Category: Recreational Cycling

January Cyclist of the Month: Yvette Rhoton

Happy new year everyone.  For those of you with a cycling-related New Year’s resolution – start riding more, give bike commuting a try, start riding period – you need look no further than January’s cyclist of the month for inspiration.  Yvette Rhoton is a registered nurse who lives in Midtown and bikes to work from her home.  She also is an avid mountain biker, which is made more impressive by the fact that she’s 55 years old.  (That’s the get-off-your-ass part of the interview.)  Keep reading to found out more about Yvette’s experiences biking in and around Memphis.

The muddy girl

1.  I understand that you’re a commuter cyclist as well as an avid mountain biker.  Those are quite different types of cycling.  Which one did you start doing first?  What led you to start biking to begin with?

I have a friend who does both; he actually found my first bike on the curb, a Nishiki mountain bike that was being discarded. We built it up and made it mine. I started mountain biking first..commuting came much later–after I bought my house in Midtown.

 

2.  I’ve actually never been off-road biking before, unless you count a short ride on a trail in Shelby Farms, which I don’t.  Where are your favorite places to go off road?  Any recommendations for a newbie?

 

My very favorite place in the world is in North Carolina–it’s called the Tsali Recreation Area near Robbinsville. Four mountain bike trails in two sections–they are shared trails with hikers and horses and they have alternating usage days so you aren’t sharing the trail with a horse. There is a campground on site with around 40-50 sites…so once you are there you don’t have to drive to the trail heads.  It sits on Fontana Lake. If you ever saw the movie “Nell” with Jodie Foster you were looking at ‘my’ lake. The movie was filmed in that area so it gives you a pretty good idea what the area is like.

 

Around Memphis I ride the Wolf River Trails,  the Tour De Wolf (although it’s horribly eroded) and believe it or not the trails at Overton Park are a blast to ride. Not long or technical…just fun. And that makes it a good place for newbies. But I gotta warn ya–once ya start, you’ll be hooked. :)

 

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

 

I love riding in Midtown and downtown. Riding along railroad tracks is another crazy fun thing to do. I like to ride the alleys of Midtown as fast as I can, especially on rainy spring and summer days. And early in the morning you can really get dogs stirred up!  As you can see, road riding isn’t my first choice.

 

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

 

I’ll give it a ten, but I don’t really ride it very much. It’s a great way to get to Shelby farms, but it’s more of a place for people to ride that don’t want to ride – or are afraid to ride – on the streets. For me it’s a route to a destination and not a destination in itself.

 

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?

 

Those bike lanes scare me. Cars here don’t respect us and the bike lanes really take people by surprise. I have seen cars just driving merrily along in the bike/parking lanes … scary. On the other hand, the fact that any business would have a problem with sharing with us just doesn’t make sense. I wish Memphis would look at the world at large and see what can be done. Check out Boulder, CO or Portland, OR. They know what they’re doing.

 

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?

 

Signs, signs, and more signs. And by signs I mean ‘bike lane’ and ‘yield to bikes’ etc. Public service announcements on TV. And then I would require every police officer to attend a class on bike laws and insist they give tickets to drivers who endanger a cyclist. I would also ticket cyclists for riding against traffic (DANGEROUS!!!), and for violating other traffic laws. Let’s be fair after all.

 

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

 

I have small Trek panniers for going to work and Banjo Brothers grocery panniers for grocery shopping. I can get one good grocery bags worth in each pannier and if necessary can bungee cord soda to the rack. Then there is always my backpack. You can actually get quite a bit of groceries that way.

 

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?

 

Nowhere really. I mean I follow all sorts of online stuff, but getting on my bike in the morning to go to work has become as natural to me as driving is to most people. Haven’t really felt a need to ‘get more info’ so to speak.

 

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 have had all sorts of adventures. The best ones are usually when I just set out alone and ride. In the summer it’s awesome to get up real early on a Sunday morning and take off; no traffic, quite. I’ll ride my mountain bike down to the river, cross over the Auction Street bridge and then ride down the bank to the river (that’s why I gotta have fat tires). I am always looking for an alternate off road route when I am riding. But I will admit to owning a road bike, and to even having rode it to the general store at Shelby Forest several times!

 

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

 

Two mountain and one road; all old school steel frame bikes.  The original mountain bike is now my commuter and my baby is an old school Schwinn Paramount. Prettiest damn bike in the world. Bike accessory I can’t live without….fanny pack for carrying my tools in case of a flat or a broken chain..and I have a pump that fits in the fanny pack.

