Category: Neato

Biking to Germantown

Have you read this article from the Commercial Appeal?  Pretty exciting stuff.  It looks like the connection between the Greenline and Germantown is completed.  The 1.25 mile section has apparently been unofficially open now for a couple of weeks.  This means that one could bike from Tillman to Germantown on bike paths without interruption.  Here’s a map of where the newly completed segment lies.

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You can the connection between Shady Grove Rd. and the Poplar Estates neighborhood on the map, bottom center.  I’m not sure if that’s exactly where the path lies, but it would appear to be.

I haven’t had the chance to go exploring out east in some time.  Anyone else ridden this new segment?

Bike share programs – UPDATE

There was a great article in yesterday’s New York Times by David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads and about 1,000,000 other projects, about New York City’s new bike share program and his experiences with similar programs in other cities.  Memphis is slated to adopt its own bike share program, although I have few details about it, as I missed the Pizza with Planners meeting last week due to vacation.  And, the University of Memphis should be implementing a bike share program for students beginning in the fall, subject to approval by the Board of Regents.  I’ve been working on that project for some time now, along with my friend and colleague Amelia Mayahi, the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, and many others.  Hopefully the two programs will complement each other as well as the existing bike share program at Rhodes College.

New York’s bike share program would offer unlimited rides for $10 per day, as long as the rides were 30 minutes or fewer in length.  This time restriction is made easier by plans to install 450 (corrected: 600) bike share kiosks and station around the boroughs.  In a practical sense, this means that if you wanted to bike from home to the grocery store, you would need to find a bike station near your home and another near the store.  You would check out a bike near home, bike to the station nearest the store, and return the bike.  After shopping, you would return to the station near the store, check out another bike, and continue on to your next destination.  You could do this as many times as you like that day.  The ease of finding bike share stations is enhanced greatly by offering an app for iPhones (and hopefully Android devices as well), that shows the location of nearby stations.

I don’t know where the bike stations will be located around NYC, presumably near population centers, entertainment districts, subway stations, and so on.  As for Memphis, I could imagine numerous bike stations in downtown (i.e. at South Main and Patterson, further north on Main, near the Convention Center), in the Pinch district, Uptown, the medical district, Overton Square, Overton Park, Cooper Young, near college campuses, and so on.  Basically, anywhere where there are lots of people or where lots of people like to go.

One thing to consider is the number of stations relative to the time limits on rentals.  The basic equation is that fewer stations = longer rental time.  If we start out with, say, 10 stations in Memphis, a 30-minute window might be too short for many rentals, and might inadvertently discourage participation.  On the other hand, making sure that bikes are returned in a timely fashion is important.  If relatively few people account for most of the rentals, effectively hogging the bikes and preventing others from using them, dissatisfaction with the program will manifest.  This is a concern that Amelia and I heard from some of the other bike rental programs we investigated.

The bike rental program at U of M will have a two-week window for using a bike.  Upon returning a bike, the student must wait 24 hours before re-renting a bike if there are no other bikes available.  The program will be open to all students for a flat annual fee.  We’re going to start with 50 bikes which will be housed at a central location on campus.  We won’t have the kiosks that are typical seen in municipal share programs due to the initial expense of acquiring and installing them.

Another concern with bike share/rental programs (by the way, I am using “bike share” and “bike rental” as synonyms, although there might be a difference that I am missing) is helmet use.  According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, only 1 in 5 bike share users wear helmets.  While I am 100% pro-helmet use, and never bike without one, I am also respectful of the right of adults to engage in risky behavior at their own discretion, without the government forcing them to use safety devices.  I’ve never written about them before, but I am generally opposed to laws that require adult cyclists to wear helmets (although this rapidly turns into a discussion on the relationship between the state and the individual and such issues as helmet laws for motorcyclists and seat belt laws).  Helmet laws for minors are a no brainer.

At U of M, we’re going to address the helmet issue by providing helmets and other safety gear for all riders and, of course, requiring that they sign a waiver indemnifying the University from injuries, etc.  Also, the students will be responsible for any damages to the bikes, equipment, or theft.

I don’t know how the helmet issue could be addressed in a municipal share program'; perhaps with one of these?  It would be difficult to mandate that riders wear helmets, although having them available would be good and might enhance participation.  Of course, there’s also the ick-factor of wearing a sweaty, stinky helmet that just came off someone else’s head.  Maybe some Lysol would solve that.

Whatever the case, I am very excited about the bike share programs at U of M and in the city itself.  They both show that Memphis is growing into a truly bike-friendly city.  Good times.

UPDATE: Here’s a great article from the Atlantic Monthly Cities blog about safety concerns with NYC’s bike share program.  And here’s Cort’s ideas on bike sharing in Memphis.

April Cyclist of the Month: Jason Potter

Hi everyone.  As I wrote just a few days ago, April is a particularly busy month for cyclists in Memphis.  There are events scheduled every weekend, sometimes more than one. But I’m particularly excited about the fourth annual Tour de Grizz, in no small part because it combines two things I love most about Memphis: basketball and biking.  The fact that the Tour was started by a really great guy, Jason Potter, the Director of Promotions and Event Presentations at the Memphis Grizzlies, makes it even better.  Read on for the history behind the Tour de Grizz and more Memphis cycling goodies.

 

1.  This marks the fourth year of the Tour de Grizz, if I’m not mistaken.  What inspired you to launch the first ride back in 2009?

I’ve wanted to put together a ride in Memphis like Tour de Grizz ever since I picked up riding again.  Four years ago, the NBA rolled out the first of its now annual “NBA Green Week” initiatives in an effort to highlight sustainability efforts and offer education to fans about the benefits of “Going Green.”  It was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

I perceived that there was a lack of awareness and education about cycling in Memphis back when we started Tour de Grizz.  I thought that an event that combined the fun and excitement of the NBA experience with the simple joy of riding a bike could be a catalyst in introducing or reintroducing people to riding.

