A year ago, Calvin and Eve Bixler were the youngest riders in the annual Bike Shenandoah. The siblings, six and two-years-old, respectively, completed the five-mile ride with their parents, Sarah and Ben, whose bikes were outfitted to bring the little ones along. “We really enjoy biking,” Sarah, who attends Eastside Church, said recently. “It’s good for our health, the environment, and it’s fun. But as a family right now, we don’t ride far.” So, she and her husband look forward to the five-mile ride as a time to enjoy the outdoors and physical activity as a family.
Bike Shenandoah, now in its fifteenth year, will feature five different rides between five and 100 miles for cyclists of all ages and abilities on September 22. Cyclists will raise funds for four nonprofit agencies: Mennonite Central Committee, MennoMedia, Virginia Mennonite Missions, and a local community agency. This year, the fourth recipient is the Northend Greenway, an initiative to develop a linear park that doubles as a bike and walking path, connecting several economically and socially diverse neighborhoods in north Harrisonburg.
This focus is attractive to Jon Trotter, a young professional who attends Lindale Mennonite Church with his wife Meredith. “We haven’t done Bike Shenandoah before and aren’t experienced cyclists, but we plan to do the 15-mile route. It’s fun and challenging, while being a great area to ride and for a good cause.”
A new effort this year for the ride will be the Pedal Power initiative. Similar to the more familiar Penny Power, VMC and Harrisonburg area churches will be challenged to ride their bikes to support community development work at home and abroad. The contributing church with the highest participation rate—either in Bike Shenandoah or in riding to church the next day—will win ice cream for their MYF.
The event planners hope that this initiative will promote a stronger connection with congregations beyond the event itself. In their view, the simple act of bicycling is congruent with their Anabaptist values. While “cycling is fun,” says Ben Wyse, who attends Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, it also helps him put wheels on his beliefs. “Riding,” he says lightly, despite the statement’s weight, “especially for transportation, is an expression of a life concerned with caring for creation, and living in a world at peace.”
To say that Wyse, a bicycle mechanic by trade, is no stranger to bikes is a statement almost comical in its inadequacy to capture his and his family’s lifestyle. Even so, supporting Bike Shenandoah is not about “hardcore” biking for the Wyse family. It “benefits agencies doing work that we want to support,” Ben says, and it has a unique community draw. “I like the fact that there’s a really short ride that works for kids and families, and people who can’t ride 25 or 50 or 100 miles.” Plus, he adds, “it has the best food of all the cycling events in the area.”
Wyse is musing about riding with his two young children this year. With the older being five, he’s not sure whether he will be ready to ride his own bike the whole five miles yet, but this year, Calvin and Eve may have some age-mates to join them on the road.
Learn more about Bike Shenandoah and its beneficiaries, and register online at the Bike Shenandoah website.
This article originally appeared in Virginia Mennonite Conference’s Connections magazine.