Cyclists file in, forming a crowd around the starting line. Although it isn’t yet 7 a.m., the Texas sun is already glaring down, and beads of sweat roll off participants’ faces. Nerves kick in. Riders bid their friends and family farewell or take a last sip of coffee before getting in the zone. Rallies have no victor, but serious cyclists compete with their own personal bests and strive to prepare themselves for future rides. This is the Red River Bike Rally, hosted annually by the Sherman Kiwanis Club.
Now in its 12th year, the Red River Bike Rally is the club’s main yearly fundraiser. It began in 2006 as part of the Sherman Arts Festival said Joe Brown, Grayson County District Attorney, longtime Kiwanis Club member and rally chairman. In decades past, Sherman Kiwanis had hosted a “Pancake Day” for community members, complete with all the breakfast standards.
“In the early 2000s,” Brown said, “we were looking for a change.”
At the same time, avid cyclists Charlie and Pat Jenkins, co-founders of the Texoma Cycling Club and future owners of Texoma Bicycle Works in Sherman, were searching for a group to help host a biking event.
“So,” Brown continued, “the idea for the Red River Bike Rally was born.”
In keeping with the motto of Kiwanis International, “Serving the Children of the World,” proceeds from rally registration and donations go back to the community.
“Every year, the Sherman Kiwanis Club provides school supplies in August and Christmas presents in December to the children served by the local Child Protective Services office, Crisis Center and Grayson County Children’s Advocacy Center,” Brown said.
The group also contributes scholarships to deserving seniors at Sherman High School, as well as donations to other charitable organizations benefiting area children. The rally helps Kiwanis raise between $5,000 and $10,000 each year for these causes.
Since its inception, the event has grown and adapted to changing technology. In 2012, the Red River Bike Rally starting line moved to Tanglewood Resort, and longer courses traveled south through Grayson County. This year, the Kiwanis Club is anxious to unveil some new route changes to the 300-400 riders that typically register for the event. Cyclists can also use RidewithGPS.com to check directions and locate rest stops along the way.
“We depend heavily on Charlie and Pat Jenkins,” said John G. Van Bebber, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot and Sherman Kiwanis member since 1984. “Charlie is the prime route designer, and we could not do this event without his expertise.”
“Our No. 1 consideration when creating the routes is rider safety,” Jenkins said.
Minimizing riders’ interaction with traffic is important, and these low-traffic, country roads often provide both a scenic view and a challenging ride. Many route lengths are available to accommodate different rider experience levels. An 8-mile route will allow new cyclists and families to enjoy a low-impact ride. Other courses include 25-, 42-, 64- and 80-mile routes, as well a 100-mile “century” route for skilled riders. “The century distance is cycling’s top benchmark,” Jenkins explained.
RidewithGPS.com will help participants in this year’s rally to plan ahead for their ride. The website, along with the rally’s main site (redriverbikerally.com) and registration portal, is maintained by Jenkins and his wife. RidewithGPS.com provides both a route map and turn-by-turn directional cues, grade and elevation information and, for riders with established profiles, an estimation of completion time.
For Kiwanis members and other rally volunteers, planning begins months in advance. Van Bebber, an assistant professor in the Aviation Sciences Institute at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and Willie Steele, vice president at Ameristate Bank, coordinate route rest stops. The job can be exhausting on the days leading up to the rally.
“We spend several days before the rally marking all the routes with spray paint on the roads showing which direction to turn,” Steele said. “Several years ago someone (we assume kids) went behind us and painted over several of the arrows, changing them to different directions. … We had a lot of confused and upset riders that got lost!”
Luckily, along with stocking supplies and manning the rest stops with volunteers, Van Bebber also coordinates the support of the Grayson County Amateur Radio Club.
“They are our eyes and ears as the event unfolds from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Van Bebber said.
Ben Sly is the owner and operator of Air Frame Services of North Texas, an aircraft maintenance facility at North Texas Regional Airport. He has also organized all of the Red River Bike Rally’s communications for the last five years.
“My role every year is to gather up as many licensed radio operators as I can to provide adequate and efficient communications for the event, as well as verify radio coverage throughout the entire route,” Sly said.
Operators can be found at every rest stop and in mobile units following cyclists on each route. Over the years, operators have received all kinds of calls, from the typical (bike maintenance issues, handled on site) or comical (cows and turtles blocking the road) to the extreme (wrecks and injuries). Sly recalled an incident during last year’s rally where a rider took a bad fall.
“Listening to all of the operators take action to get the rider’s location and an ambulance on the way reminded me why we were there,” Sly said, “We’re there for safety, but at the same time, we have a lot of fun.”
The 2017 Red River Bike Rally will take place on Aug. 12, beginning at 7 a.m. at Tanglewood Resort. The resort is offering special lodging rates for bikers and their families. Rider registration is $40 up to the day of the rally. Registration is available online at RedRiverBikeRally.com and at Texoma Bicycle Works on Texoma Parkway in Sherman.
— This article originally appeared in the July issue of Lake Texoma Life.