Photo |  Tim Ard
Participation in the Delta Bike Project’s Gears & Beers event has grown every year.

The original concept of the Delta Bike Project (DBP) was for some friends to gather, repair or modify their bikes, and listen to some music. From those humble beginnings has sprung one of the most influential nonprofit groups in Mobile.

In just a few years, DBP has become the premier organization for promoting and improving access to bicycle transportation throughout the city. It offers many avenues to obtaining a ride for children and adults who have no other access to get to school, work or a store. They also provide do-it-yourself workshops on bike repairs.

To help cover the cost of these endeavors, DBP officials started the Gears & Beers series of rides in 2015 (gearsandbeersridemobile.com). The fourth episode is set to take place Nov. 10.

“This is the major fundraiser for the Delta Bike Project,” Jenn Greene, director of DBP, told Lagniappe. “It has grown exponentially since the start.”

The first year attracted approximately 300 participants. In 2017, the number jumped to 850 registered riders after a special 100-mile course was added. Organizers are preparing for 1,000 entries this year.

Numerous choices available

“The Bayou 100 is part of the Alabama Backroads Cycling Century Series,” Greene said. “The course from downtown Mobile to Bayou La Batre gained a lot of attention. It was a safe and fun 100-mile route that we said covered backroads, bayous and beaches. Still, we plan to make some changes this time around to make it even better.”

Because of the larger number of riders, the base of operations has been moved to the Fort of Colonial Mobile (formerly known as Fort Condé). All of the nontimed events will start and end there. After the rides, participants can enjoy a party at the fort with music by the Mobile Big Band Society.

The new century course will go down Bayfront Road and cross the Dog River Bridge (ridewithgps.com/routes/28625256). Among the seven rest stops are Bellingrath Gardens and Rolston Park. The riders will then cross the Dauphin Island Bridge before making the return to Mobile.

“This will make for a better trip,” Greene said. “It will be fun and challenging.”

For those not wishing to participate in the long journey, several other courses are offered. There is the 8.1-mile Panini Pete’s Beignet Buster fun ride that will go to Arlington Park along Mobile Bay (ridewithgps.com/routes/28221263). Riders will be treated to beignets, while they last.

Next is the Swamp Romp, which will visit Bayfront Park near Dog River (ridewithgps.com/routes/28221101). Riders will travel south down to Dog River and the Peninsula of Mobile neighborhoods, for a total of 30 miles.

The final event is the 62.5-mile Mystic Metric, a modified version of the Bayou 100 that will not include Dauphin Island (ridewithgps.com/routes/28220725). The route that visits Theodore and Bellingrath Gardens features multiple rest stops.

To register for any of the rides, visit racesonline.com/events/gearsandbeers.

Helping the economy

The field of participants is quite diverse. At the time of this interview, registration was 43 percent higher than at the same point in 2017. Also, 52 percent of those are all new riders who have never participated in Gears & Beers.

“With the event falling on Veterans Day weekend, I was very happy to have a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran sign up for the century ride,” Greene said.

She added cyclists from throughout the southeastern United States have registered. Greene expects about a 50-50 split on local residents and visitors for the event that has the Mobile Sports Authority as the title sponsor.

“A study of last year’s event showed an economic impact of nearly $1.5 million,” Greene said. “So far, we have 100 nights of hotel rooms booked. That is a lot, especially when we only had 23 last year.

Cyclists will spend money. They come to enjoy Mobile to compete and to have fun.”

Making an impact

Of course, the main reason for Gears & Beers is to raise funds for DBP projects. Greene said with competitor fees and sponsorships, they hope to clear $10,000.

One of the programs those funds will assist is called Read to Ride. “Students can earn points to get a bike by reading,” Greene said. “There is some amazing data that reading scores have improved with this program. Also making it special is that we only give new bikes to the students.”

Perhaps the most well-known DBP effort is called Time Is Money. “It is our biggest by far, with more than 600 bikes having gone out into the community,” she said. “Every volunteer hour gives a person credit towards a bike. This is a hand-up and not a hand-out. It gives much more value to those earning the bike.”

Participants in the program can do jobs such as pick up trash in the neighborhood surrounding the DBP shop at 561 St. Francis St. Greene noted this area of downtown Mobile could be “pretty messy” on a Sunday morning.

The DBP shop is open Tuesdays, 6-9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. They do not compete with local bike shops for business. In fact, several shops that will be volunteering their time during Gears & Beers are Pro Cycle and Triathlon, Trek Bicycle Store Mobile, Eastern Shore Cycles and Cadence 120.

“Anyone can work on their bikes with us, from individuals to entire families,” Greene said. “You can learn to change a flat and how to clean your bike. We teach across all boundaries.”

Witches Ride coming up

Even with her full-time job and the responsibilities of overseeing Gears & Beers, Greene still finds time for another project. The third annual Witches Ride is set for Oct. 28, the Sunday before Halloween.

Proceeds benefit Delta Dogs, a sister organization of DBP. The local nonprofit provides free spay/neuter and veterinary care to the pets of Mobile’s community in need (such as elderly, disabled, veterans, families and women in crisis, and the homeless).

“I would call it a moving party,” Greene said. “We had 500 people dress up like witches last year and go for a 3-mile ride in Downtown Mobile and DeTonti Square.”

A block party will follow at The Blind Mule. For more information on that event, visit facebook.com/events/1488599544552567/.