenville, South Carolina). Jennifer Billstrom has gotten inquiries from 20 other locations about putting together farm-themed rides, but her husband said that for now, they want to stay local.
The Billstroms are riding something of a cycling wave that started a couple of decades ago when municipalities banded together to turn old railroad routes and sewer rights of way into byways for bicyclists, walkers and runners. The Virginia Creeper in Abingdon and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Travelers Rest, South Carolina have had significant economic impacts on those towns and those nearby. David Billstrom said the Swamp Rabbit Trail helped repopulate Travelers Rest’s moribund downtown, seeding empty storefronts with shops and restaurants that pump money into the local economy.
Black Mountain merchants will reap the benefits on Saturday as riders start out from and return to downtown. Cyclists and their supporters will be shopping and dining downtown. The town had the economic impact in mind when it requested the Billstroms to stage the start downtown, David Billstrom said. Previously, the ride had started from Rec Park.
Though organizers cap the number of riders at 300, they’re hoping to have 100 volunteers (volunteer on the ride’s website). Everybody has fun, including the farmers. “They tell us they sell about twice as much (during the ride) as a good day at the tailgate market. They’ll typically sell everything they set out to sell.”
David Billstrom knows of two cyclists who bought homes in the area because of the ride. Ninety percent of riders have said they would participate in another ride, the Billstroms’ research indicates. Half the riders are from outside the area and spend at least two nights in area hotels, cabins and inns. Local residents can gauge the impact of their visits by looking for all the bike racks on cars in town this weekend, Billstrom said. Imagine at least two people in each car and imagine the meals and lodging they are buying from local merchants. That’s a lot of money and national exposure for a small town that sits in Asheville’s tall shadow.
The ultimate goal of Cycle to Farm is to raise money for Black Mountain’s greenways. Jennifer Billstrom, a big greenway supporter who moved to Black Mountain in 2012, hopes to one day ride her bike to nearly anywhere she wants in town, she has said. The Billstroms hope to see a greenway stretching from Black Mountain to Asheville, the way the multi-use, hard-topped Virginia Capital Trail stitches together the towns of Richmond and Williamsburg.
“Greenways provide a connection to ‘community,’” Jennifer Billstrom said. “They pull people together. Imagine a greenway that hugs the Swannanoa River. One day we’re going to get there.”