June 13, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 23

21st KCIBR Saturday

What started out as an international celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Haines Highway has grown into one of the premiere bicycling events in the North.

The first Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay was held July 3, 1993, strategically timed to link the Fourth of July celebration in Haines with Canada Day festivities in Haines Junction, Y.T., on July 1.

Thirty teams and about 150 riders participated, many riding mountain bikes.

“If people realize there’s beauty, history and activities in this area, they’ll spend more time here,” said Susan Bell, then Haines’ tourism director and a lead organizer of the inaugural ride.

The idea took off. The second relay – held June 25, 1994 – drew more than 450 riders. This year, the relay sold out within a month of the start of registration, with 1,200 cyclists signed up.

The relay is likely the biggest bike event in Alaska, said Dave Ringle of Juneau, a perennial rider, and former race board member. “I don’t think there’s anything substantial that comes close to this, in terms of participation,” said Ringle.

Due to logistics and safety considerations, participation has been capped. “The problem is the number of cars,” said Judy Ewald of Haines, who serves as one of three U.S. members of the 10-member board that puts on the event.

Besides creating parking bottlenecks along the course, cars are tough on bicyclists, she said. “People in cars, when they open their doors, they need to look first, especially for riders. Most of the minor accidents have been bikers running into open car doors.”

About 350 volunteers are required to put on the race, including up to 30 people at each checkpoint, directing traffic, aiding bicyclists, pulling bib numbers and operating timing equipment.

“We have people a kilometer out call in numbers. We have emergency people, EMTs, traffic people, and radio people,” Ewald said.

Besides a shift from mountain to road bikes, the event has become more competitive than early relays, with proportionately fewer eight-member teams. Four-member teams this year number 104, compared to about 95 eight-member squads, she said. Forty riders have signed up to go the distance solo and there are 36 duos.

Ewald said her team is probably typical of eight-members ones. “There’s people on our team who train really hard. And we have two team members who just did a 115-day cruise and haven’t trained at all.”

Over the years, the race has seen all kinds of riders: disabled riders on special bikes, costumed riders, riders with paniers carrying picnic lunches, even naked riders.

“I’ve seen Naked Rider and Thong Rider, unfortunately,” said Ringle. “I’d say they suffered more by their personal judgment than by any penalty we could have brought against them. There’s a lot of reasons people wear bike clothes, and it’s not just for personal decorum.”

The first riders, on teams smaller than eight, leave from Haines Junction at 7:30 a.m. Alaska time. The race finish line at Fort Seward closes at 9 p.m. The mandatory restart for teams at the back of the pack is at 7 p.m. at Checkpoint 7.

All riders are invited to the community free king salmon barbecue sponsored by the local fishing industry, 6-9 p.m. at the Southeast state fairgounds.