The Gulf Coast Bicycle Club exists to encourage cycling as a fun, safe, and healthy sport in all its facets. We promote and organize both competitive and social events. We endeavor to establish and maintain safe and interesting cycling routes/trails on and off roads in South Mississippi. As bicycle advocates, we abide by the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles and we serve to educate the public that cycling is a keenly viable alternative form of transportation.
The Gulf Coast Bicycle Club was founded in the early 1980s by an Episcopal minister from Pascagoula named Paul Crosby. Paul and a handful of other road riders, including an engineer named Terry Joyce who worked at Ingalls and Dr. Samuel Simmons, would ride local routes and meet regularly in local restaurants. Two local bike shops were very supportive of the club in the early days; “The Bicycle Center” in Biloxi on Porter Avenue near where the public safety building is now, and “Spike’s Bikes” on Pass Rd outside of Keesler Gate 7. A few years later Ocean Springs resident Mike Craft served as club president and worked with a Gulfport attorney Major Varnado to incorporate the club. In the ’80s, the GCBC did a lot of local rides and was a member of the League of American Wheelmen (now the League of American Bicyclists). Many were “patch rides” where riders would earn a league patch, including a century ride every spring and fall. Through the ‘80s there was a core group of 20-30 riders, mostly recreational and touring, but a few also were into racing as well. Club members did rides in Florida, cross-state rides, and other events. Regular local rides almost every weekend, and informal meetings about once a month at a restaurant. One regular loop was from Ocean Springs on Old Spanish Trail, up to Vancleave, and back on Old Fort Bayou, all areas with hardly any traffic at that time. Another ride on Old River Road met at the library in Vancleave. Regular members would often bring someone new, and a lot of Keesler folks would come and go. Rides met regularly and word-of-mouth coordination in those days before the internet. Other ride areas were up into Stone County, Dauphin Island every year, around Mobile Bay with the Mobile club and another group from the north shore.
The early ‘90s saw the establishment of off-road trails for Mountain Bike riders in the DeSoto National Forest. As the start of MTB riding on the coast, the group started out riding cow paths on private land, horse trails, and some hiking trail. By ’90-’91 they had worked out an agreement with the US Forestry Service and the Gulf Coast Sandblasters Motorcycle Club to adopt approximately 20 miles of trails between Bethel Road and Highway 15. Off-road motorcyclists primarily use the trails north of Highway 15, but part of the original agreement was that the bicycle trails be available for a motorcycle event once a year. The trailhead was moved in the early 90’s and approximately 12 miles of trails are currently available as dedicated bicycle trails. A strong partnership with the US Forestry Service over the years has been instrumental in providing rideable trails without prohibitive maintenance effort on the part of club members.
By the late ‘80s and around 1990 the GCBC as an organization had dwindled, but an Air Force sergeant from Keesler AFB named Dan Hastings got things fired back up again. Dan collaborated with the City of Ocean Springs to map and sign bicycle friendly routes through Ocean Springs. Over the next few years, the club met at places like Bernie’s in Edgewater Mall and the Wheel House in Edgewater Village. In ’92-’93 the Tato Nut Run started; riders would meet at the Wheel House on Saturdays and ride to the Tato Nut donut shop in Ocean Springs. The start location moved to Hiller Park in the mid-90′s and is still going strong today as an Ocean Springs recreational ride.
During this same period in the early ‘90s with the club going full steam, the MTB contingent continued to meet every Sunday morning and ride the Bethel MTB Trails. Many rides had over 20 MTBers chewing up the singletrack. The president of the Sand Blasters, Paul Peterson, was instrumental in helping the club rebuild the old motorcycle trails & form a strong partnership with US Forestry Service. Other club members were both motorcyclists and mountain bikers and worked to maintain the partnerships and trails, including Don Lindsey, Sam Raleigh, and Mark Murphy. Many members served as club president during the ‘90s; Doug Heller, Ron Hagan, Joe Lyons, Jeff Sellers, Don Lindsey, Russ Smallwood, and Rodney Ouimette. Also during this time, a GCBC MTB race team formed and raced all over Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Several organized races were put on by GCBC, including a downtown Gulfport Criterium and two “Lost Trail Challenge” Cross Country MTB races in the DeSoto National Forest organized by Don Lindsey and others in ’96-‘97. This event raised over $1,300 donated to Feed my Sheep in Gulfport, which was at the time the largest cash donation they had ever received. 1998 brought Hurricane Georges and a lot of effort went to clearing the trails. Another effort initiated during this time was to get the USFS to put in a bathroom at the trailhead. This happened in 2000, and was also the year that the USFS split out the trails into the bike-only and motorcycle-only parts.
From the late 90′s to early 2000’s the club took on a more loose organization, but members kept riding and moving things along. The first club website and forum were started; GCBC Secretary DiAnna Borders started the “Let’s Ride!” forum, which according to several members really got things going again, keeping club members together and up to date. From 2002 to 2004 the club reorganized, published the current constitution and by-laws, and for a while grew in size to 150 members (including families). Members did many charity rides and century rides, and also during this time a well-organized road race team led by Danny Cook gained a lot of publicity in the local media. With seed money from John “Day” Mckee, MD and Brent Futrell as club president and race director, the club put on the “Mad Potters” Road Race that ran for 3 years. This was to promote cycling on the coast and raise much needed funds for the club and local charities, including the Ohr-Okeefe Museum of Art and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of the South. The first year was a point series criterium at the Coast Coliseum with over 150 racers participating and a payout of $2,500. In 2005 for the final Mad Potters Race the event had become quite large with a criterium, road race and time trial, with a $5,000 payout. Also in 2005, the first Briar-Badland-Battle MTB/Cross country race was held. This race ran for 4 years through 2009, although a huge effort after Hurricane Katrina with trailmaster Klain Garriga coordinating with the USFS was needed to clear the trails again, mostly in the winter of ’06-’07.
Rob Zingarelli, Brent Futrell, Lee Quave, Doug Heller, and Pat Heidingsfelder were all club presidents during the 2000’s decade. In 2008 the club’s Vice President Jeff DeLuke organized the club’s premier century ride event, the Southern Magnolia 100. This century event features distances of 100, 62, 50, and 25 miles to attract riders of all different abilities. For three years running, this event starting at Latimer Community Center has grown each year, last year to over 200 riders; each year has donated $500 in proceeds to Bike Walk Mississippi. Important advocacy work took place in the years since Hurricane Katrina as the Mississippi Gulf Coast rebuilds, seeking to become a progressive and bike-friendly region.
The Gulf Coast Bicycle Club with its rich history of road/mountain biking, racing/recreational riding, regular rides/events, will continue on as the well-rounded group representing all types of cyclists in the Mississippi Gulf Coast area; promoting the interests, safety, and popularity of bike riding in all forms.