Riverton bike race brings the town out

For Carlos Rogers, organizing the Historic Riverton Criterium is a one-man show. The competitive one-mile bike race will wind through the streets of his picturesque neighborhood for its fifth year on Sunday, June 14th, 2015. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)

Something about the long rides and the sense of camaraderie first drew Carlos Rogers to competitive cycling when he was 22.

About 18 years later, when Rogers relocated to his wife's hometown of Riverton, an idea struck him.

"As soon as I moved here, I knew it would be a great town for a criterium [a competitive short-course bike race]," said Rogers. "It's like Mayberry."

The Burlington County community has many qualities reminiscent of Andy Griffith's Mayberry - tree-lined streets, few traffic lights, postcard-perfect homes with large front porches. Last Monday morning, dog-walking neighbors waved and drivers honked their horns as they passed Rogers, seated outside his blue house on Fourth Street.

As Rogers sipped coffee from a Dunkin' Donuts cup, he showed no sign that his lengthy to-do list for the next two weeks was giving him anxiety.

The 47-year-old is the sole creator and organizer of the Historic Riverton Criterium, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 14, rain or shine.

The day will feature not only the marquee 35-mile race for top USA Cycling-ranked competitors but also a race for children 8 to 10 and a masters race for experienced riders over 45.

"I go every year," Riverton Mayor Bill Brown said. "He's created a really fun time. . . . There's something for everyone."

Brown said that each year the number of lawn parties and barbecues increases, and it seems as if every homeowner along the course - which runs through town - invites guests over to cheer on the riders and ring cowbells. Local law enforcement blocks off the streets to automobiles.

Dennis Devries, 67, lives in a large Victorian on the corner of Fourth and Main Streets, right near the start-and-finish line. It has become a tradition for his family to host a band, playing live music on the porch on race day.

"I really enjoy being a part of the race," Devries said. "We love the sense of community."

Seeing the town come together, Rogers said, especially for something of an "underground sport" in the United States, may be the most rewarding part of his efforts.

"I want riders to come and see that the town is excited to see them," he said.

The course will remain the same as always for the fifth annual Riverton criterium next weekend, Rogers said, but new additions include a women's race and the donation of some race proceeds to the family of Tom Palermo, 41, a Riverton native who was struck and killed by an allegedly drunken driver as he was biking near Baltimore in December. The motorist, a high-ranking leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, was also charged with texting while driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

"Tragically . . . it ties together," Rogers said. "One, [Palermo] is from Riverton and, two, he was riding his bike. [But] any person would feel the weight of what happened to him."

Rogers said one of Palermo's former teachers at Riverton School reached out to him and asked whether Rogers could memorialize Palermo in this year's race. Rogers said he then met with Palermo's father, who lives in a nearby town, and arranged to donate funds to Tom Palermo's wife and children.

Even though Palermo had moved from Riverton, Rogers said, many folks here still remember him fondly.

Part of the race's proceeds will also go to the Riverton School Parent/Teacher Association, which is an organization close to Rogers' heart. His 6-year-old son, Leo, attends the Riverton School.

In the past, race proceeds have been donated to other local organizations, including the Riverton Fire Company and Riverton Free Library.

"It's not a money thing for me," said Rogers, noting he donates as much as possible after paying race costs and prize money. Race fees and sponsorships fund the event, and in the last four years, he said, the criterium has given $15,000 to local organizations.

"He believes in the community he lives in," said Riverton Borough Council President Suzanne Cairns Wells, calling Rogers "a resident who's looking to highlight . . . what a gem we have here."

When the library was the beneficiary a few years ago, branch manager Michael Robinson said, he got to fire off the starter pistol. He has attended every year since, sometimes bringing along his 25-year-old daughter.

"We are a very small library with a small budget, so the donation was very much appreciated," Robinson said. "Carlos is amazing. . . . He hasn't been in town long, but he's one of the people who move into town and he's automatically the center of social activity."

Rogers doesn't take part in the race. He sticks to running the show, calling himself a retiree from competitive cycling. These races are not like pickup basketball games, he said, in which an out-of-shape former athlete can play as long as he or she can make it up and down the court.

In a criterium, for example, bicyclists who are too far behind the pack can be flagged by officials and taken out of the race so as not to endanger or distract the other competitors, Rogers said.

Instead of training as often as he once did, Rogers spends much of his time at Hush Salon Philadelphia, the Old City hair salon he owns with his wife, Adrienne - whom he met when she came into his brother's South Street store, Bicycle Therapy, to get her bike fixed.

Cycling seems to run in the Rogerses' blood - little Leo has already shown an interest. Each year, he asks to ride in the Riverton criterium's kids' race, even though children have to be at least 8 to take part.

But Rogers said he was confident Leo will have many years to participate.

"As long as I'm here in Riverton," the criterium will continue, Rogers said. "I'm looking forward to the 25th annual."