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Cycling event draws a big crowd

The Baltimore Sun

Rion Durkan, 5, clapped enthusiastically as the 125 professional cyclists rounded the corner and sped by. A big grin spread across the face of the Catonsville youngster 10 laps into the 40-mile race.

"It's good to go fast!" Rion exclaimed while propped up on a metal fence.

The race was the crown jewel of BikeJam 2008, held in Patterson Park yesterday. Organizers estimated that 5,000 people took part in an event that featured nine divisions of races, a 12-mile recreational ride that looped through downtown Baltimore, a demonstration by a professional stuntman and vendors selling items ranging from food to sculptures made from spare bicycle parts.

Gardner Duvall never envisioned that the day would become so popular 10 years ago when he organized the first event with another bicycling enthusiast, Dr. David Scharff of Mercy Medical Center. The two were part of a riding group in Baltimore, and wanted a centralized event that focused on bicycle racers. It has bloomed into a free, daylong affair packed with family-friendly activities and entertainment. A portion of the proceeds from the day went to Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital and to the Patterson Park Charter School.

"It's been a slow process of finding out what works," said Duvall, 46, a Baltimore attorney.

Duvall, who has been riding bicycles for 25 years, estimated that a couple hundred participated the first year of the event, with a handful of vendors. Now the event has grown to be the largest bicycle race in the Maryland region.

"No one promotes an event like this on the East Coast," he said.

The professional men's race took on extra importance for Reid Mummford.

The 32-year-old pro cyclist is also a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University but is living in Chicago, where he is doing research.

"It's kind of like having a home crowd," said Mummford, who races for the Baltimore-based Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast team. "It's good pressure. If there is not enough expectation, then you do not race as hard. This provides extra motivation."

Nickey Bolden, 30, a mother from Baltimore, was motivated to come to Patterson Park by the lure of free bicycle helmets for her two daughters Zie, 11, and Zaya, 8.

"I want to get them excited about bicycles," she said. "It's good to get them out of the house. We'll be biking this summer."

Health benefits and financial necessity are playing a role in the bicycle push for Bolden and her family.

"Gas prices are so high," Zaya said. "My mother can't drive me everywhere."

Many parents used the day to encourage their children to embrace bicycling.

Virginia Ryan, 38, wants her two children, Alexander Ortega, 7, and Edward Ortega, 2, to adopt safe riding habits.

"I want them to know what to do to be safe," said Ryan, who was also able to get each of her children a free helmet. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield donated 500 helmets for the giveaway. Children 14 and under were eligible for the helmet upon completion of a short bicycle safety quiz.

Ryan and her children attended the event last year. They liked it so much, Ryan decided to help volunteer at the arts and crafts booth.

"I like seeing everyone having fun with their kids," she said.

Even the injured appeared to be enjoying the day.

Blair Berbert, a participant in the 20-mile amateur race, walked to the registration booth carrying his bicycle with his right arm. A stream of blood trickled down his left.

Berbert, a 24-year-old financial analyst from Washington, bumped into another competitor during the race and took a spill, which caused him to withdraw.

"It happens," he said as he shrugged his shoulders. "I'm going to wrap it up. It's just bike riding."

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