By Peter Radowick
Thousands of cyclists have long had the dates April 16-17 circled in red ink. That’s the weekend of the BP MS 150, a 180-mile trek from Houston to Austin. Some 13,000 pedalers are expected in what is billed as the largest ride of its kind in North America.
But first things first. With a month to go, there’s still a lot of heavy lifting cyclists must do. And that’s where the 27th annual Bluebonnet Express comes in. Next Sunday, March 13, some 2,000 cyclists are expected to depart Waller Stadium, northwest of Houston, on one of six route and distance options. (For MS 150 rookies, the Bluebonnet Express starting point in Waller is also one of the launch sites for the two-day ride to Austin, so newbies can get familiar with the area roads a month in advance.)
But even for those who have no designs to ride to Austin, the BBX, as it is known in shorthand, is a red-letter date in its own right. Presented by the Northwest Cycling Club – named USA Cycling Club of the Year in 2005, 2012, 2013 and 2014 – the BBX is a first-class ride in every sense. A fun route that is well-staged, BBX is laid out so that cyclists are able to spread out quickly. Ride options are 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 and 75 miles.
Daniel Sanchez and Lynda Polk, co-directors of the BBX, gave us the scoop on the Bluebonnet Express, including the buzz on Texas wild flowers cyclists might find along the way.
- The Bluebonnet Express is coming up next Sunday, March 13. Is it too late to register online? At this point, would one be better off registering the morning of the ride?
Online registration is open until Saturday and we recommend registering online. It is a lot easier than the hassle of doing it on Sunday morning, when the entry fee goes up. That said, onsite registration is available.
- BBX is one of the signature events for Northwest Cycling Club, a four-time USA Cycle Club of the Year. How long has this ride been around and have the loops changed much?
This is the 27th year of the ride and the course is changed a lot during those years. We tend to move the course to safer and smoother roads over the years and we made slight adjustments in the routes this year.
- What strengths and event-day expertise does NWCC bring to this event?
The club has a tremendous amount of experience putting on this ride since we’ve done it so many times. We are a large, active group, so we know what cyclists are looking for and want in a ride like this.
- How many riders are you expecting this year?
Perhaps as many as 2,000. It is very hard to predict how many cyclists will show up. We have had a big range in Sunday walk-up registrations in the past, anywhere from 200 to 800. We had 2,550 total registrations last year and we had good weather so that helped a bunch. This year we are lagging just behind last year’s registration place so we’re expecting at least 2,000.
- Given its proximity to the MS 150 ride in April, do you get a lot of cyclists that use the BBX as a training ride or is it a destination event in its own right?
That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s necessarily a destination event. I think it’s more of an event that cyclists in the area like to do because it has a good reputation. We do get a lot of MS 150 riders but not as many as you might think. We have about 23 percent returning riders from our previous NWCC-sponsored rides, the Bluebonnet and the Katy Flatland Century in July.
- The MS 150 traditionally gets a lot a new riders. Is the BBX geared up to accommodate numerous rookie riders training for their first multi-day ride? What are some of those accommodations?
Our registration web site pages at BBX.bike contain safety expectations for all riders. We also help them by providing adequate SAG service and rest stops. We also provide ride marshals, as per MS 150 guidelines. So we try to provide the same service they will get on the MS 150.
The BBX is a fully supported ride. It includes five rest stops on course, plus one at the start/finish, that provide riders with porta-potties, water, Gatorade, cookies, PBJ sandwiches, pretzels and granola bars. Rest stops are manned by the Boy Scout Troop 202. There are about 14 SAG drivers patrolling the course to help riders who have flats or need transport. We have a dedicated SAG phone line that riders can call to get help. Northwest Cyclery Bike Shop, our club sponsor, provides bike mechanics at every rest stop.
We hire 16 officers from the Waller County Sheriff Department to provide traffic control at busy intersections so cyclists will have a minimum amount of stopping and safer access at intersections.
A post-ride lunch is included with each entry. A lunch consisting of pitas, soup and salad will be provided by Pita Pit.
Finally, showers are available for cyclists at Waller Stadium.
- How many loops are there in BBX?
There are actually only two routes: a 75-mile route and a 25-mile route. But by looping the course we end up with six different routes available with distances between 25 and 75 miles. It’s pretty neat.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you characterize the course difficulty, with one being easy and 10 being a beast?
Well, it is pretty flat out here but there are a few hills going to Belleville. I would rate the 75-mile course a 3, and, of course, the 25-mile course a 1; It’s real flat, the biggest hill on it is the bridge going over Highway 290
- What plays a bigger factor on participants, hills or wind or something else?
That one’s easy, the wind. It can change direction at any time or increase.We have found that the hills don’t move much! They pretty much stay the same size. (LOL!) Of course, the biggest factor is rider conditioning.
- Logistically can you give us an idea of how many volunteers, finances and planning it takes to put on this event?
We have about 250 volunteers working on the ride including those who work on Friday and Saturday at registration/packet pickup. The ride usually cost us around $35,000 and we plan for it all year long.
- What can family and non-riding friends do to support BBX?
Come on out and cheer for your friends and family, especially at the finish line.
- Does BBX have a charitable component?
We are a nonprofit organization. As such, we support many charitable causes: youth cycling, building mountain bike trails and the Alkek Velodrome, to name a few.
- As event co-directors, will you be able to ride?
We wish we could but we’ll be too busy!
- After a mild winter, Texas wildflowers may bloom early. Can BBX riders expect to see bluebonnets along the road?
There is a good chance of that. We understand on a ride last weekend in Austin they saw bluebonnets, so we suspect we should see some, too.
- Anything else you’d like to tell folks about this ride?
C’mon out and ride. The weather forecast looks fantastic!