HOPE — The Hope Ride, which raises money for area food pantries and youth outreach programs, returns to take a spin for the 29th time on Saturday.

“It’s the granddaddy of bike rides in central Indiana,” said Paul Ashbrook, co-founder and primary event organizer.

While threatening weather conditions cut participation in half last year, the 13- to 100-mile bike tours have been known to attract up to 2,200 riders. Rain is also in the forecast for this year.

Since 1987, the Hope Ride has raised more than $475,000 for charitable causes through entry fees, T-shirt sales, donations and sponsorships.

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Efforts have been made over the years to create a festival atmosphere surrounding the event, starting with the FunBunch Pancake Breakfast presented this year by the Hope Volunteer Fire Department, Ashbrook said.

During the ride, bicyclists may find themselves being treated to live music during a rest stop, or irresistibly drawn to the critters at Red Dog’s Petting Zoo.

Riders who tackle the longer tours often laud the scenic back roads that feature unique Mennonite homesteads, windmills, Anderson Falls Park, unusual barns and historic bridges.

“Our low-traffic roads, lack of traffic lights, great scenery … all adds up to a great ride,” said Ashbrook, who said riders welcome milder mid-September temperatures, such at the low 70s forecast for Saturday.

It’s also fortunate for participants that the event is held just as the road and bridge construction season begins to wind down.

Just as the new Newbern Bridge opened just before last year’s event, the scenic Possum Glory bridge, located over Clifty Creek north of Hartsville, has just been completed.

“The timing is perfect,” Ashbrook said. “I had it on the map all summer, but had a detour just in case.”

Lunch on the Hope Town Square, which will be served by Hauser High School’s Dollars For Scholars program, will consist of pulled pork barbecue, grilled corn on the cob, pasta salad and watermelon.

Riders also will get the chance to jam out to live music provided by longtime Hope Ride favorites Top Hat Blues Revue and Davis & Devitt on the town square.

Marketing of the Hope Ride has long benefited from the partnership of Ashbrook’s bovine-based humor with the comic book stylings of Hope artist Rhett Whittington.

For example, after Ashcroft and Whittington decided to commemorate Indiana’s bicentennial on this year’s poster and T-shirts, the end result was “Sgt. Heifer’s Lonely Hearts Club’s Band.”

The design, a parody on the Beatles’ iconic 1967 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover, features a montage of famous people with an Indiana connection from the past 200 years.

With the poster already receiving much attention from those attempting to “name that Hoosier,” demand for 2016 Hope Ride T-shirts is expected to be exceptionally high, Ashbrook said.

“Our riders have come to expect some exceptional art from the Hope Ride,” Ashbrook said.

Although the Sgt. Heifer design is new, the character has long been a part of the satirical but successful marketing of the Hope Ride.

Two other reoccurring characters or past themes featured in Hope Ride merchandise include the Moos Brothers (parody of the Blues Brothers) and “Greetings from Mt. Rushmoo.”

Hope Ride info to know

All rides begin and end at Hauser Junior-Senior High School, 9273 N. State Road 9, Hope.

Cost: $30 for each of the six routes of varying lengths — 13, 23, 34, 50, 75 and 100 miles. $10 for riders 14 and younger.

7 to 9 a.m.: FunBunch Pancake Breakfast

7:30 a.m.: Registration gets underway

7:30 to 9 a.m.: Bicyclists depart

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Lunch served on Hope Town Square

Post-ride: Root beer floats will be served after the ride. Showers, as well as support and gear service, will be available until 5 p.m.

Information and registration: hoperide.org

Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.