LAKEWOOD RANCH -- An estimated 600 riders are expected to converge on Lakewood Ranch Main Street on Nov. 3 for the annual Gulf Coast Cycle Fest. From there, the riders will go, well, everywhere.
Planned are 100, 62, 35 and 20-mile routes.
"This is not a race. It's a gathering of cyclists who enjoy the sport, the beauty of the scenery and the recreation," says Doug Reiff of Waterlefe, a member of the Sarasota Manatee Bicycle Club.
"We want the families to have fun. The main focus is to have a family friendly event. It's not a competition," Reiff said.
The most ambitious ride, the 100-miler, starting at 7:30 a.m., will take cyclists north along a marked course to Upper Manatee River Road and Rye Road, eventually winding its way to Mocca
sin Wallow Road and Terra Ceia before returning to Lakewood Ranch.
The shorter rides follow in 30-minute staggered increments: the 62-miler at 8 a.m., the 35-miler at 8:30 a.m., and the 20-miler at 9 a.m.
"This is the premier cycling event in southwest Florida. We draw a lot of riders from out of town," Reiff said.
Riders will range from those in their 80s, to families with young children.
"Cycling is a social outlet that has become extraordinarily important for many folks," Reiff said.
Many club members won't be riding at all. They will instead be providing the support needed to keep Cycle Fest rolling.
One of the 100 or so volunteer support staff members, club president Chris Prokosch, said she will be assisting with registration on Main Street. She will then move to the 10-mile rest stop to assist with the 20-mile ride, before returning to the finish line.
When Prokosch moved to Bradenton in 2008, she made the switch from mountain biking to road biking, a necessary adjustment for Florida's flat terrain.
For Prokosch and many other club members, riding is a way of life.
Reiff was a runner, until he rode in his first cycling event in 1987. He has been a dedicated rider ever since, enjoying the exercise and the camaraderie the sport offers.
"We are trying to spread the word that safe cycling is fun cycling," Reiff said.
He cringes when he sees cyclists riding without helmets.
"Most of the kids I see are wearing helmets, but the parents aren't," he said. "Dangers can be avoided."
Part of the attraction of riding with a group is that it is safer than riding alone, Reiff said,
Proceeds go to support club activities and to promote safe cycling.
Participants may register now at http://www.smbc.us/cyclefest.html. In addition, riders may register the day of the event at Lakewood Ranch Main Street. Cost is $40 per rider, with a $5 discount for each additional rider from the same household.
Riders will have an extra hour of daylight to work with as Daylight Savings Time ends the day of the race, Nov. 3.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1