Covered Bridge Ride - History
What started out in 1977 as a club century ride to explore all 13 remaining Bucks County covered bridges has become quite the cycling event in the greater Philadelphia area. First opened up in 1981 as an "invitational" ride (i.e., promoted to non-club members also), it now requires more volunteers (100-125) to run the event than there were riders (80) that first year. But it's more than a bicycling event - it's a celebration of the rural beauty framed by the fall foliage and the rich history of Native Americans that surrounds us; it's a fundraising event that enables CBBC to give back to cycling and the community; and it's an opportunity to appreciate how good life is, even in these tense times.
Initially started from Tyler State Park when it was a club ride, it moved to Peace Valley Park in 1981 upon becoming an invitational ride, then on to the Upper Bucks Vo-Tech School in 1993 and then to its present location in Tinicum Park, with each move intended to accommodate ever-larger numbers of riders. Tinicum Park is an ideal location in that it has all the rural, backwoods charm of the township in which it resides, that charm being one of the hallmarks of the ride - along with the covered bridges, of course!
While the routes have changed over the years and there is no longer a century, the bridges themselves have remained a constant. They are the key to whisking you back in time to an era when life was simpler, albeit more difficult, than today and bicycles and horses were the predominant modes of transportation. The following is a chronology of the Covered Bridge Ride (CBR).
The first annual CBR was a club ride held in October of 1977. It was a 100-mile tour of all 13 remaining Bucks County covered bridges. The century ride, led by Ralph Turner, started from Tyler State Park. Riders were encouraged to bring food, spare parts, and tools as there were no manned rest stops or SAG wagons. In Year Two (1978) it was a 110-mile tour of the same 13 bridges as were Years Three (1979) and Four (1980).
In 1981, the year of first invitational ride, the CBR moved to Peace Valley Park and there was a 13-bridge century ride and a five-bridge half-century. Cost was just $3 in advance for a map/cue sheet, marked roads, snacks, and a SAG wagon. Billed as an autumn foliage ride, 80 riders showed up for Peter Slampyak's first CBR, which started at 7 AM in below-freezing temperatures. CBBC member Larry French completed the century in just under six hours, stopping only once for a four-minute lunch. Larry and his wife, Susan, are now fixtures at the Weisel rest stop, tending to riders on the 50 and 63 mile rides.
In 1991, the ride start location moved to the Upper Bucks Vo-Tech on Ridge Road in Bedminster Township. By 1993, there were just 11 covered bridges remaining in Bucks County (a 12th was destroyed by fire in 1991, and eventually rebuilt in 1997) and the CBR no longer included a century. The longest ride was 67 miles and visited six covered bridges. 250 riders showed up for the 1993 ride and then, as now, they were drawn to the ride by the bridges and the fall colors.
The CBR moved to Tinicum Park in 1996 and then in 1997, Wayne Siefert began a run of seven years as the CBR director. Little did anyone know then that the once modest-sized event would grow quickly to 500 riders, then to well over 1000 in 1998 with the slogan "The bridges are old, but the ride is new." In 1999, local artist and long-time CBBC member Bob Allen's covered bridge paintings began to be used as the artwork on the extremely popular souvenir long-sleeved CBR T-shirts.
In 1999, 2000, and 2001, there were more than 1500 riders, then 2000 riders in 2002, and even more in 2003. Riders came primarily from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with many also coming from Delaware, Maryland, New York, and other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and some from as far south as Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, several western states including California, Colorado and Texas, and even Canada.
While rest stops and lunch have long been highlights of this well-run event, they have become even more well-stocked, diverse, and organized, with hot cider, coffee, and donuts to greet the riders in the early morning hours. Nearly a dozen SAG wagons now roam the routes all day to help distressed riders.
There are now five different routes, ranging from a flat 20-mile ride with two covered bridges to a hilly 63-mile ride that visits six covered bridges (a seventh bridge, Cabin Run, was temporarily dropped in 2002-2003 due to a road closure). The routes have changed from time to time for safety reasons and to accommodate changing traffic patterns as well as to improve the aesthetics of the ride.
Sources of information: CBBC scrap books; interviews with club members; http://visitbuckscounty.com/ ; and a Morning Call newspaper article by Joseph McDermott from October 21, 1993.