By TAYLOR KUYKENDALL · firstname.lastname@example.org
BECKLEY — Hills and mountains may inspire dread in cyclists from other areas, but in the middle of West Virginia's southern mountains is a very active group zipping around the state's hills.
The Raleigh County Cycle Club is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote safe bicycling in southern portion of the state. The group accepts riders of all ages and skill levels and includes both road biking and mountain biking, with many of the members participating in both.
"We got started in a roundabout way," said Craig Spurlock of the Raleigh County Cycle Club. "A couple of our original members were organizing a ride called Grind the Gorge, which is a mountain ride that started from Grandview Park down into the New River Gorge and back."
From there, Spurlock said, the club started developing other activities for area cyclists. In addition to organizing club rides, the group is active in the creation of mountain bike trails.
"Any of the trails we work on are what I consider multi-use trails," Spurlock said. "Just because we as mountain bikers are building them, it doesn't mean it's not for everyone — hikers, cross-country runners, whoever wants to use it."
The group has built trails at Little Beaver State Park and Lake Stephens.
The club organized the Chainring Challenge at Little Beaver State Park. The race is a West Virginia Mountain Bike Association Points Series competition and takes place the last Sunday in July.
The club also volunteers to do spot cleanups of popular bike locations such as the trails at the YMCA Soccer Complex in Beckley and the Rend Trail located in the New River National Park.
Spurlock said he cycles for a number of reasons, including fitness, because it's a "terrific exercise."
"I love the outdoors, and being involved with the club is a good social activity," Spurlock said. "All the people I ride with, it's a really great group. Everybody's really supportive."
While they do play nice, Spurlock said there is some competition among members, but that's not what the club is really about.
"There's a little bit of friendly competition, but mostly we're just happy to see new riders out riding regardless of their skill level," he said.
West Virginia's mountain biking is superb, Spurlock said, and in Southern West Virginia, there's no shortage of trails.
"As far as mountain biking goes, I mean, West Virginia is one of the top mountain biking destinations in the country, probably," he said. "The new Arrowhead trails in Fayettville that the Boy Scouts built last year are phenomenonal. They are so great."
The Boy Scouts, Spurlock said, are planning to put even more mountain bike trails on the map soon.
While mountain biking is certainly a popular sport, Spurlock said there are more challenges for road biking, particularly in southern West Virginia.
"We have a lot of beautiful areas of the state that are suitable to road riding. Around Raleigh County and Fayettte County, I think a lot of the roads aren't necessarily rider friendly," Spurlock said. "There are no shoulders. You have a ditch right off the road sometimes so if you're run off you're in the ditch."
Improving the visibility of the cycling community and increasing opportunities is one of the cycle club's primary charges.
"Drivers in the area just have to get used to seeing more bicycle riders on the road and really just be aware of them," Spurlock said. "There are a lot of active road cyclists in this area, and we just try to make our presence known."
"Share the Road" signs in some areas are helping promote the cause, Spurlock added. The club does a regular 32-mile road ride on Thursdays in the Grandview and airport areas near Beckley.
"On those routes, drivers are more used to seeing riders, but some of the outlying communities, not so much," Spurlock said.
The group also does regular mountain bike rides at Little Beaver State Park. The club has regular meetings, and its Facebook page allows members to interact and organize with one another.
Membership in the club, according to a form on its website, is $15 for individuals and $20 for families.