2.  I remember the first Tour de Grizz; there were a few dozen cyclists and we left from the parking lot of First Congo church.  Last year there were hundreds of cyclists and we occupied much of the entranceway to the Memphis Zoo.  Mayor Wharton even rode with us.  To what do you attribute the rapid growth of the Tour de Grizz?

I had high expectations for Tour de Grizz even from its humble beginnings that first year.  I truly believed we could grow the event to be something special.  What has surprised me, however, is just how excited people get about the ride.  We certainly have a lot of experienced participants from the local cycling community who do Tour de Grizz for the fun of it, but I think just as many people who come out for the ride are not used to riding among a group of people that large.  To them, this is their biggest bike adventure of the year, and to see how happy they are to be a part of a community of riders just like themselves, well, it makes it all worthwhile.

I would credit that growth and excitement to two things: the change in attitude towards cycling in Memphis and incredible support from the cycling community.

I think we can all agree that Mayor Wharton’s administration has gone a long way in helping change the attitude towards cycling with the installation of all bike facilities (with more hopefully to follow).  There will always be the grouchy folks on message boards who think it’s a waste of resources to make our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and we might not change those people’s minds.  But you can tell change is coming by the fact that so many businesses have gone out of their way to invest in facilities for riders.   I think the businesses recognize this isn’t a passing trend, that to a neighborhood or business district, being bike-friendly means real money.  Then the system perpetuates itself because people see that investment on the civic level and on the business level and they feel more comfortable giving cycling a try.  This is obviously good for events like ours.

The other major impact in the growth of our event has been from the support of the cycling community of Memphis.   We’ve had tremendous partners support our event on the grassroots level: from shops (I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank The Peddler, Outdoors and Victory Bike Studio) to clubs like the Hightailers and IP Cycling and organizations like Revolutions, Greater Memphis Greenline, and Shelby Farms, we’ve had the cycling community bend over backwards to help spread the word and see to it that the event became a success.  More riders at our event means more customers and patrons at their respective businesses.  It’s the same at other cycling events in town, too.  For so long, cyclists felt pushed to the fringes in Memphis, and now that it’s a new day they want to make sure they are as inclusive as possible to keep the good times coming.  That’s been my experience.

Lastly, the support we’ve received from the Zoo has been phenomenal.  It’s such a fantastic organization and a jewel to the City of Memphis.  Connecting the dots to the communities/fan bases/families that claim to be a Grizzlies Fan, a Cyclist, or a Zoo Lover; well, to put it in basketball terms, it’s been a slam dunk.  There’s so much overlap among the audiences, it’s been the perfect partnership.  We would not have grown the event so quickly without the Zoo’s participation.

3.  The Tour is one of many very inclusive group bike rides in Memphis these days.  Others that come to mind are the Cycle Memphis rides, the Tweed Rides, and the Tuesday night rides sponsored by the Peddler Bike Shop.  How often do you get a chance to go on one of those other rides?

One of my goals for this year is to participate in more “leisure rides” that are similar to Tour de Grizz to keep learning about who participates in them in an effort to make the experience better for our event.  I’ve loved all of the leisure rides I’ve done in town, including the Tweed Rides you mention and even a bigger scale event like the Midnight Classic.  Any time you bring together a group of cyclists with the expressed intent of having a good time, you succeed.

4.  Do you commute to work on your bike?  What’s your commute like?

I’m a self-proclaimed “fair weather commuter.”   I tend to ride to work the most in the spring through the fall, and try to do it once or twice a week at least during my riding season.  I love my commute from Cooper Young to FedExForum.  I like to ride in to work at an easy pace, and it usually takes me around 25 minutes no matter what route I take.  This spring, the city has repaved several of the stretches of Linden and Peabody I ride on, which has made it an absolute joy compared even to last year.  You probably hear people tell you how much the ride to work clears their head and how a ride home can decompress you from a workday, and I couldn’t agree more.  For all of the inconveniences of commuting by bike (which, if we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d have to concede a few) I find the benefits for what it can do to your state of mind, your creativity, and your feeling of connection to your community far outweigh the negatives.

5.  I think I met you for the first time at Bike to Work Day a couple of years ago.  Are you planning to participate in that again this year?

I love the “Bike to Work Day” event and think the organizers at the Downtown Memphis Commission and Church Health Center do a magnificent job of educating people about taking the plunge and making their first commute by bike.  This will be the third year of the event, and I’ve been involved each year.  When I first learned about it, I reached out to the organizers and asked if I could lead a ride from my neighborhood to get involved.  Since then, I’ve been an official “Ride Captain” and look forward to leading an even larger number of cyclists into work this year.  I enjoy demystifying the bike commute experience to first-timers.

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

On its worst day, in the coldest, wettest weather imaginable, I’d say an eleven.

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

I’m more of a messenger bag or backpack guy when riding and carrying any cargo.  I find anything I need to take to work: clothes, toiletries, etc. all fit perfectly fine.  The messenger bag can get a little uncomfortable in the summer and probably isn’t practical if you don’t have facilities to get cleaned up at work, though.If I’m going to the store, that’s enough cargo capacity for the essentials.  It is a lot of fun to take your bike to the Union Avenue Kroger, too, because people still kind of look at you like you’re crazy, which we cyclists all seem to take pride in, don’t we?

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 guess for the most part I’ve learned about bike commuting through trial and error.  When I first got back into riding, it was primarily for fitness doing weekend endurance-style (read: spandex) rides.  I fell in love with it so badly, I wanted to find more time for riding and that’s how I first decided I’d try to ride to work.  Well, there were not such great programs in place as Bike To Work Day in Memphis yet to teach me what I needed to know, so I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  I was dressing in full-on lycra and riding to the office super-early so no one would call me “Lance” or anything.  I think I thought that’s what I was supposed to do on a road bike, that I had to dress like that to be considered a “real” cyclist.  In hindsight, it was ridiculous.

