JULY 28, 2011 ISSUE

Watauga Leisure Biking Club County’s Most Active Group of Cyclists

Cycling sports are gaining in popularity across the nation, but few locations offer as much diversity as the mountains, hills and flatlands of Western North Carolina’s High Country.

Here, home to several hundred-mile competitions, road and mountain biking cyclists can been seen literally everywhere, from the relatively flat routes of Boone’s Greenway Trail and the ever-popular Todd to Fleetwood ride—named one of the 10 best in the state—to challenging treks that take full advantage of such locations as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the top of Beech Mountain, where the famed Tour DuPont used to end, often with legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong in the lead.

For sheer diversity, however, the Watauga Leisure Biking Club (WLBC) is hard to beat. The group, founded in 2008 and boasting some 70-plus members from numerous locations, sponsors approximately five rides per week to just about every corner of the county. The group generally offers rides between May and October but, weather permitting, extends its two-wheeled adventures from early March to as late as December.

“Most of our rides include a few hills, perhaps some gravel roads, and can be completed in about two hours, allowing rest stops along the way,” explained Roni Ellis, who co-founded the Watauga Leisure Biking Club with Ole Gade. “This is a no-drop group (nobody gets left behind). Every rider is encouraged to ride at their own pace, suited for their ability. Participants quickly learn which type rides they are most comfortable with and plan accordingly. The more difficult rides are still no-drop and also include rest stops, however they are usually longer distances with more challenging hills.”

The two established the WLBC for every type of cyclist, from the casual, recreational rider to those who might consider themselves hardcore. Young and old, physically fit or recuperating from various medical conditions, there is a ride and route to suit almost everybody.

Half of the club consists of local, year-round residents, and half are summer residents of the High Country hailing from many states.

And, then, there are the rides.

According to Ellis, “Railroad Grade Road in Todd is one of the most gentle terrains. Also the New River Trail in Galax, Va., and the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus, Va., are also low-intensity rides that almost any rider is comfortable with. We try to offer a variety of rides each week to accommodate as many folks as possible,” she added. “Some of our more difficult rides include those departing from Valle Crucis. A short ride leaves the Valle Crucis Community Park and only travels about seven miles, but it has a very intense hill, not recommended for the beginner or anyone who finds hill climbing difficult. Several members of the group just biked in Avery County for a 20- to 25-mile trip that was very hilly; it is not one of our regular rides, but we do like to keep things interesting by trying different routes in other areas.”

One of her favorite routes rolls from Sugar Grove to Zionville.

“A very popular ride leaves from the Old Cove Creek School and travels north on Old 421 to Zionville and returns. This is about 14 miles in length with a gentle upward grade,” she said. “The beauty of this route is there are several detours that can be taken along the way that includes hills and beautiful pastoral scenery in the Sugar Grove area and ends back at the Old Cove Creek School. Using routes such as this gives members the opportunity to ‘split off’ and then regroup at a designated spot.”

“Our website schedule gives a recommendation of the intensity of the rides along with the distance. Of course, you don’t know until you’ve actually ridden with us how compatible your riding ability is with the majority of the group. We welcome any that want to ride with us,” she invited, “but many stronger, faster riders will find a more skilled level of bikers to ride with after having experienced the relaxed attitude of the Watauga Leisure Bikers. That’s why we call ourselves leisure bikers!”

The WLBC is open to all and is a social organization, with picnics and numerous get-togethers planned regularly throughout its season.

An extensive list of rides sponsored by the Watauga Leisure Biking Club is published weekly in the Things2Do section of the High Country Press. Additional rides may be found on the club’s website, www.wataugaleisurebiking.com.