 

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

 

I will say most drivers are OK–but I have had my share of idiots…the people that lay on their horns and then gun past you real fast like they are some bad ass…I mean–am I really causing you such a hardship? Do you really think you’re impressing me by your speed? Cause dude I’m on a bike–you’re in a car—you’re supposed to go faster—but I bet my legs are stronger! Ha Ha!

 

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

 

I learned how to bunny hop.  Might only be 5 inches of air but it feels like 2 feet!   Seriously—mountain biking is incredible. And did I mention I was 44 when I started? yeah–I’m 55 now and going strong. No excuse Memphis! Get out and ride:)

>>>>>>

I couldn’t have put it better myself, Yvette.  Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Happy 1st Birthday, Biking in Memphis

I can’t believe it, but it was exactly one year ago today that I wrote my very first post for this blog.  Looking back, I had no idea what 2011 would bring in terms of my biking, this blog, and the cycling community in Memphis .  So let’s take a moment and look back at the most significant events in the local scene, in no particular order.

1.  Bike lanes, bike lanes, and more bike lanes. I’ve written about the status of bike lanes in Memphis more times than I can recall, but it’s remarkable to remember that it’s been slightly more than one year since our city got it’s very first bike lanes, on Southern Avenue.  And in the past year we’ve seen lanes installed on North Parkway, Chelsea, McLean, MacLemore, and, after more drama than I care to remember, Madison Avenue.  This year we should see even more lanes striped, continuing the transformation of Memphis to a truly bike-friendly city. Along the way we will no doubt face more obstacles and detractors, but I very much feel that the wind is at our backs.  I’m very excited to see the discontinuous sections of existing lanes connected into a true cycling network.

Not only did we see more bike lanes, but we saw the cycling community in Memphis and its supporters truly galvanize behind this issue.  The Rally for Great Streets in September showed that cyclists can and will turn out in favor of bike lanes, Livable Memphis did an exceptional job of spreading the word and rallying the troops, Matt Farr launched the website bikesmeanbusiness.com and the petition drive on MadisonBikeLanes.com gave names to our numbers.  I’m really proud of my city for this, and very thankful for our local cycling activists for their hard work (Anthony, Kyle, Sarah, and Les, I’m looking at you, among many others.)

2.  The Greenline turns one. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this rails-to-trails project, not just for local cyclists, pedestrians, and runners, but for the idea that Memphis has no greater aspirations than being sedentary.  The success of the Greenline proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Memphians are eager for new opportunities to get out and move, and I’m proud that our city leaders heard those pleas.

3.  The death of Chris Davidson. It’s hard to write with eloquence about someone I never met, but as the outpouring of support for his family and loved ones clearly demonstrates, Chris touched many people and was loved by all who knew him.  The driver of the car who hit Chris has yet to be found, and might never be, which only compounds this tragedy.  I don’t know what lessons there are to be learned from this, other than take care of each other and look out for one another.

4.  Cycle Memphis group rides. Years ago, when I first started biking around town, I attended a Memphis Critical Mass group ride or two.  It was fun, but we were never much of a mass, nor were we particularly critical.  Perhaps it is not surprising, in a city known (rightly or wrongly) for a certain degree of apathy, that it would be hard to get people together for a regular group ride intended to raise awareness about cyclists in Memphis, but I’m glad that Adam and Jason had the brilliant idea of turning a group ride into a rolling party, complete with sound system and a mid-ride snack break.  I’ve ridden on 3-4 of the Cycle Memphis rides and am looking forward to many more, especially once the weather warms up and more people dust off their two-wheelers.  Now if I could just figure out how to attach a disco ball to my bike …

5.  Local bike shops grow. In the past year we’ve seen two local bike shops, Victory Bicycle Studios and Midtown Bikes, significantly expand the scale of their operations and move to new locations, and another local outdoor store, Outdoors Inc., open another bike shop at a new location.  If anyone needed proof that biking is growing in Memphis, there you have it. Best of luck to these local bike shops and all the rest.  Let’s spend lots of money there.