I typically commute these days in khakis and t-shirts, and either bring a change of clothes in a messenger bag or I’ll have a shirt or two hanging in the office to change into when I arrive.  I keep an extra pair of shoes at work in case I want to ride my road bike.  I guess I’ve just gotten more relaxed about riding in general.  I’ve learned that there is no right or wrong way to dress on a bike, no right kind of bike to ride, that the only thing that matters is that you are comfortable both physically and emotionally, as in “comfortable with yourself.”  You shouldn’t be riding around wondering what people are thinking about you.  You should only pay attention to where other people are so you can ride as safely as possible, and spend whatever remaining mental capacity you may have dreaming about the things you need to do, your next trip, your friends and family, all the good stuff in life. Enjoy the ride, and laugh on the inside at all the people stuck in their cars listening to their bad music.

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

I currently have three bikes and I am always looking to expand the fleet, much to the chagrin of my wife.  I’m afraid I have to tackle a better bike storage solution than our dining room before I get too carried away again.

I have a road bike, a 29er mountain bike, and a single speed.  Each has their purpose and a special place in my bike heart.  As far as accessories, it really depends on the kind of ride I’m on.  I think the only constants I have are my ID and cell phone.  I don’t ride without my helmet and I always use lights at night.

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

I find motorists in Memphis to be more and more aware of cyclists every year.  Perhaps it’s from experience gained and confidence on the road, but I think cyclists and drivers alike are getting more accustomed to the new bike facilities in town and the outcry from both sides has seemed to mellow a bit.  Maybe bikes and cars can coexist after all, right?  Having said that, I think it’s especially important for cyclists to be alert at all times while on the bike and be smart about the way they ride and the routes they choose.  After all, it’s just you and your helmet out there.  As we see all too often, the danger is greater for the one on the bike than the one surrounded by a ton of steel.

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

I could go on all day, but any other stories I have are better told on a bike.  I hope I see everyone out there soon.

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Thanks Jason.  I appreciate the interview, and I’m sure my readers will as well.  See you this Saturday at the Tour de Grizz, where hundreds of people will be biking in Memphis.

April cycling events

Hi everyone.  Spring has certainly arrived early this year, making biking ever so much more enjoyable.  I have some hope that we can make these moderate temperatures last for a few months; the last thing we need is four months of summer.  But I digress.  Just in time for spring, the month of April is exploding with bicycling events here in Memphis.  Read on for more information.

1.  Tour of Flanders Party – The Brass Door Pub – Sunday, April 1, 7:30 AM until you bonk.

Did you really need an excuse to drink beer and eat waffles at 7:30 in the morning?  Because now you have one.  Co-hosted by the good people at Victory Bicycle Studio and The Brass Door, the Tour of Flanders Party features coverage of the 2012 Tour de Flanders ride (obviously).  Get there early for a good seat in front of the 92″ FLAT SCREEN TV. Is that shit even legal?  ‘Cause I’m tripping balls just thinking about it.

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2.  The Fourth Annual Tour de Grizz – Memphis Zoo; FedExForum – Saturday, April 7, more or less all day.

The Tour de Grizz is one of my favorite group rides in the city.  It begins this year as in past at the Memphis Zoo and ends up at FedExForum and is definitely fun and safe for all ages.  For $25 per person, you get one-day admission to the zoo, a terrace-level ticket to watch the Grizzlies demolish the Dallas Mavericks, plus a t-shirt and lots of other stuff I’m forgetting.  And if you want club-level seats, you can pay $55 per person and make that happen.  (Note: if you’re a Grizzlies season-ticket holder like me, it only costs $15.)  The ride begins at 5:30 PM and is escorted by the Memphis Police, which is fun in and of itself.  I’ll be there, and so should you.

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3.  15th Annual Charles Finney Ride – Lakeland Outlet Mall - Saturday, April 14, 8:00 AM.

The Memphis Hightailers are sponsoring the 15th Annual Charles Finney Ride to benefit the Church Health Center on Saturday, April 14.  There are three rides you can choose from: 18 miles, 45 miles, and 62 miles.  I won’t be able to attend, as I have a work event that day, but hopefully you can.  Click here to register.

Button Finney Ride 2012

4.  Cycle Memphis April – Cooper-Young gazebo – Saturday, April 14, 8:00 PM until around 11:00 PM.

I’ve missed the last couple Cycle Memphis rides due to prior commitments, so I am super-excited about this month’s ride.  Normally held on the first Saturday of the month, Cycle Memphis April was pushed back a weekend due to the Tour de Grizz.  I’ve written about the Cycle Memphis rides before – they’re always a good time.  I imagine that the crowd will be extra large this time, what with the weather improving and all.  And, as an added bonus, I will be DJing the ride.  That’s right – I’ve volunteered to create the musical soundtrack for April’s ride.  I used to DJ some back in grad school, so I’m excited to dust off my skills and select some tunes for the people.

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(Note: that should read 2012, not 2011.)

5.  The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality Family Fun Rides – Levitt Shell at Overton Park – Saturday, April 14, 7:00 AM.

The Memphis Rotary Club is sponsoring Families Supporting Families, a day of bike rides to benefit the Dorothy Day House, which provides shelter and support for homeless families in Memphis.  There are three rides that day: a 1/2 mile family run ride around Overton Park, plus two rides to Shelby Forest and back, at 33 and 53 miles.  The longer rides begin at 8:00 AM and the fun ride at 10:00 AM.  Click here to register.

Dorothy Day Ride

6.  Bikesploitation II: Some Bike it Hot! submission deadline – Friday, April 20.

The good people at Live from Memphis are once again sponsoring Bikesploitation, a festival of bike-related films.  The festival isn’t until May 18, but the deadline for submissions is Friday, April 20.  Click here to read more and here to learn about how to submit your own film.  Hmm … maybe it’s time for me to get that handlebar-mounted camera I’ve been eyeing.

Honorable Mention - Ignite: Sustainability – The Zone at the FedEx Institute of Technology, University of Memphis Campus – Tuesday, April 3, 6:00 PM.

