Velo Voice: Club an Advocate for Cyclists

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Craig Prather’s vocabulary isn’t the standard vernacular of the cycling world. When he describes his love of cycling, he uses words like unity, advocacy and community. He has a vision and it extends well beyond his handlebars.

Prather, owner of Great Northern Cycles on O’Brien Street, formed a club last year aimed at bringing cyclists of all different skill levels together to ride, socialize and discuss the pertinent issues facing their sport. This can be everything from bike path development to proper interaction with motorists. As with any group of like-minded people, cohesion gives a voice to a cause.

“We want to build a voice of advocacy here in the Flathead Valley,” Prather said.

Cyclists wearing blue Great Northern Cycles’ race team and green Flathead Cycling jerseys tackle a hill on East Edgewood Drive.

The Great Northern Cycling Club holds three different rides per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When it began last year, there were only a handful of riders. Today, there are more than 50 spread out across the three days. Many are casual cyclists; some of the more serious riders are members of Great Northern Cycles’ race team, which participates in competitions around the state. In June, Prather won the individual title in the Masters A division at the 2009 Montana State Road Race in Bearmouth.

Last Wednesday evening, a dozen riders met at Prather’s shop, chatted while they prepared for their ride and then took off down Edgewood Drive, bound for North Fork Road north of Columbia Falls. The cyclists stuck together, leaning in unison as they hit sloped turns at 30 miles per hour and chugging side by side up hills. In total, they traveled about 45 miles.

They all wore Great Northern Cycling Club jerseys, except for a few with Flathead Cycling attire. Jason Schmidt, who rides with Great Northern, said Flathead Cycling is the other main racing team in Whitefish and is a rival during competitions. But on the casual Wednesday rides, they’re all working together to promote the sport of cycling.

Schmidt, a doctor in Kalispell, said he is “particularly enthusiastic” about the club because it is open to anybody with an interest in cycling, not just hardcore riders.

Great Northern Cycles’ race team member Jason Schmidt, left, talks with the team’s youngest rider, Bob Leavitt, during a ride from Whitefish up North Fork Road.

“I think it really encourages people to get out and do something healthy,” Schmidt said.

Members range in age from 15 to 70. The youngest is 15-year-old Bob Leavitt, who will be a sophomore at Flathead High School in the fall. Leavitt said he began riding with the club last year. His dad, he said, “had a road bike and I just got on.” Within a year, Leavitt had already won a statewide competition. Schmidt said it’s important to see young guys out there.

“They are the people who are going to continue it someday,” Schmidt said.

While the Monday and Wednesday races are social events in their own right, it’s the Friday races where riders truly get a chance to kick back and get to know each other. The cyclists meet in the afternoon, take a ride together and then have a barbecue. The club also holds “supported rides,” where a van provides lunch and water along the way or helps out with flat tires. Then there are Prather’s famous pancake feeds.

“I’m actually know for my pancake recipe,” Prather said.

Great Northern Cycling Club members ride north up North Fork Road during a Wednesday evening ride that began in Whitefish.

Club members pay a one-time $49 fee that includes a jersey and welcome kit from Hammer Nutrition. From then on they pay $35 in annual dues and get large discounts on extra jerseys, wind vests and club shorts. They also are invited to a monthly member barbecue and get 10 percent off of merchandise from the shop, among other perks.

“It’s about building cycling in the valley – the club is doing that itself,” Prather said.

For more information log on to www.greatnortherncyclingclub.wordpress.com or call (406) 862-5321. To learn more about the Great Northern Cycles bike shop, go to www.greatnortherncycles.com.

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