6.  Project: Bike Love. Local photographer and Victory Bicycle Studios employee Nathan Berry began recruiting local cyclists in the fall for a series of photographs.  The images depicted the cyclists in street clothes with their bikes, in an effort to demystify cycling as a means of transportation and recreation.  I was honored to have been nominated for the series (h/t Clark) and proud to see my picture on display with so many prominent local cyclists.  I hear there’s a book in the future from this … sign me up for a copy.  Nathan’s a fantastic photographer.  You can learn more about Project: Bike Love on facebook.

I was also honored to have been suggested for inclusion in the equally-awesome This is Memphis series of photographs.  While not limited to local cyclists, the series did feature such prominent folks as Matt Farr, Anthony Siracusa, and Kyle Wagenschutz.  Visit the website to see me in my power suit of doom.

7.  More bike rides than you can shake a stick at. In addition to the Cycle Memphis group rides, Memphians enjoyed numerous other group rides for cyclists of all ages and abilities, including the Tour de Grizz, Tweed Rides, Rock and Revolution Group Ride, Midnight Classic, and many more than I can remember.  Big props to all those who make these events happen.

8.  National recognition for Memphis. The League of American Bicyclists awarded our fair city two awards for improving our bike facilities and becoming more cycling friendly. Considering the reputation that Memphis had before, this is truly good news, and a long time coming.

9.  Funding for a Greenline to Overton Park connection and Greenline extension. The only thing better than the Greenline?  MORE Greenline!  And soon we will have just that, thanks to funding for connecting the Greenline to Overton Park via the increasingly-awesome Broad Avenue district, and even more funding to extend the Greenline east to Cordova.  Oh hells yes.

10.  Wolf River Greenway to Germantown connection. Announced back in October, by next summer Memphians will be able to ride from Midtown to Shelby Farms across the Wolf River and all the way to Germantown on dedicated bike paths.  This should make my periodic trips to the Apple Store at Saddle Creek far more enjoyable.

11.  The Harahan Bridge. We don’t yet know when bike lanes will be extended across this wonderful old bridge, but it will hopefully happen soon.  Keep up to date here.

12.  More bike blogs! OK, I don’t know when Ty at Living Loud in Midtown or Cort at Fix Memphis or Brett at Gotta Be Gritty started writing, but even if it wasn’t in 2011, I’m giving them a shout out.  Represent!

13.  I know I’m missing something, if not many things, so please remind me in the comments below.

A few more thoughts before I sign off and get ready for the Grizzlies game tonight.  Originally I had planned to continue this blog for a year and document my experiences as a commuter cyclist in Memphis.  One year and 150 posts later, I think I’m going to keep writing.  And riding.  And writing about riding.

Despite all the adventures I’ve had over the last year, there is still so much I have yet to try, so many parts of town I’ve never visited on my bike, and so much I have yet to write about.  So to give you a preview of what to look forward to in 2012, here are a couple of my New Year’s resolutions:

1.  I will try bike polo.  At least once.  I promise.  And hopefully I won’t look like a complete tool.

2.  I will volunteer at Revolutions and build my own bike there.  I’ve been wanting a road bike, something very simple and clean I can take on group rides, and I’ve been meaning to learn more about bike repair and maintenance.  Starting sometime this spring, I’m making it happen.

3.  I will introduce new features to this blog, like … nah, you’ll just have to wait.

I’d like to close by saying thanks to everyone who commented on my posts, agreed to be interviewed, went on group rides with me, and worked hard to make Memphis the bike town we know it should be.  I’ve met a lot of great people in 2011 and I look forward to more of the same in 2012.  In the meantime, let’s all keep biking in Memphis.

December Cyclist of the Month: Steven Wray

Hi everyone.  I’m a little late in posting my interview with Steven Wray, December’s Cyclist of the Month.  Steven’s a great guy; we rode together for a while at Cycle Memphis 2.0. He also has some really interesting stories about being a native Memphian and biking around our town for decades.

Steven jpg

Biking in Memphis: I understand that you have quite a storied life as a cyclist.  Can you give my readers a quick summary of your life on a bike?  Any great (or not so great) stories you’d like to share?

Steven Wray: Biking has been a major part of my life since I started trick riding and racing BMX when I was 12 or 13.  There have been times where my passion has faded somewhat such as turning 16 and being lured by automotive culture or when I became a husband and parent all at once and forgot what free time was. But the passion always comes back, stronger than before, usually with a new focus.  In college it was mountain biking.   After a major accident I had on a motorcycle it was road biking.  Now it is mostly utility/transportation cycling with recreation rides as a bonus when I have the time.  I’m already looking ahead for retirement when my wife & I plan to see the world by bike via long distance touring.  