While this event doesn’t have any biking-related content per se, my good friend Matt Farr, along with Launch Memphis, Sustainable Shelby, and the University of Memphis, is organizing Ignite: Sustainability to promote ideas for sustainable products and projects in Memphis.  I was planning to present but had to bow out due to my work load.  It should be a great event though, so plan to go if you can.  Here’s more information.

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What a great month we have in store.  So much biking, so few Saturdays.  I hope you can attend all of these events; I know I’ll be at most of them.  Did I miss anything?  Leave me a message in the comments.

March Cyclist of the Month: Kyle Wagenschutz

My people.  (Man, it feels like a while since I’ve typed those words.  Hopefully my writing deficit will come to an end soon, but that’s for another post.)  I am pleased to present to you the March Cyclist of the Month, none other than Mr. Kyle Wagenschutz.  Never heard of Kyle?  Oh come on … he’s the city’s very first Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, the Director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop, and … well, just read the interview.  It’s a good one.

KW

Photo credit: Nathan Berry

1.  You’re the city’s first Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator and have been in that position for about a year and a half.  What was it like to accept a job where there was no previous officeholder?  How has your idea of what the job would be like changed over time?

Taking the job was at first very overwhelming. Because there had been no previous officeholder, there was no precedent to follow, no established work schedule to fit into, and no expectations of what I was supposed to be accomplishing. I spent the better part of the first year just trying to figure out where and how a Bike/Ped Coordinator fits into the inner-workings of Memphis governance and operations. That being said, I have also been able to mold the bicycle and pedestrian program without restraint or restrictions on where we can take this movement. Almost any idea is possible and any program doable as long as I can find the resources and people to make it work.

Because of this freedom to create the first bicycle and pedestrian program, my roll has transformed somewhat over the last year and a half – but really in a good way. I’ve made some real progress not in just having more (and better) facilities constructed, but have also been able to address some of the systemic causes of bad decision-making as it relates to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians in the city. I’m not sure the job has really changed – more that I have been able to find my stride and my roll in the process.

2.  Where do you see Memphis in five years, in regard to accessibility for cyclists, pedestrians, and people with disabilities?  In your opinion, what are the greatest opportunities and challenges?

What is interesting is how these different users – bicyclists, walkers, runners, persons in wheelchairs, etc. – often get lumped into the same category and fight for similar funding sources, but the needs of each of these groups couldn’t be more different.

The short answer is that I think bicycling will continue to grow in popularity over the next 5 years. As we continue to construct more bicycle lanes, more shared-use paths, and provide more bicycle parking at local businesses and civic centers, we’ll see more and more people choosing to take a bike rather than drive a car. We can already see that happening over the last year and a half and the momentum is going to continue to carry bicycling forward. To best part is that bicycle facilities are often times very cheap and can be constructed in conjunction with ongoing road repaving and maintenance projects.

Serving pedestrian and persons with disabilities is going to be a much more complex (and expensive) change to see happen. So much about building better cities to encourage more walking, or providing safe and convenient travelways for persons with disabilities leads back to development patterns and urban design. The new Unified Development Code sets the stage for better urban design that would produce an environment conducive to safe pedestrian travel, but it has only been in place for about a year. We can’t undo 60 years of bad urban design, annexation, and development patterns in just 5 years – It’s going to take a lot of time and more importantly it is going to take private/public collaboration and cooperation to make it happen.

We’re also going to have to review some of the legal liabilities that make improving pedestrian travelways more difficult. For instance, in the City of Memphis (and most cities around the country) it is the responsibility of property owners to maintain the sidewalks adjacent to their property. This means that if the sidewalk outside your house is broken, uprooted by trees, or otherwise impassable, it is your responsibility as a property owner to make and pay for the repairs needed to make it safe. I’ve done a rough calculation and the total cost of repairing all the damaged sidewalks in the city would be around $1 billion dollars, and that doesn’t include the areas that don’t have sidewalks and need them. Getting a better understanding of how to address sidewalks is literally the billion dollar question here.

Finally, to really make bicycling and walking a viable transportation choice in Memphis, we are going to have to figure out how to integrate with MATA on a more consistent and efficient basis. I really believe that the mangers at MATA are doing the best they can, with limited resources, to address some of the public transit complaints Memphis is known for. I expect to see some really good changes occur as they begin to finalize and implement their new short-range plan, but being able to link trips to MATA via bike, walk, or wheel chair will be crucial to the success of each other. Our city is more than 300 square miles and it isn’t going to get any smaller anytime soon. Residents on average travel more than 20 miles to work each day which for a majority of the population is an unachievable feat by biking or walking. Being able to provide more alternatives to driving your car is going to mean that people are going to need to combine multiple types of transportation – and it needs to be easy and as efficient as driving your car. We’re already beginning to see this happen with bike trips (all MATA buses are equipped with bike racks and MATA has a very lenient policy about bring your bike on buses or trolleys), but a more concentrated effort is going to have to take place.

3.  I know you commute to your job downtown from Midtown via bike.  My commute is from the same neighborhood, but in the opposite direction, to campus.  How is the daily commute downtown? Is commuting during rush hour particularly vexing?

I don’t really have any problems. I have developed a few alternative routes that I can use that allow me to change up the scenery as often as I like. I get to see a nice cross section of the city going from residential neighborhoods, through some more industrial warehousing spaces, and finally into the more dense development of downtown. The arrangement of the buildings and proximity to the river can sometimes make for interesting headwinds, but other than that I’m pretty comfortable with the commute.

I mostly encounter heavy traffic when I encounter school zones. About 25% of morning rush hour congestion occurs because of parent dropping off their kids at schools. I also typically travel in hours before or after traditional vehicular rush hours times. In general, our data collection indicates that “rush hour” for cyclists actually occurs about 30 minutes before the normal vehicular “rush hour” times. Presumably, cyclists arrive at work earlier to clean up, shower, change clothes, etc. and a such have to leave home earlier. 
Typically, if I end up riding when there are a lot of cars on the road, I alter my route to help avoid some of the potential conflicts and relieve some of the stress associated with riding with large volumes of cars.

