The Discover Hartford Bike Tour has changed focus this year for the better. I was surprised to see new routes and a new focus on the entire city as opposed to just the parks as in years past. I was prepared to write a fairly negative review based on absolutely nothing other than a fear of change. This ride is my one constant in my cycling calendar. It is a tradition for my father in law and I to ride it together and I really didn’t want anything to change that might take away from the ride. I really needn’t have worried.
If I were being honest some things about the ride did need to change. The Discover Hartford Bicycle Tour is a fundraiser for Bike Walk CT, a cycling advocacy group. It is a great idea but the ride was never promoted enough. It always seemed that volunteers’ hearts were in the right place but there was an idea that the ride was good enough. The course would change direction each year, but there wasn’t much variety due to the focus on the parks of the city. Last year was a low water mark with rough weather and almost more volunteers than riders. It was the first year that the ride was partnering with the Envisionfest event and the connection was tenuous.
Everything changed this year. The volunteers were always enthusiastic but this year it seemed as if there was a new spring in their step. You could tell that everything seemed much more organized and well thought out. Registration had been a little rough in some years past but this year they had a lovely tent set up with multiple lines for check in. Most importantly the walk in registration line was always doing brisk business. Nothing was a greater testament to the efforts at promotion than so many people registering the day of the ride. I always feel like the Tour has a certain population that will always ride. My father in law and I always see familiar faces each year. At the same time I almost never see fliers in my local bike shops which is a shame. I did see a ton of promotion for The Hartford Bicycle Festival that was the following day and loosely related but I always wish I would see more for the Discover Hartford Tour. I did see that one of the local news stations covered the Tour live which was great. They even did live shots early in the morning to get the word out. All in all the rider count had to be up as it seemed like there were more riders than in recent years.
The new routes were a huge success as well. The 25 mile route still passed through many parks as well as Trinity College and new the University of Hartford but the order and streets were new. The organizers also added a new feature this year, the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 91. This is a crossing that I would have never taken if the Tour didn’t include it. A ramp winds up about ten stories around a staircase allowing people to ride up instead of walking up the stairs. Once at the top you ride directly over the eight lane highway and then down an identical ramp. It was the signature feature of the ride and something I might add to some of my personal rides.
Ennvisionfest was also integrated much better this year. Last year it was a separate event that happened to be planned for the same day in the city. This year you could see that there was a huge effort to connect the two events, right down to the wonderful idea of offering free showers to riders so they could enjoy the rest of the day at the festival in comfort. There were also some great events timed to take place as riders were returning to the start finish area pulling them into the rest of the festival. It was very well done this year.
There were only a few negatives to this year’s ride. The largest one was the lack of rest stops along the way. At my first Tour it seemed like there was a stop in every park. It was great and each water stop was needed especially by me as I could barely complete the course back then. This year there were only two stops and they were placed about two miles in and then about five miles from the finish. That left almost 18 miles between stops. That would be a long stretch for riders that were pushing themselves to complete the 25 miles. This might be due to lack of volunteers or new permitting rules, but it was still difficult for some riders. Knox had a volunteer stand set up that many rides had mistaken for a rest stop and the Knox employees and volunteers gave everyone who stopped water. The other negative was a section of the course that traveled along Main Street in Hartford. There was some pretty heavy traffic and riders were clumped together at lights causing some concern for any skittish motorists that were not used to cyclists on the street. Everyone managed and I think that it was a positive because it pulled some riders out of their comfort zone and showed them that riding in traffic was survivable, but there might have been a better alternative. There is a beautiful paved path that runs along the river front that the Tour had used in the past that keeps cyclists off the city streets for a little while and offers some great views of the Connecticut River as it travels through Hartford. It would have been a great alternative; however it might not have been available. Envisionfest might have been using the space and it might have made it unusable for the Tour.
All in all I am thoroughly impressed with the gains that were made at this year’s Discover Hartford Bicycle Tour. The positives greatly outweighed the negatives and I think that the whole Tour has turned a corner to start a period of growth. I can’t wait to get back there next year.
There was a bonus in my weekend, the Hartford Bicycle Festival. It was a day of closed course crit races as well as a citizen’s ride which I rode in. The citizen’s ride was a chance for non-racing cyclists to ride on the course for 45 minutes with a donation to benefit CCAP, Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program. The course was laid out in a figure 8 like design with a narrow corridor for spectators instead of a cross over. It was a great way to lay out a course with the chance to see the pack twice a lap.
I rode in the citizen’s ride with about 40 other cyclists. It was a pretty great turnout for the first year and as an added bonus a good number of pros were using the citizen’s ride as a chance to do a few laps of the course before their events later in the day. It was a great chance to ride the course and gain a new appreciation for how fast the pros really ride. You could watch the top tier amateurs race, ride the course to set your own time, then watch the pros tear around to show what speed really is. It was a great way to end an amazing cycling weekend.
Take a few minutes and check out the Bike Walk CT page as well as the CCAP page to learn more about what these great organizations are doing to forward cycling in Connecticut.