Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla cycling takes a wild ride from humble beginnings to local tournaments, national championships

Formerly famous mainly for its wine and onions, Walla Walla is rapidly becoming known for its biking, for both recreational use and as a means of transportation.

From the professional cyclists that come from all over the country to the junior cycling team at the Community Center for Youth (CCY) to the Whitman cycling team, it is clear that spandex is in in Walla Walla. However, Walla Walla hasn’t always been full of die-hard cyclists.

Bob Watson has lived in Walla Walla since 1970. An avid cyclist, he started riding with the Wheatland Wheelers, Walla Walla’s first recreational cycling team, in 1985 when they began. He describes the group as being very different from the cyclists that he sees on the road today.

“We met once a month to go on touring rides. They were all-day rides to place like Dayton or Athena. Now it’s transformed from touring to racing, it’s mostly younger guys who like to ride fast. We used to take all day, have lunch and ride back leisurely, sort of smelling the roses, if you know what I mean,” Watson said.

Now the Wheatland Wheelers has its own racing team, L’Ecole No 41, and Walla Walla has its own professional bike race, the Tour of Walla Walla.

The Tour was founded by Steve Rapp, owner of Allegro Cycling off of Main Street. Rapp moved to Walla Walla 13 years ago from Portland and was dismayed by the lack of cycling in such a perfect area.

“When I first came here, there wasn’t much going on. For a while I was president of Wheatland Wheelers and was trying to organize local rides and there was almost no response. But now things have grown, I’d like to think that’s at least in part because of the bike race, I’m the one that started the bike race.”

Rapp started the Tour of Walla Walla in 1996. Rapp moved to Walla Walla from Portland, one of the cycling capitals of the world. He had experience organizing a bike race there and decided to organize the Tour in order to bring attention to cycling in Walla Walla.

The first Tour only had 68 riders but Rapp described it as a shock to many locals who had never seen a bike race before. His volunteers at the first race had no idea what they were supposed to be doing with the cyclists whizzing around them.

The Tour has grown a lot since 1996 to the point where Rapp has been forced to cut out certain categories. At its height, there were 512 riders, which was too many people for the Tour to handle. The Tour no longer hosts the Northwest Collegiate Cyclists, and they also cut out the Juniors league.

The last Tour had 490 riders, many of them professionals from all over the country. This year was the first time they had a rolling enclosure, meaning that they shut down the road as the cyclists went by. It was only enforced for the men’s race, but next year they might have it available for all divisions.

Rapp believes that cycling tourism is benefiting Walla Walla economically and not just from the Tour.

“Allegro started a bicycle rental program just for tourists; there’s a lot of people coming into Walla Walla wanting to ride their bikes,” said Rapp.

Whitman alum Rebecca Jensen echoed Rapp’s sentiment.

“I worked at Whitehouse Crawford and a lot of times I’d hear people not just talking about winery hopping but also talking about what bike ride they want to go on the next day. It makes sense because Walla Walla is such a great area to ride in and a lot of people can afford it, there is a lot of wine money in town,” said Jensen.

Jensen thinks that the Whitman Cycling team has encouraged this new bike-happy atmosphere in Walla Walla. Jensen described herself as the Whitman rider most involved in the community as she has spent many summers in Walla Walla and has gotten to know the cyclist crowd.

“The [Whitman] team is becoming more and more involved in the community as years go on. Glen Silver, a volunteer resource for the team, used to always say how excited local people are to have young people come out on a ride. I always just kind of smiled and never really believed him but one day I went on a ride and the leader of the ride made a point of singling me out and saying ‘it’s great to see you out here today,’ kind of appreciating bridging that gap,” said Jensen.

Rapp agreed that local cyclists really appreciate getting to know the Whitman cyclists, adding that the Whitman team is a source of pride for the community.

“Whitman’s success on the collegiate racing circuit the last three years or so has brought attention and brought pride to the community because Whitman, that’s our college. The fact that we have been Division II champs, I think people take pride in that,” said Rapp.

Whitman Cycling has also had a positive effect on the younger members of the local community.

Jensen and Greg Doering, another former Whitman cyclist, organized a two- week bike repair class, called the Bikery, at the CCY. Now, in part in thanks to their efforts and the efforts of Director Max Coleman, the CCY has a Juniors Racing Team.

“The Bikery, we really started something that took off…The fact that you can even field a Juniors team in this town is a big deal,” said Jensen.

The Whitman cycling team has also put on other bike events geared toward the community. Last year they put on a fix-a-thon to fix as many bikes as they could in a day and this year they went to a local home school and put on a workshop for them. One group learned how to fix flats, brakes, riding positions and general safety tips.

However, some members of the community think that Whitman students need to work on increasing their own bike safety.

Andy Pryor wants to see bicycling encouraged as a means of transportation and he thinks that Whitman students should lead the way. Pryor, a former member of the bicycling and pedestrian committee, self-identifies as a “bicycling activist.”

“Whitman students are the future, they are educated and becoming adults but they aren’t all that good at properly riding bikes. I go to Whitman events at night and I see people biking there but very few of the bikes have lights on them. They’ve got the wherewithal to have them,” said Pryor.

Pryor thinks that the demographics of who is biking are changing.

“With rising gas prices and increased environmental awareness, people are biking out of necessity instead of out of desire. It’s changing from a recreational use to more of a transportational one. I’m seeing more bikes on buses, more people riding their bikes to the grocery store,” said Pryor.

Pryor thinks that the only way bikes will be seen as a viable source of transportation is if there is a perception of safety. As a result, he encourages the use of bicycle lights and helmets, especially for Whitman riders.

Many cyclists would like to see the city do more to encourage both recreational and transportational cycling. Common complaints include unswept and faded bicycle lanes as well as traffic lights that don’t acknowledge bikers.

“The Community Council is going to study a couple of topics that need improvement in Walla Walla. I recommended that they study cycling. It would definitely be in Walla Walla’s interest from environmental, economical and health standpoints,” said Jensen.

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