- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) - The 2015 Bikes, Blues & Bayous is shaping up to be the event’s largest bike ride yet.

In its eighth year, Bikes, Blues & Bayous has already accumulated about 720 registered participants - only 11 shy of last year’s number, which was the most in the ride’s history.

“We get surprised every year, because it keeps growing,” said Richard Beattie, a founder of Bikes, Blues & Bayous and member of Money Road Cycling Club.

“We’re well over 150 more registered participants now than we had this time last year,” he said.

The GreenwoodLeflore County Chamber of Commerce, partnering with the Money Road Cycling Club, will present the 2015 Bikes, Blues & Bayous and Tour de Grand on Saturday.

“We’ve been talking all year long that we might get to 800,” said Beth Stevens, executive director of the chamber. “I know last year during the last week of registration we had close to 100 people sign up.”

Beattie said he is projecting that this year’s Bikes, Blues & Bayous could possibly bring in 850 to 900 participants - a giant leap from the 213 cyclists who attended the inaugural event in 2008.

“It feels like we’re a part of something that is groundbreaking and historic - like we’re a part of something really big here,” said Beattie. “It’s the largest bike ride in Mississippi, and it keeps growing.”

With about 95 percent of the cyclists traveling to Greenwood - more than 20 percent from out of state - for the ride, Stevens said she didn’t think there will be a vacant hotel in the city for the weekend.

“We have some people register this year who have never participated before, so I think that is a good sign of growth,” said Stevens.

More than half of the registered participants have signed up for the metric century ride, which was added last year. The 62mile ride is typically for very experienced cycling enthusiasts.

Again this year, another ride was added to the Bikes, Blues & Bayous options - an 11mile tour that will travel to Tallahatchie Flats and back to the Front Street starting point.

“For some, the two miles of the Tour de Grand is not enough, but the 20mile ride is just a little too long, so we wanted to add a new element this year with a lower distance,” said Stevens.

Several have already signed up for the 11mile ride, and Stevens said she expects it will continue to grow in popularity.

In its third year, the Tour de Grand’s numbers continue to rise. The two-mile ride was created as a way for local families and residents to get involved with Bikes, Blues & Bayous. This year, a family discount was offered and created a surge in registration.

“It’s a nice way to involve smaller children and families. It’s also a good way to get local people and local families to come out. People enjoy seeing the children ride down Grand Boulevard and get their finisher ribbons.

“With the Tour de Grand, we’re grooming the next generation of riders that will be coming back 10, 15 or 20 years from now. We have a vision for this event to go on - like 300 Oaks - for decades,” said Beattie

This year, a Bikes, Blues & Bayous cycling jersey will be available to purchase. The 2015 limitededition jerseys are each $79.95 plus tax and are offered on a special order basis only. The proceeds will be donated to the Gary Holdiness Cycling Fund to promote safe cycling on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Holdiness, a regular participant in Bikes, Blues & Bayous, died in 2012 in a crash with a SUV while cycling on the Natchez Trace.

New to the event will be a 30footwide inflatable archway at the start and finish area on Front Street.

“When someone rides 62 miles, they want to come a definite point where they know they have just rode 62 miles,” said Beattie. “I think the archway will give the riders a nice feeling of accomplishment.”

The rest stops will feature blues music and some live acts. Watermelon Slim will play again at the Money rest stop. The finish area entertainment is Big A and the Allstars. All of the rest stops will continue to serve up snacks, drinks and the Delta charm that keeps the cyclists coming back each year.

“The hospitality is second to none,” said Stevens. “We know if we can get them here once, we’ll hook them, and they’ll keep coming back each year. For most participants, half of fun is the rest stops. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a rewarding kind of work.”

More than 250 local volunteers help put on Bikes, Blues & Bayous.

“One of the main reasons for the success is that the community is so much behind this ride,” said Beattie.

Beattie said a bulk of the volunteers and support for the ride comes from the Money Road Cycling Club, the Chamber of Commerce and Greenwood Leflore Hospital.

“We truly don’t know how big this ride can get,” he said.

Stevens said that in two years, when Bikes, Blues & Bayous celebrates its 10th anniversary, she hopes it can bring in 1,000 cyclists.

“I’m always thinking bigger and better, and my goal is to continue to grow this event,” she said.

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Online: https://visit www.bikesbluesbayous.com or visit www.facebook.com/BikesBluesBayousCyclingEvent

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Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, https://www.gwcommonwealth.com


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