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

10. In my opinion it has been, by far, the most influential infrastructure investment in Memphis in the last 10 years.

5.  In addition to being the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator, you’re also the Director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop.  Tell me about the impact Revolutions has had on the city.

In a lot of ways, I think Revolutions has been quietly influential in improving the physical conditions and more abstract acceptance of cyclists in Memphis while also providing for the basic needs of a large population of cyclists. Over the last 10 years, Revolutions has helped to put over 3,000 bikes back onto the streets of Memphis and has helped repair countless more.

Revolutions has always been concerned with making sure that all cyclists had a seat at the table in Memphis. Largely, this was brought about through our extensive work with individuals that don’t have enough money to afford the routine maintenance needed to keep their bicycle running properly and safely. Educating cyclists about basic bike repair and providing the tools and parts needed to make those repairs has always been one of the goals of the program and continues to drive the activities today. More importantly, Revolutions has become a place for “voiceless cyclists” to take part in the dialog about improving conditions for cycling in Memphis. These aren’t what people would think of as “typical” bike riders – they don’t wear spandex, they ride heavy bicycle often weighted down with parcels they are carrying, they don’t wear helmets, they don’t have the latest gear or gadgets – but to me they represent more of what a “typical cyclist” is than many of the publicly portrayed images of cyclists today and making sure they have an opportunity to participate in the public processes and discussions that continue to shape the future of bicycling in Memphis is a major interest of mine.

Personally, my involvement at Revolutions is what prompted me to get my planning degree and pursue the line of work I am doing now, and I can see similar story lines emerging in the lives of other past and present Revolutions volunteers. Some have gone on to establish community bicycle shops in other cities, some have taken up active roles in advocacy groups that promotes cycling, others have begun work, much in the same way as I did, with governments, planning agencies, and transportation firms – attempting to work within the system to improve conditions. It’s really great to see what has come about from a bunch of folks gathering 10 hours a week to work on bikes. These folks remain some of my closest friends and nothing can beat the community building aspect to what Revolutions does.

6.  Members of the cycling community take it for granted that more and better access for cyclists makes a city better.  If you were making that point to someone who wasn’t already a cyclist, what would you tell them?

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the cycling community takes improvements for cycling for granted. I think this past year and a half has demonstrated, on a real level, that cyclists are willing to fight for better cycling accommodations, and in turn a better city. If you look at the public battles that occurred over the ARRA spending plans and then Madison Avenue after that, you’ll find that cyclists were at the forefront of those skirmishes and their support ultimately provided the city with the momentum it needed to make some drastic changes to its road development policies and procedures – both in terms of how decisions are made and ultimately how to build better public places and roadways.

Now, if someone questions how more cyclists makes for a better Memphis I ask them to consider a few things:

First, cycling in and of itself will not solve the societal and economical qualms plaguing our city. In fact, there is no silver bullet that will repel crime, blight, failing schools, high taxes, and poor public health. There are no magic solutions to any of these problems. They all require multiple holistic solutions that addresses short term needs and long term systemic change simultaneously. While no single program can impact any of these problems on its own, the small impacts from each of the programs can begin to add up and make change more real and lasting as time progresses.

Second, with the understanding that cycling cannot act alone as a change agent – cycling has the ability to positively impact many of these problems in real and measureable ways. Need to revitalize an older commercial/retail corridor? – take a look at improving bicycling and walking conditions. Concerned about the health of your neighbors? – start a weekly bike ride or walking group that gets people moving. Aggravated about parking availability at a certain Mid-South university? – ride a bike and park ride outside your classroom. Real impacts occur when enough people begin to think about the possibilities and act of them.

Finally, diversity (and the activities derived from that diversity) are what make cities great. Diversity of architecture, neighborhoods, demographics, public art, parks, culture, festivals, food choices, and even transportation choices help make a better city. Being able to wake up in the morning and choose from a variety of ways to travel to work is the mission. We’re not forcing people to ride bikes to work, we’re not forcing people to walk to the store, we’re not forcing you to use the bus – what we want is for you to have the choice to choose any of those options and be provided the same level of safety, efficiency, and accessibility regardless if you are using a car or not. Our city will only be as good as the choices we have available to us.

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

I’m a daily bike commuter – While my wife and I do own a car, I am seldom the driver of the car during the week. I handle most weekly errands just using my messenger bag and/or rear rack mount top bag on my commuter bike. I haven’t invested in panniers yet, but plan to in the near future.

For bigger cargo I have access to a nice Burly flatbed trailer that I use on occasion. Once, I staked two complete mountain bike frames on the trailer and hauled the bikes from Cooper-Young to Shelby Farms Park for an event that was taking place. I’ve even used the trailer to haul camping gear when going on overnight bike trips.
I’ve also made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stuff I carry on a regular basis to avoid back-breaking loads in my bag. Generally, just being smart about what you have to carry will help eliminate some unneeded weight.

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?

Most of what I know I learned from hanging out and riding with other cyclists. Even before the city began making investments in bike lanes, there were a dedicated group of cyclists that commuted by bike, hung out by bike, traveled the city by bike – we basically did everything by bike. Through that we learned about good routes, about new gear, and about each other. I met most of these folks through Revolutions and other bike shops.

I regularly check Fix Memphis and Biking in Memphis blogs. I also like to take a look at Cycle Chic and Streetsblog on occasion.

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

It seems like the last 5 or 6 six years have been nothing but fun cycling adventures. Riding in South Memphis and further down towards TO Fuller are some of my favorite rides. There are always people outside to say hello to. There is an intrinsic friendliness when riding in neighborhoods where people are present and you can speak to, even for a brief hello. To me, it’s much more pleasant riding in these areas of town rather than a neighborhood where everyone is shuttered up inside avoiding contact with the outside world. Oh – and there is little traffic to deal with down in southwest Memphis.

