More Races Offering Bike Valet Service
Initiatives reduce traffic and carbon footprint.
After Dawn Letourneau crossed the finish line of last Saturday’s Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, she grabbed some water and a banana and took her claim number to the valet.
Letourneau was no VIP or sponsor enjoying a luxury amenity. She was taking advantage of a fast and environmentally responsible way to travel to and from the race: by bike.
“We figured it was the fastest way home without bothering anybody else for a ride,” says Letorneau, of West Paris, Maine, whose family was staying with friends a few miles from the finish line of the point-to-point race.
The newest thing in running events? The bicycle valet.
“It just makes sense,” says Bruce Rayner, chief green officer at the environmental consulting company Athletes for a Fit Planet, which works with Beach to Beacon. “People get it immediately and they see the value from an environmental standpoint, a traffic standpoint, a health standpoint.”
A small but growing number of road races offer bicycle valets, and most report the number of runners, volunteers, and spectators using them is growing.
“Sometimes I wonder why more races don’t do it,” says Keith Peters, executive director of the Council for Responsible Sport, which works to make endurance events more socially and environmentally responsible.
Among the first was the San Francisco Marathon, which added the service in 2008 in collaboration with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and later teamed up to provide it with Tri-California Events.
“It’s pretty obvious that we should have a bike valet at our race,” marathon spokesman Nick Barresi says. “We are San Francisco. A huge proportion of the population commutes [by bike] to work, so it was just an obvious addition.” And yes, he says, “A lot of our participants are riding to the event and riding home” after running it.
More than 100 riders use the bicycle valet each year, Barresi says, split evenly between participants and spectators.
The city of Santa Monica provides a bicycle valet at the start line of the LA Marathon—almost entirely for spectators, since that race runs point to point; there, it’s a condition of the event permit, says marathon senior director of operations Stacy Embretson Escudero.
“Traffic is so bad in Santa Monica that day, they were trying to reduce the number of cars,” Embretson says.
Next year’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Portland, Oregon, will have a bike valet. So does the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon.
Despite that city’s close association with cycling, “nobody had ever heard of a bike valet for any event in Austin” at the time the marathon’s organizers introduced it, race director John Conley says.
Now the service attracts 1,000 bikes on marathon day, mostly those of volunteers and spectators, Conley says. And other major events, including South by Southwest and Austin City Limits, have added bicycle valets.
“At least in the Austin community, it’s become an expected part of special-events planning, that you have bike valets,” says Conley.
That’s one of the motives behind the Beach to Beacon’s bike valet corral, which was centrally placed beside the recovery area, says Rayner: to spread the idea.
“We wanted to make it as visible as possible so we could encourage more runners to ride,” he says.
Set along the coast of Maine, and ending at a park whose centerpiece is the iconic Portland Head Light overlooking Casco Bay, Beach to Beacon is aggressively green—it has a silver certification from the Council for Responsible Sports, and makes no secret of its ambition to win gold—with volunteers who stand over trash bins making sure the specified recyclable goes in the correct slot. The event was founded by Cape Elizabeth native and Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, who counts environmentalism among her passions.
“It’s a part of the world where the environment is the reason most people are there,” says Rayner.
Yet the little town is choked with cars on race day, and by fleets of yellow school buses shuttling runners to far-flung satellite parking lots—a particular aggravation for participants, according to post-run surveys, Rayner says.
“The only part of it that isn’t fun is that, ‘How do I get back to my car at the end of the race and then get out of Cape Elizabeth,’” says Nancy Grant, a runner and executive director of the Maine Bicycle Coalition, which teamed up with the race to operate the bike valet. “If you can just bike away at the end, it’s so much easier.”
The service, which debuted at this year’s race, provided secure bike storage at the finish, and bus transport to the start more than six miles away.
Anything a race can do to provide alternatives to driving and parking cars, says Peters, is a good thing.
“It makes sense,” he says. “Runners know to get on their bike and ride four or five miles to the race and then ride four and five miles home isn’t going to kill them. They’re all already fit.”
Yet Grant notes that people often drive to runs and other active events.
“Every time you have people driving cars so they can go and exercise, it feels like a disconnect,” she says.
That’s especially true in places like Austin, says Conley.
“For our community, getting around on human energy really isn’t that unusual,” he says. “Cross-training and triathlons are probably the third wheel of events, between running and cycling. You go to track workout and you’ll see 10 or 15 bikes chained to the fence.”
What Grant sees is the opportunity for bicycle valets at other running events, and for park-and-pedal lots in which runners coming from a distance to a race can leave their cars and ride the last few miles.
“There’s just tons of promise there,” she says. “This is only going to grow.”
As for Letorneau, she says cycling home after a road race “was not easy. Your legs won’t thank you afterward, but we were also bicycling past all the traffic. I figure some of the drivers were sitting there swearing at me.”