[News intern Alaya Wyndham-Price spent the recent holiday in Walla Walla, Washington. She checked in on the local bike scene and shares her report below.]
(Photo: Alaya Wyndham-Price)
Like Portland, it snowed in Walla Walla during the holidays, about four inches of the white stuff fell and then slightly froze to the ground — typical weather for this small valley town in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, about 250 miles from Portland. The town of about 58,000 is best known for farming, college, and wine.
I’ve been visiting Walla Walla for seven years now, and riding around the area, particularly on the trails outside the town proper. But it wasn’t till this trip that I realized how invested in cycling the community is here.
Allegro is relatively new to the area, having been open for four years. Owner Steve Rapp told me he opened the shop when he, “saw an opportunity because a section of the market wasn’t being tapped into very much.”
Walla Walla was losing some of its bike business to the neighboring Tri-Cities area, Rapp said, because people like to compare products and prices. Only having one bike shop in town wasn’t as productive to the local economy.
Having two shops, with each specializing in different brands, created the right level of competition to keep the bike money local, helping both shops and Walla Walla’s economy.
Bicycle Barn has been a local fixture since 1974, owned by Greg Knowles, and housing a 19-year employee, Tim Hulce. Both shops host bi-weekly scenic, recreational rides that form the backbone of the local bike scene.
Employees from both shops ride together on the Wheatland Wheelers, Walla Walla’s premier racing team, circa 1982. The Wheatland Wheelers team is making huge strides in Washington State. Several of its members having been state champions over the past 5 years in either road racing or time trials.
(Photo: Whitman College)
“Eastern Washington is finally on the map,” said team member Reggie Gonzales, who by day is a mechanic and sales person at Bicycle Barn. “When we show up, other people take notice now.”
The Wheatland Wheelers train, take on a group of junior riders from the local high school, and still have time to sponsor and host the annual Ann Weatherill Cycling Classic, in honor of a local schoolteacher who was struck and killed while riding on Mother’s Day in 2004.
The January ride raises money and builds awareness about cycling safety, and has led to a partnership with the state to pass the Ann Weatherill Safe Passing Act in 2005; the Bicycle Alliance of Washington aims to clarify the law by specifying a three-foot passing rule in 2010.
Allegro Cyclery sponsors the Tour of Walla Walla stage race, which was started by Rapp thirteen years ago, and has grown from 68 riders to 530 this year, with participants coming from the entire Western United States and B.C. The 2010 Tour of Walla Walla will be April 16 to 18 if you are interested, see Allegro’s website for details. Allegro also hosts the Walla Walla Cyclocross, races four & five of the Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series. The Wheatland Wheelers participate in both events.
Another force on the bike scene is Whitman College, a small, private liberal arts school which has its own racing team, as well as a good number of students who get around by bike. (Even on my recent ride in the snow, the bike racks on campus were full.)
I would recommend touring Walla Walla by bike to anyone. Bikes are ideal for visiting the area’s premier wineries or just for the exploration of its relaxing, pastoral scenery and rich cultural history. Both shops rent bikes for this purpose, and the city also puts out two excellent bike maps.
Hope you enjoyed this little trip to Walla Walla. Did you explore a new scene over the holidays? If so, we’d love to hear about it!