I’ve ridden north along the MRT a couple times. In fact, the week before I took the job with the city, three friends and I rode to Fort Pillow State Park and back. That was a really great time.

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

I have a Fuji Sagres fixed gear that I have been using for my daily commute lately. This was the first bike I ever built at Revolutions and I hold it in a special place.

I also have a Magnolia Cycles bike that I am currently working on that will become my new multi-speed commuter bike. I had it built by former Memphian Mike Crum and he tweaked it out for me so I could put some racks on and use it for commuting/touring purposes.

I also have a Marin mountain bike frame that I converted to a single-speed for playing bicycle polo. My wife and I had a son five months ago though and I haven’t been able to play polo since he was born. I’m eager to get back on the court though.

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

Generally speaking, no problems. Whenever I do see some mayhem occurring it usually involves the driver using a cell phone. I’m always on the lookout for the “cell phone swerve.”

My biggest qualm is when drivers do silly things to help better accommodate cyclists – like waiving them through stop signs when it isn’t their turn. One time, I was stopped at a stop sign waiting for cross traffic to clear and a driver came up behind me and rather than waiting in line, he moved to my left and stopped equal with me, blocking the other lane of traffic and completely blinding my view of traffic on my left. He had his window down and I asked him what he was trying to do here. He said that he wanted to make sure to give me enough room to wait. I had to explain to him though that he had now blocked the entire intersection and that I couldn’t go anywhere until he did. I think he got it, but it was screwy nonetheless.

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

Maybe so, but now that I am a representative of the City of Memphis, I’m not sure I can share them here …

>>>>>>

Thanks Kyle; what a great interview.  And thanks to you, my people, for reading.  I hope to resume writing again very soon.  In the meantime, I hope to see you biking in Memphis.

 

Sunday’s ride

My people.  Several times last week I had planned to have a mini biking adventure, deviating from my normal there-and-back-again ride from home to campus to home, but the weather kept thwarting my attempts.  Also, I had planned to actually do some writing last week, but my schedule and workload kept thwarting that as well.  But finally, we have a week of really nice weather ahead of us, and I have practically nothing on my to-do list.  So let’s go.

After cramming a pile of eggs and potatoes into my face at Boscos Sunday morning, I decided the time was right for a bit of biking fun.  I knew that I had several errands to run, beginning with a stop at Otherlands.  No, not for coffee, to drop several pairs of jeans into a collection bin for Thigh High Jeans.  Founded in 2009 by photographer Ann Smithwick and artist Kerry Peeples, the company accepts donations of used jeans and embroiders them with inspirational quotes and other finery.  I’m not a huge fan of their product – I guess I prefer my jeans unadorned – but I appreciate that they are recycling unwanted clothes, and that it’s a local business.  So there you go, Thigh High – four pairs of my old jeans are yours.

Here’s a shot of my cargo just before leaving the house.

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And here’s one of all the bikes parked behind Otherlands.

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Yes, that is my shadow in the picture.

After that I stopped at Easy Way for mushrooms for dinner.  Here I am, parked outside.

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Then, I stopped by the Redbox outside Ike’s to return a couple of movies – sorry, Black Lodge, but my wife picked them out.  I doubt you carry the type of chick-flick she likes anyway.

After that, I continued north on Cooper, turned left at Poplar and pedaled furiously to the entrance of Overton Park.  I was going to cruise around the park for a bit, but I decided to make a bee line for Broad Street and my next two destinations.  First up, Victory Bicycle Studios.

Co-owner Clark Butcher, photographer Nathan Berry, and some other folks were hanging out in the shop that afternoon, so after perusing the lovely merchandise, including this absolutely sick Merckx …

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(I know.  Day-um.)

I hung out and drank beer for a while.  It was great: cold beer, bikes, and good people.

After draining my High Life, I biked east on Broad to Hollywood Feed for a new tag for my dog.  Here’s my bike outside:

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And here’s the engraving machine inside:

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Then, I biked down Broad to Tillman to the Greenline, then south on High Point Terrace, around the golf course, to campus.  I had a plastic bag of recyclables to drop off.  BTW, did you know that U of M recycles damn near anything now?  Everything the city takes, we take, plus electronics, all types of plastic (not just #1 and #2), keys, cell phones, styrofoam, light bulbs, batteries, you name it.  Seriously, if you have a pile of any of that crap sitting at home and you want to get rid of it, leave a comment below.  We’ll make it happen.

OK, after the office I biked home.  Twas a lovely day on the bike.  Twelve miles total, I believe.  Here’s a map of my ride.

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Later that day I installed some interesting new bike lights, which I’ll write about later this week.  Until then, be safe, and keep biking in Memphis.

 

Cargo

Hi everyone.  This already went out over Facebook and Twitter, but I wanted to share a picture of the cargo from my ride to work yesterday.

Cargo

Don’t know what you can tell – the picture’s kind of dark – but that’s around 300 exams (mostly graded), a few books, my lunch, a book of tissues, some markers, laptop + power cord, and coffee.  Not pictured: the clothes I almost forgot to pack for class.

My ride to work was pretty uneventful, even with all that crap in my panniers.  The load was nowhere close to being balanced though, and I could feel that.  As you know, tipping is good for waiters, but bad for cyclists.

In other stuff, the Cycle Memphis February ride is this weekend.  Sadly, I’ll have to miss it, as we have company coming in town.  Have fun if you go.

February Cyclist of the Month: Matt Farr

Hi everyone.  I’m proud to post this interview with my February Cyclist of the Month, Mr. Matt Farr.  Matt is the Manager of Education and Outreach at the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, where he has directed the community engagement for the implementation of the Shelby Farms Greenline, designed and executed Bands, Bikes, and Block Parties (the Greenline grand opening event), and developed and implemented youth programs, including the annual holiday bike recycle with Revolutions Community Bike Shop and the YMCA.  He is also a the Community Engagement Chair of the Memphis-Shelby County Sustainability Advisory Committee, MPACT Memphis, the Wolf River Conservancy, Memphis Hightailers, and has lived in Costa Rica, China, the Philippines, and Singapore.  (Busy guy, right?)  He’s also a good friend of mine and is one of the most active people I know in making Memphis and Shelby County more sustainable.  Read about Matt’s experiences biking in other countries and Memphis, and how bikes make cities better places.

