In the October 5th issue of RoadBikeRider, there was an article about the TOSRV which stated that it is the oldest Double Century in the country having been run for 62 years. However, the Los Angeles Grand Tour Double Century has been run every year since 1959, which we discovered after the article was published. We have edited it to correct the error.
By Stan Purdum
It’s called TOSRV (pronounced Tah-serve) and it stands for Tour of the Scioto River Valley. It’s been occurring annually for 62 years (missing only one official year during the pandemic which was completed unofficially by two riders to keep the streak) and as such, it remains the one of the longest-running back to back century rides in the nation. And it has been an inspiration for annual tour rides in other states.
I was one of the riders this year, my first participation in the event. More about that in a moment.
What became TOSRV started as a father-son ride in 1962, when Charles Siple, 44, invited his 16-year-old son Greg to join him for a weekend ride from Columbus, in the center of Ohio, to Portsmouth, along the bottom edge of the state, right on the banks of the Ohio River, with Kentucky on the opposite shore. After overnighting in Portsmouth, the pair pedaled back. The whole thing was a 210-mile round trip — two century rides back-to-back — along the Scioto River. The next year, when Greg decided to repeat the ride, he got three friends to join him.
By the following year, the ride had become an event, sponsored by the local American Youth Hostels chapter. That chapter eventually became Columbus Outdoor Pursuits (COP) and still hosts TOSRV, in conjunction with the Portsmouth-based activity outfit Connex. The 1970 version of TOSRV drew 1,000 riders, and in the 1990s the ride peaked at 6,000 participants. While century rides aren’t unusual today, in the 1960s, when 10-speed bikes were starting to become common, it was a revelation to many that people could actually travel 100 miles in a day on bicycles. And events like TOSRV helped to bring bicycling into the mainstream of American life.
Later, Greg, along with his wife June and their friends Dan and Lys Burden, developed a mass ride across America for the U.S. Bicentennial. They called that ride Bikecentennial, and from that, they built the organization that became Adventure Cycling, the premier bicycle touring organization in America.
For most of its existence, TOSRV has run on Mother’s Day weekend, which being in the spring, often meant riders were treated to cold, rain and wind. But after the skipped year because of Covid, and the additional time needed to organize for the following year thanks to lingering Covid restrictions, COP moved the event to September, which is usually a more stable weather time.
Another change in recent years is that the ride now starts in Canal Winchester instead of Columbus. Canal Winchester offers less congestion and less expensive overnight lodging for out-of-towners who travel to the starting point the day before.
Certainly, better weather was the case this year when I rode. Taking place on the last weekend of September, TOSRV ran in perfect weather on the Saturday, presenting pleasant exposure to southern Ohio. The second day was only slightly less perfect, being overcast, but with no rain. What had been a slight tailwind on the ride south was a mild headwind on the return north.
For the night in between, I slept on the floor of the Portsmouth High School gym. Other options included tenting on the grounds outside the school or staying in one of the town’s commercial lodgings. Whatever we chose, the event truck delivered our gear to designated locations in Portsmouth.
Portsmouth is an attractive river town, but located where the Scioto River flows into the mighty Ohio River, the town has had several disastrous floods since it was established in 1803. The 1937 flood was especially disastrous, and in 1943 a flood wall approximately 20 feet high by 2,000 feet long was constructed between the main portion of the riverfront and Front Street in downtown Portsmouth. The wall has been effective but was an eyesore until someone had the idea of painting murals on them. There are now more than 55 murals depicting the 2,000-year history of the Ohio River Valley, and one of them illustrates TOSRV.
The event offers several different distance options, depending on where you start. I was not up for two century rides back-to-back, but I chose the “half-TOSRV,” starting at Chillicothe, which is about the midpoint of the full ride, and thus I ended up doing two 50-mile days.
The ride is mostly on low-traffic roads, and much of the way is flat — a surprise in what is a hilly part of Ohio. The leg below Chillicothe does have quite a few rollers, so they were part of my trek.
My ride ended up being somewhat of a solo experience. None of my cycling friends were able to join me for the excursion and, as there were only 350 attendees at the event this year, I was sometimes the only rider within my sight, whether looking ahead or behind. Many of those who passed me were either in pacelines or pedaling faster than I wished to go. That was no problem for me; I enjoy some solitary time. Nonetheless, when I stopped once to take a breather, two separate passing riders inquired if I was all right and whether I needed any help, so the larger camaraderie of the cycling community was still in effect.
I wondered what, if anything, the smaller attendance figures at this and recent TOSRVs mean for the future runnings of the event, especially when many of the riders are older adults. But when I recalled that gravel bikes rather than 10-speeds are now the big thing in the cycling world and how many competing road-ride events there now are — from charity rides to multi-day tours in several states — many of which drew their initial inspiration from TOSRV, 350 still seemed a decent number to me.
And then there was the young father and his 4-year-old son participating in the event. I had noticed them at the overnight location and had a chance to talk to them briefly the next day after completing my ride. They too had chosen the half-TOSRV and had finished about when I did. The dad had pedaled a cargo bike with his son safely ensconced in the cargo area. When I asked how his son had done on the ride, the father said he had done well and that this was the second year in a row they had participated together. The previous year, when the boy was 3, the dad had come prepared to pull out of the event if his son was intolerant of the experience, but in fact, the boy had loved it.
I didn’t think to get their names, but in them, I saw the spirit of Charles and Greg Siple.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.