Amish Country Bike Tour rolling with the changes

This year’s Amish Country Bike Tour will kick off Saturday with modifications due to the coronavirus crisis. The tour format has changed from a mass start to a “show-and-go,” staggered by the planned riding distance. Each route still includes a stop at the Amish schoolhouse west of Dover, where people can enjoy a slice of pie from Byler’s Store. (Delaware State News file photos)

DOVER — The 34th annual Amish Country Bike Tour will continue to cycle through and carry on its annual tradition.

“With the advent of COVID-19 sparking a renewed interest in cycling as an outlet for health, mental well-being, activity and transportation, combined with so many events being canceled, the Amish Country Bike Tour has become the go-to event this year,” said Lori Speed, marketing and communications director for Bike Delaware.

The tour, set for Saturday, comes to Dover each fall, offering a variety of routes for cyclists of all levels. Each includes a stop at the Amish schoolhouse west of Dover, where people can enjoy a slice of pie from Byler’s Store.

But this year, the event will feel and look a little bit different, as modifications to the tour have been implemented to increase social distancing opportunities and bolster hygiene practices.

“Face masks are required when riders are in proximity to those not in their group,” Ms. Speed said. “Also, for the first time, we mailed registration packets to most of the riders. Those who will have to pick up packets can do a drive-thru-style pickup (today). Those needing to pick up are a very small percentage of the riders.”

Also, the tour format has changed from a mass start to a “show-and-go” at Legislative Mall staggered by the planned riding distance, as follows: 100-mile riders will begin between 7-8 a.m.; 50-/62-mile riders begin between 8-9 a.m., and 15-/25-mile riders begin between 9-10:30 a.m.

“There will be no mass start this year,” Ms. Speed said. “The tour has always started with an Amish horse and buggy leading the riders. Although we lose the charm of the start, there will be plenty of opportunities for riders to see Delaware’s famous Amish countryside.

From left, Belle Sampson, Brenda Ewing and Lori Bunts from Maryland in front of the 62-mile tour marker last year.

“This year, we instituted a show-and-go start based upon the distance riders’ plan to travel and asked them to sign up for 10-minute intervals, providing spacing and a steady flow into the rest stops rather than a mass of people showing at once. Since this isn’t a timed event, people will be able to ride in their own group and stay socially distant.”

There will be no registrations on the day of the event. Riders were to have signed up by Tuesday.

“Traditionally, a nice day can increase ridership by close to 500 people. Eliminating day-of registration will keep the event from becoming too big to manage,” said Chris Castagno, Bike Delaware board president. “We’ve been monitoring other cycling events around the country that have taken place and feel we can safely host and still provide a needed, socially distant outdoor experience for our riders.”

Ms. Speed said Bike Delaware was optimistic about continuing with the annual Amish Country Bike Tour as the pandemic intensified.

“Early on, Bike Delaware stepped in to advocate for bike shops up and down the state when they saw a huge increase in cycling, yet these shops were part of the first phase of shutting down during the state of emergency,” Ms. Speed said.

“Demand for bicycles and bike repair was so high that shops couldn’t keep up with the requests. We knew that once people began riding, they would be looking for a safe outlet to enjoy. We had to move forward hoping for the best outcome and prepare a plan that would meet the standards set by state and local authorities.”

Once Bike Delaware decided to still carry on with the tour, they adopted the recommendations of USA Cycling for holding an event during a pandemic.

“We are also extremely fortunate that Dr. Marci Drees is our event director, and her skills, insight and experience have been invaluable to the process,” Ms. Speed said. “Our plan has continued to evolve through the efforts of the team of volunteers whose main concern is to have a safe, socially distant yet fun event.”

Mike Kaiser, left, and Mickey Lobb, both of Maryland, get ready to ride last year.

She added that Bike Delaware consulted with event holders all over the country to adopt the best practices while implementing their own for this year’s event.

Rest stops have been modified to minimize crowding and potential for contamination of food and beverages, but there will still be individually wrapped pies from the famous Amish schoolhouse in Dover. Hand sanitizer and cleaning stations will be provided, as well.

The family-style barbecue will be changed to a catered box meal from Mission BBQ. Free wine and beer at the end of the event have been canceled.

But despite the changes to this year’s tour, Ms. Speed is still expecting everyone involved to have a great time.

“Riders are so appreciative that we are moving forward,” Ms. Speed said. “People are so hungry for an activity that they can participate in ‘with’ others that they are more than accepting of the inconveniences that they will experience to accommodate social distancing and be safe.”

Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.