Is Ride Idaho a tour you should do? Mostly yes and a little no.
There are great things about Ride Idaho that, according to my discussions with folks from all over the States, are simply not provided on other multi-day events. This list includes our shower truck, mechanical support and on-route attention. The organization is still young but that's no excuse for screwing anything up (like route marking) or failing to anticipate and plan for typical problems at campsites or meals; they've been doing this for nine years now.
Is Ride Idaho recumbent-friendly? As much as any organized and supported event.
There were three 'bents on this year's ride: me on my Tour Easy, a kid from Portland on a Bacchetta Giro, and a gal from the Midwest on her Vision. No trikes this year but we had three Bike Fridays, including a Two's Day tandem, two other tandems and maybe 20 other non-racing bikes like Surlys and Rivendells and a few mountain bikes.
More explicit information, opinions and reviews:
We rode about 400 miles over six days. We had no layover day this year which was unusual. Lots of 6-9% climbing including the epic slogs of the Old Whitebird Grade and the Spiral Highway out of Lewiston. A long stretch of 11-14% out of Stites made lots of folks angry and forced them to walk. Not me, I just motored up on my Tour Easy recumbent—slowly but steadily.
The route marking this year was terrible and several of our 240 riders took wrong turns or overshot and had to retrace many miles. Route marking is a long-established practice so there's absolutely no excuse for screwing it up. Lots of people complained each day but the marking crew never improved or changed their dangerously inept practices. Weird.
Food was hit or miss this year, ranging from great to terrible. They rely on local organizations and, even after eight years, they cannot properly communicate the needs for multiple serving lines, adequate calories from healthful foods, and how to accommodate vegetarians. Someday the Ride Idaho organization will be able to cater the ride. Till then, dinners and breakfasts will remain a tolerable but, in my opinion, totally solvable problem.
Camping facilities were great for 5 out of 6 nights but the "interesting experience" of camping on a backwoods airstrip was a classic case of miscommunication. The FAA requirements for the airport were inflexible and the airport manager had no real interest to bend the rules to make life easier for "a bunch of rich city folks in silly clothes and their fancy little bikes." Over the history of the ride, there has been one messed up camping facility each year. One time we arrived at what was supposed to a freshly mown pasture only to find that horses had been removed from it that very morning. One time we had to put the bikes on a trailer for a mile of impassable jeep road to arrive at a remote YMCA camp where there was no room to put up 150 tents. These situations are avoidable and they're not nearly as "interesting" for the riding clients as the planners seem to think.
One of the more amazing features of RIde Idaho is the shower truck. That Ride Idaho can include this luxury item is a reflection of the organization's financial management. However, it also implies the expense of the shower truck reduces the budget for at least one other aspect of a 200- to 400-person tour. I've done Cycle Oregon many times so I thought everyone has used shower trucks. Not so. We had dozens of people who expected to be camping on school fields or worse, using gyms or small campground facilities and simply accepting long lines and cold water. They left Ride Idaho with a new sensual experience and the shower truck is something they will look for when considering other rides.
We were on busy highways for only about 50 miles. I heard many riders complaining about the lack of shoulders, rumble strips, tire-shredding debris, slippery gravel, stupidly rude drivers and heavy traffic. Yeah, well, this is Idaho. The economy and the culture are, umm, different. Idaho's terrain, except for our deserts and prairies, is largely huge mountain ranges separated by wide valleys. You either ride over these mountains or around them. There are typically only two roads into and out of most of our smaller towns: the highway or old farm roads. Idaho's highways are not maintained or built for bicycles and they support the movement of everything from logs to radioactive waste, from grain to motorcycle gangs. The non-highway roads are rarely bicycle-friendly but the route planners did a SUPERB job of finding every alternative and ridable rural road.
The route, when it could be found and followed, was great fun and challenging and it took even the Idaho natives in the group into places we did not know existed. We saw fantastic prairie country. We rode along and dropped through fabulous river canyons. We visited interesting towns and villages that, for the most part, were glad to have us.
You can see the 2012 route at rideidaho.org until December 2012 when they will take it down and post the 2013 route.
Weather was hot and dry: 85-110F each day, down to 40s at night above 5,000 feet and down to 55 at lower altitudes. Second-guessing the weather in Idaho is a waste of time; we could just as easily have had four days of mountain thunderstorms and fierce winds out on the prairies. If you come to Ride Idaho, bring your rain gear and your cold weather gear.
Technical support on Ride Idaho is better than great. Three professional wrenches and two assistants provide constant attention along the route. They are at all water and food stops and in camp each day. Most of them have been with us for four or more years.
Ride Idaho's other amenities like snacks, beverages, spacing of water and food stops and sag support on the route are all good to great. You will not be pampered but you will be taken care of. From discussions with other riders who have been all over the States, Ride Idaho's attention to the riders' various needs is unusually and unexpectedly high.
Next year's route will be announced in January, 2013. I'm certain it will be fun and challenging and delightfully unique especially if you've never been to Idaho. The event will be the first full week in August. I hope you'll think about joining us.