Ahead of the Curve
Biking in Maine
By Susan Olcott
Wheels up is the way to go—the kind with spokes, that is. During the pandemic, people are finding more time to get outside and are seeking new ways to explore Maine. The message that many local biking groups and businesses want to get out there is that anyone can do it. There are myriad ways to get started for every level and plenty of people ready to help, including many awesome Maine women.
“There are lots of women involved in this sport in Maine. We’re ahead of the curve in that sense,” says Ilse Teeters-Trumpy, President of the Greater Portland chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association (GP NEMBA). NEMBA is a group that works on improving riding for mountain bikers and promoting trail stewardship in a variety of places.
The Greater Portland chapter is just one of many local chapters. Ilse met her husband through mountain biking. She is a practicing attorney but volunteers her time with NEMBA to help get other people out on the trails. She has noticed that groups of women have found ways to meet up and bike together across the state. “There are the Single Track Sisters in the Portland area and Dirt Divas up in Augusta that connect via Facebook,” says Ilse. “I’m sure there are more, too. Right now, so many people are looking for ways to get out on the trail. Usually, we lead rides for all levels, but right now we are posting loops for people of varying abilities (beginner to advanced) and asking they post photos when they go out and do the rides so that they can stay connected.”
Jean Sideris is another woman dedicated to biking in Maine. She is the Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine (BCM), a non-profit that works to make Maine a better place to bike and walk. Jean grew up mountain biking but started road biking when she moved to the East Coast. “I remember learning to ride as a kid, and that’s a story we’ve been hearing all over the state right now—parents teaching their kids to ride and getting back on their bikes as well. I’ve heard from bike shops all over the state, and boy, are they selling out,” says Jean. “They’re mostly selling kids’ bikes and entry-level bikes. There are a lot of people learning or rediscovering biking, and we are thrilled that people are doing that. We just want to help keep them safe.”
BCM does a lot of work to educate riders by going into schools and offering courses in bike safety. Due to the pandemic, however, they have had to shift their programs to virtual options. Part of that is the increase in the number of people biking. “We are getting more calls than ever from people asking where to ride,” says Jean. While there may be fewer cars on the road, they have been driving faster, which is a concern. To address this increase in speeding, BCM recently launched the “Slow ME Down” campaign. It encourages drivers to reduce their speed in response to bikers sharing the road.
Organizations like BCM and NEMBA are helping people to get out on bikes on their own by posting loop rides and through BCM’s online “Where to Ride” route finder. Still, some people would rather go with a leader who can show them where to go and provide support along the way. Mackenzie Bowker is a trip leader for the Portland-based company, Summer Feet Cycling. Mackenzie grew up biking with her dad around Scarborough and went on to pursue outdoor education and then to lead tours for a variety of outdoor companies. While Summer Feet has had to shift their model during the pandemic away from offering trips like those overseas, they have been able to take small groups on more local tours. Their largest group yet was a group of eight women riding together around the Portland peninsula. “I didn’t get to lead that trip, but I heard they had a great time—they had all these little inside jokes among them,” says Mackenzie. “I didn’t go on that ride, but I did get to ride with my mom the other day on the Eastern Trail,” she added. “I hadn’t seen her on a bike for probably ten years, and it was neat to see her out there again.” Mackenzie has noticed the interest in biking rise through Summer Feet’s bike rental company, Portland Encyclopedia, and also through their recent sale of their old bike fleet. “There were 40 or so bikes we put up for sale, and they’re all gone now,” says Mackenzie.
Another Maine company just getting started offers tailor-made bike trips for family groups. Parallel Adventures, based in Brunswick, is a newly formed sister company to the youth-oriented Apogee Adventures, which has been running trips for students since 2001. “Over the years, parents have been asking, “When can I go on an Apogee trip? We’ve been happy to answer that question with our Parallel programs,” says Director Chad Olcott (who also happens to be my husband). Our nine-year-old twin girls have been asking the same question for years as well. They were able to adopt two of Apogee’s retiring bikes this spring just in time for an increase in their free time with the pandemic. “Well over half of the inquiries we are getting this summer are from women, many of whom have never tried bike touring before, but who are interested in doing this with their families. They’re particularly eager to try touring because a number of their kids have come home with great stories after their own bike touring experiences with us at Apogee Adventures.”
Whether you go on your own or with a group, biking is on the rise. There is so much positivity around the sport and the benefits it can provide. As Jean says, “Now more than ever, we need it for our mental and physical health, enjoying all that Maine has to offer.”