Over 230 cyclists, cycling enthusiasts and members of the Charlottesville community gathered Saturday for the Charlottesville Criterium and Bike Fest, also publicized as CVLEBIKEFEST. The event included races for both children and adults and was the first of its kind in Charlottesville since 1989, marking one of the first large-scale community events since the beginning of the pandemic.
The event ran from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m, with festivities primarily anchored in front of the Dairy Market food hall on Grady Ave., which was also the primary sponsor of the event.
Ethan Gruber, treasurer of the Charlottesville Racing Club and one of the event’s organizers, said that pulling off the event was a major feat and one of great significance for the City.
“We really didn’t know what to expect because this is the first time any of us has tried to pull this off in more than 30 years,” Gruber said. “From the community, Charlottesville residents have come out to check out the bike parade and the races and stuff so it’s been really somewhat surprising and also satisfying to see how many people.”
The Charlottesville Racing Club and the Club Cycling at U.Va. came together to put on the event, which benefited Charlottesville Community Bikes. CCB is a local non-profit bicycle shop that “promotes environmentally-sound transportation, recycles bicycles, and makes cycling accessible” through a free kids’ bike program, bicycle repair, advocating for improved bike-friendly infrastructure and more.
“They put thousands of bikes into the hands of Charlottesville residents who are in need of it for recreation, or transportation for work,” Gruber said. “And I think bicycles are really great for physical exercise, but they’re also really great for mental health, and utility for transportation that has a low impact on the environment.”
The traditional criterium race course course was a six-corner course including parts of Preston Avenue and Forest Street. A criterium race is a multi-lap event on a closed course with short laps, typically less than a mile long.
Hayes Hegemier, race competitor and first-year College student, races on the club cycling team said the race was a success due both to the smart course design and the respectfulness of riders.
“They did a really good job with the course,” Hegemier said. “[The track] is kind of technical, six corners they call it. Yeah mostly great, clean racing. Everyone was pretty respectful on the course,” Hegemier said.
In addition to a variety of criterium races, organizers hosted a juniors race for racers between the ages of nine and 18 and a shorter kids race for those eight and under. After the noon race, the course was reserved for a “bike parade,” at which point racers of all ages and general community members joined together to do a couple of laps around the course at a “party pace.”
Many of the participating cyclists were from the Charlottesville area, but others traveled from throughout Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. Eric Wilkening, event organizer and race competitor, said cycling has a unique ability to foster community whether a racer or a spectator.
“I think bikes are a great way to get people together,” Wilkening said. “You know, whether you’re out here racing or you just ride your bike, you know, down to the corner restaurant to get something to eat or just kids growing up, everybody loves to ride a bike.”
For those who did not compete, there were plenty of other activities — watching the races and parade, listening to live music and getting a bite to eat at the Dairy Market vendors. Attendees are already eager to come back next year, and Hegemier was glad to have the chance to participate in something so exciting right in his own backyard.
There’s a pretty big cycling community here in Charlottesville itself,” Hegemier said. “And so I think people have been wanting something like this to happen for quite a few years now. I'm hoping next year even more people show up. But yeah, I think people are pretty hyped about it.”
Even people who had no previous relationship with cycling expressed their readiness to come back. Lisa and Matt Jevack, who live in Charlottesville and were there because they found out a friend was racing, talked about how they stumbled upon the event, but were glad they discovered it.
“We really didn’t have any expectations,” the Jevacks said. “But we hope it continues next year — it’s a great event.”