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Belles on Bikes ride returns May 1 after one-year hiatus

NATCHEZ — After a one-year hiatus, the Belles on Bikes recreational bicycle ride is back in business.

The women-riders-only event, which is sponsored by the Natchez Bicycle Club, will take place May 1.

Riders will have the choice of several different routes, including a 28-mile route on the Natchez Trace to Emerald Mound, or a 57-mile route through Church Hill and the Natchez State Park.

Club President Allen Richard said the original idea for the Belles on Bikes event came at a sit-down with former club president Tommy Smith in 2007.

“We were at Pig Out Inn one day after a club meeting discussing options for biking in Natchez,” Richard said.

“Through our conversation, we came up with Belles on Bikes. We really think Natchez can be a cycling destination, and one of our goals is to make it recognized as such. We think this event helps to bring attention to Natchez as a cycling destination.”

And it seems to have worked, as Richard said people from Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana California and Texas, in addition to Mississippi residents, have signed up for the event.

“I think cyclists are looking for events in places of interest, and Natchez is that place of interest,” Richard said. “People are looking to get out of Jackson and Baton Rouge — out of the bigger city — in order to come out and do a ride.”

And more women than ever are becoming interested in recreational cycling, especially compared to when Richard started, he said.

“Women-only events in general are gaining traction around the country. Over 40 percent of recreational cyclists are women. That’s a tremendous growth from 20 years ago, when I started, and there were hardly any women doing it.”

The ride will begin at 8:30 a.m. May 1 in front of Bowie’s Tavern and Restaurant. Depending on which route is taken, Richard said riders could end up getting back at approximately 11:30 a.m., right as the Natchez Bluff Blues Fest gets started.

As for the males on-hand, Richard said their role is strictly to offer support to the women riders.

“We call them the SAG men, which is kind of slang for a rest stop,” Richard said. “SAG stands for supplies and gears, so they’ll basically be manning rest stops and providing support. The guys put it on and the girls get to ride.”

All proceeds for the event will go to the Natchez Bike Club, as well as Bike Walk Mississippi, a statewide bicycling and walking advocacy group.

“This is a relatively small event with low sponsorship, so all it really does is help fund itself and other events the club does,” Richard said.

“Our goal right now is to get 100 participants. If we do, I think that will mean we’ve made an impact. At our resources, we can easily handle 100 people and be able to put on a controlled event.”

Registration is from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 30, and Saturday from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Natchez Chief of Police Mike Mullins will escort the riders from a patrol car.

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