Volunteer Profile: Mike Bowen
We are a volunteer-powered and volunteer-centric organization. Our volunteers inspire us, drive our work, and are committed to ensuring the Coalition continues to Build Better Communities in the Valley. Our last volunteer profile highlighted the 28+ years of volunteer service from Marcia Lamphier. This month, we are highlighting a volunteer who spent the past eight years working hard to further the mission of the Coalition and now has been able to scale back his volunteer commitments and watch as other eager and energized volunteers step up to ensure his hard work continues.
Big thanks to another volunteer, Sue George for writing this profile. Be sure to check out Sue George Communications.
SVBC Volunteer Mike Bowen is about to have a lot more free time. After co-founding the ShenRock team in 2012 and then serving as its Head Coach until the beginning of 2020, he recently handed off the running of the squad to other volunteers. We caught up with Mike, who has also served as a Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Board Member, to find out more about his involvement in cycling, ShenRock, and the Coalition.
SVBC: How and when did you get into riding?
MB: Way back before I could drive, I started occasionally riding my junker bike with older friends in the woods in the Rawley Springs area. It was the late 1980s when I was in high school, and then I got a mountain bike. I bought it from Cool Breeze Cyclery. I was working for a landscaping company at the time, and they all thought I was an idiot for buying a $400 bike.
I remember riding a lot with one good friend, and we thought we were being so safe because we had a styrofoam helmet that we’d use when we rode. But we only had one, so whenever we got to a sketchy section, we’d stop and swap the helmet back and forth as we took turns riding through it.
Eventually my friends all stopped riding, and for a few years, I didn’t ride much either. But then I met Les Welch around 1999, and he got me back into it via road riding. He built my first road bike for me.
Over the years, I’ve done all kinds of riding from BMX in the woods to mountain biking to road and gravel. I don’t ride like I used to, but there’s lots more to come.
SVBC: How did you get involved with the Bicycle Coalition?
MB: Les Welch (East Coast Bicycles) told me about The Coalition’s group rides like the one on Monday evenings, and the nice thing about doing SVBC group rides is that unlike your friends, they don’t go away. I had been riding on Monday nights anyway, then I started to go more consistently on the group rides thanks to encouragement from Kari and Mike Carpenter. Because I was there all the time, I also started to help lead the rides.
Kari also got me to come out to the Shenandoah Mountain Bike Festival, which is put on annually by the Coalition. I started going with my family when my kids were young. We have a lot of great memories including one time when I was sitting there watching the dual slalom with my wife and kids, and a naked guy just walked across the track. My son thought it was “awesome”, and my daughter said, “I didn’t just see that!”
SVBC: So how did you go from riding at the annual Festival to helping create and run the ShenRock Youth Mountain Bike Team?
MB: I liked to ride with my son Jake. We began riding together with Rocktown Racing under the coaching guidance of Adam Williams. Fellow ShenRock Co-Founder Kevin Rogers and his son were involved, too, although Kevin himself didn’t ride mountain bikes much at the time. I believe he mostly rode the road then. We had five student-athletes on the team.
To broaden our volunteer and participation opportunities, we eventually became part of the Coalition, and ShenRock was born. Word got out, and more people started participating. We were up to about 50 riders as of the spring of 2019.
When my kids were younger, I used to be involved with downhill skiing and ski racing. I was just a helper dad and not in any official role with the ski team, but that experience along with the experience of the other volunteers at the time helped us shape ShenRock.
At first, we were a race team, and everyone raced. Then ShenRock evolved into a platform for creating lifelong outdoor enthusiasts among young people. Now not everyone races, and there is no pressure on the riders to do so. Our focus is on building skills, personal development and developing people who want to be athletic and outdoors.
The team started out being for middle and high school students, but now it’s open to elementary school students although that was kind of an accident because we didn’t realize how young our first elementary school kid was since he was so tall. It doesn’t matter which schools our riders attend; we have kids involved from all over the Shenandoah Valley.