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(Photo credit: Nathan Berry)

1. Tell me about your bike commuting habits these days. Do you bike to work? If so, what route do you take?

I ride my bicycle to work daily.  My commute is about 2 miles and extends the length of the Wolf River Greenway, crossing the new Wolf River Pedestrian Bridge into Shelby Farms Park.  The Wolf River Connector trail then takes me straight up to the Visitor Center, where my office is located.  Some days it’s a leisurely spin, other days, when I’m feeling especially sassy, I’ll ride my mountain bike to work and pop off a few laps on the Tour D’Wolf or Wolf River Trails on the way in.

2. I know that for years you were a bike commuter on the Shelby Farms Greenline.  What was that like? How was it biking on the Greenline at night?

I commuted on the Greenline from its opening in October of 2010 until just recently, when we moved to be closer to the Park.  I was actually the only person on a bicycle at the groundbreaking of the Greenline in February of 2010, so it could be argued that I was officially the first person to ride a bicycle on the Shelby Farms Greenline.  
The Shelby Farms Greenline closes at sunset.  I would never think of riding on it at night O=-)

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

It’s always a thrill to ride downtown.  I especially like coming in on Madison.  When you’re coming down the hill from the over pass at Danny Thomas Blvd., the downtown skyline stretches before you and—if you time it right—you can stretch your arms out just far enough to give the city a big ol’ fat bicycle hug.  (Watch out for the trolley tracks at the bottom of the hill, unless you have a proclivity for making out with asphalt)

4. Given your place of employment, I can guess what your answer to this question will be, but since I’ve asked everyone else, I have to ask you too: On a scale of one to ten, how awesome is the Shelby Farms Greenline?

Um. 10. million.

The trail itself if great, but what excites me most is how the Shelby Farms Greenline has spurred Memphians to re-imagine how their city could look if improved access to bike/ped opportunities started popping up all over the place.  The Overton-Broad Connector, the Harahan Bridge Project, the Chelsea Greenline, the South Memphis Greenline, and the eastern expansion of the Shelby Farms Greenline—these projects didn’t exist prior to the opening of the Shelby Farms Greenline in 2010.  Add on top of that 35 miles of freshly striped bike lanes, and now people are beginning to see how an interconnected network of urban greenways and bike lanes can literally change the face of our city.

The Shelby Farms Greenline and all of the resulting trail projects that have followed represent much more than just a way for people to get outside and exercise.  In an urban landscape marred by socioeconomic segregation, widespread racism, and general mistrust, greenways and bike lanes offer an opportunity for community members to get in front of each other in a low-pressure, non-threatening environment.  As more and more of these amenities come into being, more communities will be connected and more members of the Memphis community will have the opportunity to experience face-to-face interaction with people they may not have ever had the chance or the impetus to get in front of.  For most, the realization will begin to occur that “hey, those folks are just like me.”  I recently travelled to Montreal with some colleagues from the University of Memphis to present a paper on just that—that’s right, legitimate academic research on BICYCLING coming straight out of the 901.  Greenways and bike lanes aren’t a magic bullet, but they can go a long way in addressing many of the societal ills that have kept Memphis down for years.

5. Madison Avenue has recently been repaved and prepared for the installation of bike lanes.  What are your thoughts on the controversy that surrounded these lanes?

In spite of all of the controversy, I am grateful for the amount of community involvement that the issue rustled up.  Some really great conversations took place throughout the year or so that the bike lanes on Madison were being discussed.  Though both sides of the controversy were guilty of leveling some unnecessary low blows, we ended up coming together and, as a community, envisioning a Madison Avenue that was about much more than bicycle lanes.

One thing is for sure, the bike/ped advocacy community learned a lot from the Madison Avenue dialogue; we have a clearer impression of the learning curve that our community must overcome when it comes to transforming Memphis into the livable, vibrant city that I know it can be.  Though bike lanes and access to safe bicycling opportunities have been proven to improve the health, economic vitality, and environment of cities around the world, I understand that this is a new concept for the Memphis community and it will take some time for everyone to get their heads around it.

6. You’ve lived in quite a few countries, like Costa Rica, China, and the Philippines.  What were your cycling experiences like there? How does biking in Singapore compare to biking in Memphis?

It’s been fascinating to see how bicycles fit into different cultures.  In places like Costa Rica and the Philippines, bicycles provide a livelihood for many people and are an integral piece of everyday life.  That trend has shifted in China; though you still see bicycles around, the old pictures of thousands of cyclists plying the streets of major cities is a thing of the past.  Snarling traffic jams and widespread pollution are now the norm.

Singapore is a great city: super clean, ultra modern, efficient, safe.  But I can’t say it extremely well-suited for bicycle commuting.  For recreational cycling, it’s great, though.  There are miles of multi use trails on the coastlines, and a great national parks system (to call it “national” is a little confusing because the city is the nation).  There’s an island called Pulau Ubin that’s about a 10 minute bumboat ride off the northeastern shore.  The island is the last “rural” place in Singapore and is home to dozens of miles of trails.  The island is also home to a sizable population of wild boar, not the friendliest creatures on earth—I’ve heard stories of boar barreling through the woods and knocking cyclists off their bikes. You usually smell them before you see them.

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

I bounce all over town on my bicycle, so I’m always picking things up or dropping things off somewhere.  I invested in some Ortlieb Back Roller Plus rear panniers last year and they have made all the difference in the world.

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?

Bike shops are great places to gather information; many of the mechanics are commuters themselves and are usually happy to fill you in on the best routes or give you pointers on what gear you might be interested in (and then try to sell it to you).

