November Cyclist of the Month: Greg Siskind

Hi everyone.  As promised, I am pleased to present to you Mr. November, the cyclist of the month, Greg Siskind.  Greg is an attorney with Siskind Susser, a local law practice that specializes in immigration law.  He’s also a regular bike commuter and a road cyclist, having participated in the recent Bluff City Blues 100 and two Olympic-distance triathlons in the past year.  (That earns a triple “wow” from us here at Biking in Memphis.)  Read on to hear what Greg has to say about being a bike commuter in Memphis.

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1.  I understand that you bike to work.  Tell me a bit about your commute and what it’s been like as a commuter cyclist.

I’ve been wanting to bike commute for a while, but given the distance of my commute and the nature of my work, I knew that without a shower/locker set up, bike commuting wouldn’t work for me. So I decided to add them at our office. The cost was going to run more than $11,000 so I had to wait a while to find the funds, but we did and after six weeks of construction earlier this year, we had what we needed for people to bike commute to the office.

I started riding to work in May and have ridden the 15-mile round-trip nearly every day. I drive to the office once a week each weekend to empty out my locker and swap out my work clothes.

Commuting by bike has really been a treat. First, I’ve designed a route that is through quiet neighborhoods and a sizable portion is painted with bike lanes. There are only three traffic lights and I’ve had no problems with cars. I also ride with my iPhone mounted to my handlebar and use the i.Bicycle GPS app so I can track my speed and distance and see me moving on a map along the route.

I have recently been switching things up for colder weather riding. I’ve been stocking up on fall and winter cycling clothes for the past several months. Last year, I did a fair amount of recreational riding in the winter so had some clothes, but now I’m set for five days a week. It’s a bit confusing right now because it can be cold in the morning and in the 70s in the afternoon. So I sometimes have to ride in with an extra set of clothes in my back pack. For rain, I have a covering for my back pack that keeps everything dry. We’ll see how I do with ice.

I now have less sunlight to work with and I like to get to the office early. So I’ve just mounted a pretty powerful headlight.  It’s a Niterider MiNewt 250 Lumens Cordless Rechargeable LI-ion LED Headlight and it makes it really easy to see what’s ahead of me when it’s dark out. I will be replacing my back light with something similar.  I also ride in the dark with a fluorescent helmet cover that hopefully makes me pretty visible to drivers.

If I do have any gripes, it might be the fact that my back pack is heavy. I ride with my MacBook Pro, an iPad and usually papers I take home for work I may be doing in the evening. I’m thinking about switching back to using my old hybrid bike which as a rack and panniers.

2.  Have you always been a cyclist or, like many people, did you go through a period when you gave up biking in favor of driving a car?  If so, what brought you back to the bike?

Not counting the neighborhood biking I did as a kid, I’ve been occasionally cycling for fitness for more than 20 years. But I only got serious about it three years ago. After law school in 1990, I bought a Bianchi hybrid bike and cycled in western Washington, British Columbia and Alberta for a couple of weeks. And I participated in a couple of triathlons in the early 90s. Then I mainly rode only a few times a year for the better part of two decades.  In 2008, I started riding everyday to get fit and mainly rode on the Germantown Greenway and in Shelby Farms.  Then I joined the Memphis Hightailers, bought a decent road bike and started riding all over Memphis.

3.  Where do you most like to bike around town?  Are there any favorite routes you have?

For my recreational riding, I like to head east and ride out in Lakeland, Rossville, Oakland and the other small towns that surround Memphis. I also like heading north to Shelby Forest. In town, I enjoy Shelby Farms – the Green Line, Greenways, experimental farm area, etc.

4.  On a scale of one to ten, how awesome is the Shelby Farms Greenline?

10. I love the Greenline and am really thankful it has gotten the community interested in cycling. I tend to use it for biking on slower rides and also run on it. Last winter, I enjoyed faster riding when it was cold out and no one was out. I’m looking forward to the connections developing with new bike lanes and better connected suburban greenways.

5.  Madison Avenue is currently being repaved and prepared for the installation of bike lanes.  What are your thoughts on the controversy that surrounded these lanes?

I think the lanes are important both for the actual impact they’ll have on bike commuting by opening a route to downtown and also because of the statement the bicycling community made that our concerns are important and we have a right to safe roads. I tried to do my part – writing letters to the Mayor and council members as well as sitting down with a key business owner on Madison Avenue and talking about our concerns. I don’t know if I changed any minds, but participating in the discussion was a valuable experience nonetheless.

6.  If you woke up one morning as the mayor of Memphis, what would you do in that day to further the cause of making Memphis a more bike-friendly town?

I’d love to see a bike share program here. I travel a lot and am in awe of the programs recently introduced in Paris and London. DC now has an impressive program and New York is about to come online. Smaller cities are rolling out similar programs – even Chattanooga.

7.  Do you run any errands on your bike?  If so, how do you handle cargo?  Have you invested in any panniers?

I have not done much in the way of running errands on my bike, but I do have a bike with a rack and panniers (albeit 20 year old panniers). I’m sure the newer ones have more bells and whistles and I’ll probably check out the options soon.

8.  Where do you go for information about bike commuting?  Are there websites you consult?  What about friends in the area who are experienced cyclists?

I use your blog for one. It’s really excellent for finding out about what’s happening in the area and the links are good. I also view a few other sites like www.bikecommuters.com and read Bob Mionske’s columns on bicycling and the law. Bicycling Magazine and the League of American Cyclists Magazine are both helpful.

9.  Have you had any fun cycling adventures, like riding from Shelby Farms to downtown or from midtown to T. O. Fuller State Park?

I enjoy going on the group rides offered by the Hightailers and have ridden just about everywhere in the metro area. When I travel, I like to rent a road bike and explore. This year, I did some nice cycling in Paris, Oklahoma, San Diego, Orlando and Puerto Vallarta. I’m getting ready to buy a Brompton folding bike that is small enough to fit in luggage so I can do more cycling in new places.

10.  What kind of bike do you have?  Are there any biking accessories you can’t live without?

The main bike I ride is a Giant Defy 3. As I noted above, since I sometimes ride in the dark, good lighting is key and I’ve put on a high end front light and am about to add a high end tail light. I have an iPhone bike mount and a new dual water bottle rack behind my saddle that also has a spot to screw in extra CO2 cartridges. And I have a Bento box on the top tube where I keep my sunglasses, dog pepper spray (I haven’t had to use it, fortunately), and a spare battery to recharge my phone if need be. I keep my tools in a cloth case that is shaped like a water bottle and fits in my bottle rack. I also have a Cannondale mountain bike and a Bianchi hybrid if I feel like riding off road.

11.  What about drivers in Memphis?  How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

Surprisingly friendly. I have only had a few unpleasant encounters after a lot of time on my bike. People seem to respond well when they see you’re trying to obey the laws, be courteous and signal what you’re about to do. A lot of people probably recognize me now given my riding to and from work is usually around the same time each day. I think when people see the backpack and know I’m commuting, they try to cut me some slack.

12.  Any other stories you’d like to share?

The only thing I’d like to add is how impressed I am by the progress Memphis has made in the last few years in cycling. Going from one of the worst places to ride to a community that is bike friendly in a matter of such a short period of time is not easy and it’s a credit to a lot of activists in the community, some forward thinking local organizations and several leaders like Mayor Wharton. Kyle Wagenschutz, Anthony Siracusa, and Mark Hicks are all terrific and deserve a special shout out.

Agreed 100% Greg, especially on that last point.  Memphis is really lucky to have so many people committed to making our fine city more biking-friendly.  Thanks for the props on my blog and for the interview.

 

 

 

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