[Editor’s Note: Middle and High School Students are involved in both seasons – fall and spring – while elementary school students may participate only in the spring. This is because the fall season happens under the jurisdiction of the Virginia League of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) while the spring season is run under the Virginia High School Mountain Bike Series (VAHS) and USA Cycling. Both seasons are sun under the umbrella of the Bicycle Coalition. Practice occurs twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after school at 5:30 pm on Massanutten’s Western Slope. Trail work is incorporated, too, throughout the season.]
SVBC: How did ShenRock get its name?
MB: From a bunch of ridiculous brainstorming. It took us like six hours in a room together to figure out. Nate Layman ultimately came up with it; his father Travis was one of the original crew. I have to admit I didn’t like it at first – it sounded like a leprechaun’s name to me. But it grew on me. The team’s clever graphics are all thanks to Ben Velker and his family; they designed our original jersey and socks.
SVBC: What makes ShenRock special?
MB: I liked giving young folks the opportunity to be outside in an athletic way. Some of them have never had that kind of opportunity. Everyone on the team rides. No one is ever “benched”. It’s been rewarding to watch the riders gain confidence on the trail and in themselves. I’ve gotten to watch them grow up, and the kids became like my second family.
There was one kid from ShenRock who came out for his first season. He was a beginner-type rider. When he asked me what I thought about him racing. I asked him what his goal was. He said, “To finish and have an awesome time.” So, of course, I said yes – that’s the spirit of ShenRock! It turned out to be a completely muddy race – a real mess. I don’t even know if he even finished, but I do remember that he was smiling at the end.
What’s made ShenRock special is all the folks who have been involved – there have been so many. I want to give kudos to everyone who has helped along the way. What we’ve done is all due to volunteers and everyone taking a “We should do…” approach instead of a “They should do…” approach to make things happen.
SVBC: Any advice for anyone thinking about getting their kids into riding in general or ShenRock specifically?
MB: If you are a parent who already rides, you probably already know people who also ride that you can go with. And even if you’re not a parent who rides, you can encourage your kid to do so through ShenRock – it’s a great way to get kids into it.
SVBC: Besides all your contributions to ShenRock, you were also on the Coalition board for seven years. Tell us more about that.
MB: I was amazed when I joined the board to find out how much The Coalition board members actually do and how positive the vibe is. We get so much done!
Being on the board is about representing the Coalition as a whole. You do things like attend the monthly meetings and cook breakfast at the Festival.
One of my proudest things I’ve done while on the board was to restart the initiative to get an Executive Director, a role ultimately filled by Kyle Lawrence. I felt like the Coalition would eventually start to shrink if we didn’t do that.
Also since I’ve been on the board, we’ve moved the Coalition toward serving more members of the community here in Harrisonburg as well as expanding into Augusta County. We share the vision that bikes are fun and they are also transportation. Bikes are a way to help serve the community if you make it an option for people to use them to get around.
Finally, we have also done a lot of work on grants, such as getting them and administering them. The trail work the Coalition has done has been unbelievable, and it’s all attributable to an incredible volunteer work ethic. It’s been an honor to get to help build things that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
SVBC: Based on your experience, where do you see the Bicycle Coalition going in the future?
MB: I see opportunities coming out of our continued growth of membership. We have the potential to affect government decisions and partner with the local governments and the National Forest.
For example, now when a new road gets built, we get involved and try to help shape its development to also be positive for people walking and biking. We’re not just a bunch of weirdos riding around on bikes (well kinda!); we’re actually helping influence and manage growth.
SVBC: Any advice for Coalition members looking to get involved and volunteer?
MB: Start with what you love doing. What skills do you have that you could bring to the Coalition to help others also do what they love doing? Talk to a Board Member and tell them what you love and what you can do. Never think your idea is dumb – bring it to the Board. And if you’re not sure what you want to do, you can just grab a shovel and show up at trail work and help.
SVBC: As you wrap up your stints on the board and with ShenRock, what will you do with your newfound free time?
MB: I hope to ride my bike more going forward, and I also like backpacking, spending time with my family and downhill skiing.
Mike lives at Massanutten and works as Financial Advisor for Waymont Wealth Advisors.