There are some really great resources out there on the interwebs.  The League of American Bicyclists (http://www.bikeleague.org/) has a great website, as does the Alliance for Biking and Walking (www.peoplepoweredmovement.org) .  A couple blogs that I follow are Taking the Lane (www.takingthelane.com) by Elly Blue and Urban Adonia (www.urbanadonia.blogspot.com) by Adonia Lugo.  Of course, my favorite blog of all time is Biking in Memphis.

I do keep company with a healthy cohort of experienced cyclists in Memphis.  If you’re looking to make some friends in the cycling community, it’s pretty easy. Step 1: get on your bike.  Step 2: ride around until you find some other cyclists.  Step 3: start talking to them.

9. Are there biking experiences you haven’t had but have wanted to try? Bike polo? Cyclocross?

I’ve done the cyclocross and bike polo thing, and excited to see these sports grow.  After coming home once with a mangled hand after an especially vigorous bike polo match, my wife has since put the kibosh on all bike polo activities until I score some gloves.  
I’ve been on a few short tours, but I would really like to go on an extended tour, perhaps along the spine of the Rocky Mountains or across Europe.

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

I have three bicycles.  My Surly Steamroller is a fixed gear that is fun to pop around town on, but not very practical for running errands or hauling cargo.  I enjoy the level of connectedness to the road that a fixed gear provides, and with such a simple and clean design, maintenance is a snap.

My Gary Fisher Rig is a single speed mountain bike with 29 inch wheels (as opposed to the standard 26 inch) and is the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels.  Most people don’t realize that you don’t really need gears for the trails we have in Memphis; I find that the simplicity of a single speed on the trail gives you the opportunity to really focus on your line and zen out.

I put most of my miles on my Kona Sutra touring bike.  I purchased this bike last year from Victory Bicycle Studio and the fit is absolutely amazing.  I’ve been riding bikes for decades, but after I got fitted on my Sutra, it was like “man, so that’s how riding a bicycle is supposed to feel.”  My Sutra takes me everywhere, and though it’s heavier than your standard road bike and not quite as nimble as a fixie, it’s built to take a beating and can haul whatever you can throw at it.

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

I treat Memphis drivers like snakes: I don’t mess with them, and they usually don’t mess with me.  There are a couple of rules that I follow.a) Assume everyone is texting and driving, because they probably are.b) Make eye contact with motorists at every opportunity.c) Never place yourself in a position that you can’t bail out of.

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

I could sit here and tell bicycle stories all night long, but those are best told over some adult libations.  I’ll leave it with this.  Memphis is capable of great things, but we’ve got to bring up our collective self esteem in order to do so.  I firmly believe that before we can really hammer out any of the (many) challenges out city faces, we’ve got to start viewing our city and ourselves in a more positive light.  There will always be jackasses and naysayers, but as a city, we must start taking pride in the place that we live.  Bicycles are a great way to build pride of place.  The psychological benefits of the healthy lifestyle that cycling provides does wonders for one’s individual outlook on life.  Whereas automobiles separate you from the city, riding a bike is a much more intimate experience—you’re able to actually see what your city has to offer, rather than mulling around in your misery from the driver seat of a car while the city blurs by.

Think about it—the inherent nature of automobiles is loud and abrasive: honking horns, screeching tires, etc.  Now think about how personal interaction takes place on a bicycle: you actually see the faces of the PEOPLE that you pass by, you might smile, wave, offer a passing hello.  In terms of building a community, bicycles offer more opportunities for positive personal interaction between community members.  Everyone’s heard of road rage. Ever heard of bike rage?  Didn’t think so.  Bikes make cities happy.

>>>>>>

There you have it, people.  What a great interview.  I’m planning to resume writing this week, as the hellishness of the past two weeks has subsided.  Until then, keep biking in Memphis.

 

End of the week links

It’s been a really busy week here at Biking in Memphis.  Despite the fact that I am teaching one fewer course, my work load hasn’t dropped a bit.  If anything, it’s increased significantly, but in new and exciting areas.  All of this is due to my new job, about which I am so excited.

Anyway, I plan to write about my experiences towing a trailer later this weekend, so in the meantime, here’s a few links I ran across this week that I really liked.

Cycle Pub?  Yes, please!  We need one of these in Memphis.  (h/t Tom)

The Joy of Biking in Mexico City.  Lovely.

Memphis has made great strides in becoming more bicycle-friendly in the past couple of years, a fact that we can all applaud.  Read about what Long Beach, California is doing. Big props, LBC.

You should read the stories linked in the first paragraph of this article before you finish it.  Everyday that I bike I try to stay aware of traffic approaching from ahead, behind, and the sides, but I know that I will never be 100% safe.  Collisions between cyclists and cars are all too common, so it’s interesting to hear the perspective of a driver (now cyclist) who was involved in a hit and run accident while behind the wheel. Chilling and telling.  I think it says a lot about human nature.

Speaking of human nature, it’s good to know that our best instincts kick in when they’re most needed.

OK, my people, I am overdue for some relaxation.  Stay safe out there my people, and I’ll write more soon.

This week so far

People.  It’s been a good week so far.  I’ve biked to campus the past two days, rather uneventfully I must say, and I ran a couple of errands yesterday.  Here’s my ride from Tuesday.

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“There and Back Again: A Cyclist’s Tale.”

Yesterday I biked to campus and back again and ran a few errands after.  Here’s that ride:

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The first of the two errands was the package store on Madison and McLean for some vino.  (I do love those bike lanes on Madison, but lately I’ve become much more aware of the likelihood of getting doored.  Got to keep my eyes open.)  The second was to the home of a certain Kyle W. (last name omitted to protect anonymity) to borrow a certain piece of biking hardware, otherwise known as a trailer.

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Boo-yah.  Imma haul some sheet today, boyee.  More on my trailer adventures later.

Also, don’t forget about tonight’s Tweed Ride!