The shelves of local bike shops were bare last summer for a good reason: Even when we didn't know how rare it was for COVID to spread outdoors, bicycles were one of the few obvious safe activity choices during the pandemic.
And so there were a lot of people who rediscovered the majesty of biking last year. They dug around the dingy corners of their garages for their old Schwinn, dropped a few glugs of oil on the creaky chain, and once again experienced the thrill of cycling — the way the pedals respond to the pavement, the way wind whips across your face, the way your stomach lurches as you careen down a hill.
After all, riding a bike is a bit like, well, riding a bike. It's something you can pick up again instantly, no matter how long ago you set aside the hobby.
So whether you're a wide-eyed ingenue who just ditched your training wheels or a disgraced Tour de France winner bitter in your old age, we have some cycling ideas for you this summer.
BIKE TO ZIP'S IN CHENEY AND GET A CORN DOG
Sure, we could have just swung over to Zip's downtown location. But where's the challenge in that? We wanted to channel the pure Zip's-loving essence of an Eastern Washington University sophomore, both in the sense of heading to the Zip's in Cheney and in the not-having-a-car sense. We decided to ride.
The Centennial Trail gets all the love, and for good reason: Until it just sort of gives up around the Idaho state line, the Centennial is one of the most gorgeous features of our region. The Fish Lake Trail, by contrast, at first appears to be the treadmill of bike trails — flat and samey. But it gets better the farther you go.
And while the unfinished Fish Lake route requires an obnoxious two-mile detour around the railroad tracks, just when you're ready to give up you're back on the Columbia Plateau section of the trail. From there it's only a short jaunt to Cheney, where your reward of corn dogs and milkshakes await.
Just make sure to let your food settle before you start biking back. Last time, I left a bit of corn dog and banana milkshake puree on the ride home.
GO BIKE CAMPING AT DRAGOON CREEKCamping is fun. Paying to park at a campsite isn't. Yet even a state-funded campground like Riverside State Park makes you shell out for a Discover Pass to park. The solution is bike camping, says Spokane Active Transportation founder and avid cyclist Jessica Engelman.
Think car camping, but you carry your stuff on your bike. With a little bit of practice and the right equipment, it's actually not that hard to carry some basic camping gear. After all, you don't have to fret over every gram of weight like you do when backpacking, and you can get a lot farther a lot faster.
"I just use the old sleeping bag I got from my parents 20 years ago," says Engelman. "I bungee-cord them on the back of the bike and it works out."
As for a natural first bike camping adventure, she recommends Dragoon Lake State Park. It's about a 20-mile ride one-way from Spokane. You'll start on the Children of the Sun trail in Hillyard and be treated to a lot of scenic country roads — and a few steep hills — along the way.
Give the Natural Resources Northeast Office a call to make sure the campsite is open before you head out: 509-684-7474.
BUILD A SICK JUMP OUT OF PLYWOOD AND SEE IF YOU CAN GET AIRYeah, Dad says that wood is, like, super-expensive right now, but that big sheet of plywood has just been laying around the garage for two years doing nothing. It's not like he's going to notice if you borrow it for just one afternoon. Then all you have to do is prop it up on some cinder blocks below that big hill near Linwood Elementary. Hop on your BMX and pedal as hard as you can and don't wuss out. Mason says he did that at his house over at Indian Trail last summer, and he got going so fast he got like 6 feet of air and all his friends wrote "total badass" on his cast after he got home from the hospital.
BRAVE THE SNAKE PITThe Snake Pit, Enaville's iconic restaurant and bar in northeast Idaho near Kellogg, does not include an actual pit full of snakes, so even the most ophidiophobic archaeologist should feel comfortable joining in on the summer solstice Ride the Wall bike ride.
The 13-mile loop departs from the Snake Pit around 4 pm, heads to Cataldo and then rides along CCC and Wall roads, overlooking the Coeur d'Alene River. The route can be steep, but after you're finished, you'll be able to treat your burning quads to a barbecue buffet. The ride costs $40, but that's to raise money for the Silver Valley Fuller Center for Housing, a Christian nonprofit that helps low-income people build and repair their homes.
HITCH A GONDOLA AND GO MOUNTAIN BIKINGKellogg may be even better for mountain bikers than road bikers. The same gondola that takes skiers up Silver Mountain in the winter takes mountain bikers to the Silver Mountain Bike Park in the summer. That includes insane downhill trails for experts with names like "Hammer," "Hot Mess" and "Frankenbeans" and comparatively chill beginner trails with names like "Payday" and "Cool Neatness."
All in all, you can drop more than 3,400 vertical feet, before hopping back on the lift and starting the ride all over again.
CRUISE TO THE MUSIC WITH THE SHACKTOWN CREWOK, so you're sick of group rides filled with try-hards, like that time you joined a group in Europe and a total tool in the group named Lance insisted on blasting up every hill. Join the chill crowd of 20 to 50 riders who head out from Shacktown Community Cycle every week from 6 to 7 pm and just let the momentum of the enthusiasm for cycling carry you.
Shacktown owner Roger Hernandez helps lead the rides, blasting music from the boomboxes strapped to his bike. Sometimes there are themes — like Prince v. Bowie or Run DMC vs. the Beastie Boys — that serve as an excuse for the crowd to dress themselves and their bikes up in costumes. The route, usually 7 to 12 miles long, isn't fixed. Hernandez just follows his heart.
"I'm taking people to parks, through neighborhoods. ... I never have a set route. I ride bikes all day, every day for decades now," he says. "When we roll through downtown, that's usually pretty fun. We go through the Pavilion and ride circles in there, and everyone loves it."
Don't worry if you're nervous about traffic. They have assigned "corkers" to stop the flow of traffic when you're crossing the street. And don't worry if you're slow and out of shape. The entire crowd will wait for you. It happens almost every week of the year.
"Sometimes I'm like, I don't want to do it," Hernandez says. "But I see everyone's joy, and it gets me back there." ♦