Bikes & Beers Delaware

It’s a blast from the past as Andy encounters gloomy UK weather in the good ol’ US of A – and forgets his bidon… Water a mistake to make!

Bikes & Beers Delaware
Green (re)cycling: Delaware was at its verdant best for the sportive

In the equally nervy and exciting weeks leading up to our move to the USA, something Steve said to me has always stuck in my mind: “Just think of all the ‘blue-sky days’ you’ll have in the States. No more grey, drizzly, depressing mornings for six months straight when you open the curtains.”

He wasn’t wrong. Now, I’m not saying it doesn’t ever rain in Annapolis. But if it does, it absolutely hammers down. There are no ‘meh’ afternoons, where you’re wondering whether to chance going outside for a spin. No debating if the sun is merely a myth. I’d say four to five days a week you get clear skies, with a rich blue that feels like it might scorch your retinas. Perfect cycling weather. With the others, well, that’s what Zwift is for.

My luck ran out, though, for Bikes & Beers Delaware, bringing me back to my British roots for my first sportive of 2023 with a blanket of leaden clouds and a chill in the air that made me question the wisdom of wearing fingerless gloves. I could have been in Middlesbrough rather than Middletown. If I wasn’t jealous of Steve’s Mallorca 312 expedition before (I was), I was verdant with envy when I saw all his pics of blazing sunshine. Steve had just finished 15 minutes before I set off and was absolutely spent, so it provided me with some major motivation.

The conditions probably impacted the turnout - the organisers put back the start time by an hour due to the inclement weather - and there was only about 30 riders in my 71km, long-route wave. Still, it meant for the first time I was right at the front. I’d be leading everyone out, the pacesetter. Given my propensity for missing turns, arrows on the road and an inability to know my left from right despite being in my 40s, I felt sorry for the peloton. I pictured some very pissed-off people when we ended up in some far-flung state.

Bikes & Beers Delaware
Bidon gone: But at least Andy remembered to bring his bike...

Bottle job

I had some company for the first couple of kilometres down Middletown’s appropriately named Industrial Drive in the form of Mike, an amiable New Yorker, which I’m reliably informed are as rare as hen’s teeth. But with our mum in town for a few weeks to see her grandkids, I wanted to push on and do the extremely flat parcours (a max gradient of 3%) in about two and a half hours. The chat would have to wait for the two free beers at the finish.

The first feed station came early at about 12km and, as I’d stupidly left my bidons in the car (that sort of schoolboy error is usually the preserve of Steve), I pulled in briefly to see if I could pick up a bottle. No luck and as I had pockets stuffed full of bars, I made the call to not stop again. My apologies but this review will probably be our only one without a plethora of photos of cookies, muffins and vats of Gatorade.

I was being a bit harsh on Middletown earlier as it is perfectly pleasant little town but Bikes & Beers significantly upped their game once we hit the country lanes of Delaware (although we did dip our toes into Maryland), where it was both quiet and pretty, the spectacular mansions and stunning state parks of the Delaware Gran Fondo replaced by farms and roads shrouded by a canopy of trees in bloom. It would have been even nicer in the sunshine but, on the plus side, at least it was dry - and had warmed up slightly by mid-morning. We had been given a warning about potholes at the start but I didn’t see any major, puncture-threatening ones. It was pretty much plain sailing the whole way.

Bikes & Beers Delaware
Going flat out: The steepest incline on Bikes & Beers Delaware is just 3%

Social life

B&B Delaware basically followed a figure of eight that you repeated two-and-a-bit times before heading back to the Crooked Hammock brewery. By the second, I’d started to pass the stragglers of the first wave, who had set off a half-hour before my group. To be fair, all of them were on far heavier and more cumbersome bikes than mine - but that’s what Bikes & Beers sportives are about. They’re for riders of all shapes, sizes and ability; people who are going for a sociable pootle rather than going hell for leather. There’s no cycling snootiness over someone’s attire, bike or beer gut, particularly as you’ll be adding to it afterwards, so you don’t need to be as fit as a butcher’s dog to do them. They are so newbie-friendly, I’ve managed to convince the broleur-in-law to sign up to his first sportive in Bikes & Beers Baltimore in early June. It will be weird to not have Steve there but Tom is a top bloke and it will be great to introduce him to the sportive world. I’m sure he’ll be hooked from the get-go*.

The one gripe I would have is that Bikes & Beers events are punchy price-wise, unless you hop on the early-bird offers, and even then, it works out as roughly a dollar per kilometre - and, being honest, they’re not the kind of memorable rides that you’ll be ticking off your bucket list. But, as I said before, there are a couple of free beers, plus a beer cozy and a pint glass (I’ve now got quite the collection after Kent Island, Sterling and Baltimore - in fact I’m running out of space for them) so I don’t want to be too much of a miserly whinge bag.

Raising a toast

Anyway, enough of that chat, I’d better get back to the latter stages of B&B Delaware. By the time I took the green-rather-than-blue arrow toward home, a touch of monotony had set in, as had dry mouth and I was seriously missing those blasted bidons. But I mentally had a quiet word, reassuring myself that I’d soon be quenching my thirst with a more frothy alcoholic beverage.

It was only with about 500m to go that I made my sole miscalculation - a minor miracle in itself - by missing an arrow that meant I crossed the line from the wrong direction. But funnily enough, as I performed a swift U-turn for the obligatory triumphant photo of me rolling over the finish, my family were driving in to park up, so I had ‘Grandma’, my wife and the kids cheering me out the windows. Awww, a moment to cherish.

About an hour later, I texted Steve to see how he was getting on and he replied that he was on his third beer. By coincidence, so was I. A brotherly connection thousands of miles apart. His no doubt tasted sweeter than mine after what he had been through on his Mallorca mission (although I can highly recommend Crooked Hammock’s Motly IPA) but, following a long winter hiatus, it was fantastic for us both to be raising a post-sportive glass once again, even if it wasn’t with each other. Fingers crossed, that time will come again before too long.

Bike & Beers Delaware
Motly brew: Andy enjoys the first of several Motly IPAs after finishing Bikes & Beers Delaware

*Oh, how I mocked Tom but the joke was on me. I completely underestimated the broleur-in-law’s ability on the bike. It’s laughable now to look back and see how condescending I was/overrated my own talent. If you want a chuckle at my expense, have a read of the Bikes & Beers Baltimore review.