News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS Cyclists share the road with cars Saturday morning during the Tour of Sebring event. Cyclists are required to follow the same laws as motorized vehicles and have every right to share the road.
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published: Sunday, September 02, 2012
A great place to ride
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Keep a sharp look out when driving today and Labor Day, there are at least 450 bicyclists on the road, many from out of town, taking part in the 30th annual Tour of Sebring.
Back in the 1970s, said Dave Vanderlaan, who was one of the organizers at the beginning, a cycling club in West Palm Beach organized a 100-mile ride to Sebring. It became popular and was held every year.
His wife Debra sat beside him, nodding in agreement.
"This was back when bicycle riding was hard core, not cushy like it is now," Mike Purdy added. Purdy and his wife Joan have been coming to Sebring to take part in the tour for 25 years.
There were no rest stops, no mechanics, no water stations, no support or following vans.
Traffic on the way north became increasingly dangerous over the years, however.
In 1982, in the dark early morning, a car half rammed into the crowd knocking dozens of riders off the road. No one was hurt, but organizers decided it was time to find a safer route.
Vanderlaan said it was then people thought about how pleasant it was to ride in Highlands County. It was decided to move the tour up here, which is how the three-day bike festival came to town.
Riders choose from a variety of routes and distances -- from a 106-mile trip or Bok Tower to 63-mile tour around Lake Istokpoga to short 10- and 24-mile rides.
The Kenilworth Lodge did not start as the event's headquarters, it was boarded up at the time. Instead participants stayed at the Red Roof Inn on U.S. 27. The first year, only 20 bicyclists took part.
Now sponsored by the restored Kenilworth, the Highlands Pedalers and the Highlands Bicycle Club, Sebring riding tours have become a major event, drawing bicyclists from all over the state. Connections have been made with the community, Purdy said. Tour organizers turn over $1 a rider to those churches and charities whose members volunteer, Purdy said.
Vanderlaan praised Highlands County drivers as careful, gracious and friendly. "They usually obey the 3-foot rule, and they wave. It feels like old home time.
"It's a great place to ride," he added. "Nice curvy roads with hills, the oak trees, horses and cattle. People come back year after year."
The couples said the Kenilworth Lodge is part of the charm of staying Sebring.
Joan Purdy smiled. "We weren't even sure we were going to bring our bikes this year, but we came up anyway. It's just such a tradition, and good time."
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