Dirty Words: Stairway to Hell and Heaven

Mountain time-trials in the summer

Photo by Joe Foley Photography

By Sal Ruibal

Summer is coming to the Washington, D.C. area not on little cat feet, but with hammer blows of scorching heat, high-velocity derecho winds, sour armpit afternoons and enough humidity to grow mold in your toilet bowl.

The drenched woods trails are too mucky for MTBs and the nearby roads and paved trails are too crowded with tourists and (God-bless-them) parents teaching their kids how to ride. Time to head for the hills.

Our "hills" are the Shenandoahs, where there are plenty of hidden-gem paved routes and sweet dirt road climbs through shaded forests that open into vistas broad enough to include Maryland, West Virginia and good ol' Virginny.

It does get hot around our favorite bike town of Harrisonburg, Va., but it doesn't take too many pedal strokes to get out of town and into some shady lanes and gravel grinding climbs.

Photo by Joe Foley Photography

It can get too hot for competitive century rides, but folks in Harrisonburg are smart enough to organize some great after work time-trial races that begin just outside of town, close enough to hit the finish and still have plenty of time for a cold beer in town.

Rocktown Racing, an offshoot of Rocktown Bicycles (rocktownracing.com), has recently resurrected the longstanding time-trial series originally organized by the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition. This summer there will be four races: three on the flat Dry River Road and a real gem that climbs the infamous Reddish Knob and its nasty dirt and gravel sections.

The Dry River races are about 10 miles and Reddish Knob is a smidge over 11 miles, but that smidge, when taken at time-trial speeds, is a sure thigh-burner. There are three classes, with the two flat races accepting road bikes and aero TT bikes. MTB will be a Reddish Knob-only category.

Photo by Sal Ruibal

It is great to see a local group meet the needs of the strong cycling community in Harrisonburg. The I-81 Corridor in Virginia has revitalized itself with the transformation of crumbling downtowns into vibrant city centers that attract young families and active retirees from both deep rural areas and metropolitan centers such as Northern Virginia.

Harrisonburg has a nearby ski area, tremendous mountain bike trails, great bike shops, coffee shops and a young population drawn to James Madison University. Its citizens have actively built excellent cycling infrastructure and have found ways to reduce car traffic downtown.

The summer time-trial series is just one of many cycling events, with the crown jewel being the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, which includes the dirt climb to Reddish Knob on the advanced loop and the aptly named Mole Hill Road (a paved mini-mountain climb) on the medio and piccolo routes.

More small cities need to follow Harrisonburg's path and use cycling as a sports-tourist attraction as well as a great transportation asset. It will take more than a Wal-Mart and a Waffle House to revive America's small towns, but socially active bike shops and community events are a great first step.