Biking the Bridges for a Good Cause

Photos courtesy of the Special Olympics

Longtime Benicia resident Craig Snider holds a unique niche in the annals of city life: He owns the record for the fastest “pole to pole” bicycle sprint across the Benicia Bridge. His time: 3 minutes, 42 seconds for an average speed of more than 33 miles per hour.

Snider, who is president of the Benicia Bicycle Club, attributes his quickness that day to a “really strong tailwind” that helped to push him across to the Martinez side. Tailwind or no, another record he holds is for the fastest bike crossing of the Zampa Bridge from Vallejo to Crockett. 

This October 7, Snider and many of his club mates, plus hundreds of other bicycle riders and spectators, will be on hand for the 14th annual Bike the Bridges and Brewfest at the First Street Green in Benicia.

The event is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics, the well-known nonprofit that provides sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with disabilities. Last year, the first year it was hosted by Benicia, it raised a record $150,000 for the organization.

The bicycle riders, attired in their eye-catching colorful garb, will gather Saturday morning at the foot of First and begin their rides in stages so as to minimize congestion. B Street will be blocked off, but not First Street as cyclists push off on distances of 25 miles, 50k, 100k or the Century Ride. Teams of riders as well as individuals on their own participate.

Each route begins by crossing the Benicia Bridge, but after that there are variations.

The 25-miler hugs the Martinez shoreline, journeys over the Zampa (or Carquinez) Bridge, passes through Vallejo and then along Southampton Bay before ending up back at First Street Green. The 50k (about 24 miles) follows a similar path until it reaches Vallejo where it heads out to Lake Herman Road and returns via East 2nd. The 100k (59 mi.) turns south at Crockett, winds over the East Bay hills to the San Pablo Bay shoreline and back up to the Zampa.

For those hardy souls who choose to do the Century Ride (103 mi.), the roads take them down to Berkeley and Oakland before they bend back to the Zampa and finally to First Street Green where there’s a party going on: craft brews being poured, live music, and beaucoup other festivities.

Lots of volunteers are required to pull off an event of this scope, and this is where the Benicia Bicycle Club enters the picture.

Some members ride, some volunteer. Bob Hyde did both last year, pedaling the 25-mile course before stepping off his bike to work as a course marshal. Greg Andrada, owner of the Wheels in Motion bike and skate shop on First Street, and his son Chase, will likely be on-site helping riders with any quick mechanical fixes they might need at the start. Craig Snider also served as a course marshal last year and may do it again. This is a crucial job because even with signs and volunteers pointing the right way, cyclists still sometimes veer off where they’re not supposed to go.

“It happens,” said Snider, who was pushing so hard in a race in Fresno one year that he sped off course without realizing it.

A guy in a car pulled up next to him and said, “Hey man, I think you missed your turn back there.”

His post at the 2022 Bike the Bridges was at an intersection at Magazine Street in Vallejo, where riders pour off the Zampa Bridge and emerge onto city streets with vehicle traffic. In their zeal to get back to Benicia, some riders were tempted to run the red light there — a temptation Snider strongly warned them to resist.

One sight he saw at Magazine Street was of a more inspirational nature, reminding him why he likes to get involved in Bike the Bridges and, heck, why others may wish to get involved too. It was of a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, who was riding a tricycle. The boy had Down Syndrome and was going very slow. Nevertheless he was very intent, very purposeful, about his mission. Not only was he potentially a beneficiary of all the money that was being raised by Bike the Bridges, he was participating in it too.

Bike the Bridges riders toasting with beer at Brewfest