ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – As the Roanoke Valley continues to grow its influence in the international biking community, local leaders are looking to improve upon what the area already has.
Rural road biking through Craig, Botetourt and Alleghany Counties is growing in popularity, and leaders are looking to make that as accessible as possible for more riders.
Around the shop at Just the Right Gear in Roanoke County, tinkering is a lifestyle. And for owner Steve Hetherington, cycling on the rural roads of Craig, Botetourt and Roanoke Counties may just be his unofficial love language.
“I’ve been riding on those roads forever and this area has so much to offer as far as just really nice places to ride," Hetherington said.
The shop is on 311 headed toward McAfee Knob, the gateway to rural road biking and mountain biking at Carvins Cove.
“They will be the only ones out on the roads, there won’t be any cars; that’s one of the great things about bicycling in the rural area, there’s no traffic," said Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission transportation planner Rachel Ruhlen.
That’s why Ruhlen and her team are updating the rural bike plan, last touched in 2006.
On Friday night, cyclists gave input at Just the Right Gear with their habits and behaviors while riding. The commission primarily wants to know the roads cyclists like to ride on, so those roads can be improved. It could be anything from added signage to the possible addition of a bike lane. The inventory of roads better helps planners make decisions about how to spend limited dollars.
“When VDOT is doing something to that road, they know that bicyclists are there and they can be thinking about what as long as we’re digging up this road anyways, what can we do to make it more comfortable for bicyclists," Ruhlen said.
The upgrades are important as bicycle tourism continues to grow. Ruhlen said the commission is trying to research just how big of an economic impact cyclists have on the region, but she said it’s clear they’re coming in.
“They come here from the cities, from the higher population areas just to bicycle. They like the hills and the mountains, they like the challenge and most of all they like the lack of traffic," Ruhlen said.
And when they come, they’re bringing their dollars too, to places like Just the Right Gear. Hetherington said out of towners stop by his shop frequently, and that he used to know nearly everyone in the biking community. Now he’s meeting lots of new faces.
“I had one person from Raleigh say it’s closer to come here than it is to go to Asheville, and the riding is just as good,” Hetherington said.
The commission will host another input session on the rural bike plan Friday, Jan. 31 at Downshift in Roanoke.