published Monday, May 21st, 2012

Riding not racing through Georgia

The Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, perhaps best known by its BRAG acronym, is one of the nation's premier events of its type. The decision by ride organizers to start this year's excursion in Fort Oglethorpe and to make an overnight stop in Dalton is a coup for each community and for Northwest Georgia. About 1,200 riders from around the state and country are expected to participate in the event that will begin on June 2. It concludes June 9 in Tiger, about 400 miles from its starting point.

The ride covers about 50 miles daily and allows participants to get an up-close view of locations in the state. The ride, always about the same length, covers a different portion of the state each year. Many people participate each year, saying it provides a unique opportunity to see the varied landscape of a state that is the largest east of the Mississippi River. That opportunity, the camaraderie of riders and the friendliness of host communities are among the race's foremost attractions, past participants say.

The ride's leisurely pace is an attraction, as well. "It's not a race, it's a ride," emphasizes Vicki Thompson, the ride's director. "We're a stop-and-smell the roses type of thing."

Perhaps that's why the event attracts a mix of young and old. Participants of all ages, who pay a participation fee, generally camp out each night at schools or community centers. The fee covers space and showers at the campsites as well as snacks along the route. Some participants prefer less rustic accommodations. Tour officials happily provide them with a list of lodgings.

Being chosen as a stop on the BRAG route is generally a boon for the community. The riders might spend the night at a preselected location, but many eat at restaurants, buy souvenirs and boost the town's economy in other ways. That's certainly what Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart expects to happen when June 2 rolls around. "It's [BRAG] going to be a big deal," he said. "Our restaurants and everything will be covered up."

Race officials carefully map out routes and choose stops. That certainly is the case this year. The race is coming to Northwest Georgia, Thompson says, because "We haven't been up north in a while." That's not the only reason. The chance to ride through Chickamauga Battlefield, she admits, was a powerful attraction as well.

Chattanooga and the surrounding area are earning an increasingly positive reputation as fine and hospitable places for cycling events, and deservedly so. The region offers much to those who ride -- or race. The decision by BRAG officials to start this year's event in Fort Oglethorpe and to spend a night in Dalton validate that growing renown.

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