BIM: You’re a native Memphian, so you’ve been witness to the evolution of our city to the increasingly-bike-friendly town happen over the years.  I hear many people say that these changes have been accelerating lately.  Do you find this to be true?  What was it like biking in Memphis 20 years ago?

SW: I do find that in the last few years tremendous advances in bike friendliness in the city have been made, mainly due to several committed individuals, several have been mentioned on your blog.   That being said, the city beforehand had nowhere to go but up.  I’m nervous that city officials will look at miles of bike lanes added in the past year and the recent bronze status given to the city by the League of American Bicyclists as ‘mission accomplished’ and move on too other priorities, especially as 2008 stimulus moneys run out.  
Although I was hit by a car and broke my knee-cap when I was 14, riding in Memphis 20 years ago seemed much safer than today.  I used to ride to the Kennedy Park BMX track in Raleigh and the Southaven, Mississippi BMX track often in the same day, many days a week and I would take the main arteries cause it was all about the destination.  It was not unusual for me to put 50-75 miles a day on my single-speed BMX bike (editor: WOW), and my only real fear was flatting.  From my perception cycling didn’t become too hazardous until the mid ‘90s.

Steven bmx1 jpg

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

SW: Other than hitting the Greenline I wouldn’t say I have any favorite routes.  In fact, I try to never duplicate the exact route to any given destination again.  I have a mapping program that catalogs my rides, kind of like iTunes for GPS tracks, and I try to fill in areas and go down streets I’ve never been before.

Gps tracks

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

SW: I’d give the Greenline a solid 9.  I think it has the potential of being the greatest addition Memphis has made in my lifetime, but I can’t quite give it a 10 until it has lights.  I look at resources for cyclists with a transportation rather than recreation mind-set, and until it is lighted it will be limited as a transportation alternative. Since I’m at work before sunrise it eliminates it as route to work. Also since daylight savings time ended back in November, the omission of lights has affected me several times, getting caught out east running errands in fading light, during rush hour. 

BIM: 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?

SW: I attended all the public meetings that were held at Minglewood Hall, and was very perplexed at some of the business’ opposition.  If you look at other cities that have transformed their streets towards pedestrian and cycle friendliness, the local businesses fared very well as their streets became destinations rather than just thoroughfares.   I have to say I was shocked on a recent ride when I saw the fresh lanes on Madison with the 3-lane option.  I just knew it was a fight that we were going to lose from the mood of the meetings I attended.    

BIM: 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?

SW: I could rant on about how I’d love to tax those who live outside the city’s tax base that drive in, causing congestion and taking local jobs, but I’d probably make sure that every school has bike parking and safe routes to school.  Possibly even offer financial incentives for families of kids who do.  People are very reluctant to change, and the best way to make a real change is with the next generation.  

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

SW: I was a serious work commuter for several years before realizing that it didn’t fit my kids and my schedule very well, as I work close to their schools and they have to be picked up right after work.  I now drive to work and pick up the kids afterwards then run most of my errands via bike.  This has reduced my auto mileage by about 20%, and I’m riding more miles than I did when I commuted regularly.  Year to date 79.3% of my total cycling mileage has been replacing an errand normally accomplished by car.

I have a pair of waterproof Ortlieb Backroller Classic panniers that are probably the best cycling accessory I’ve ever had.  I bought them to keep my laptop dry, but at least one never leaves my bike.   But one of our biggest weekly errands is a Costco trip, and the panniers just can’t hold 40lbs worth of groceries.  This was solved when I had Cort at Peddler order a Bob trailer for me.  It and the Greenline have made the trip to Costco almost effortless, and the 25.4 mile round trip has become a highlight of my week instead of the drudgery it was by car.  Bob is perfect for the farmer’s market, as it’s hard to fit a watermelon in a pannier!  Bob is also a great bike advocate, as he always draws attention and questions, especially out east.

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

SW: I’m kind of a blog nut.  The nature of my job is I have a lot down time in between moments of insanity, so I use the down time to regularly follow probably 25+ cycle blogs.  Of course my favorites are local blogs like yours and others such as fixmemphis as the information is much more relevant to actually Biking in Memphis, but there are many others. Unfortunately one of my favorites, ecovelo.info is ceasing to provide new content, although they plan to remain up for a couple of years as a resource with their past articles.   I subscribe to a couple of cycle magazines, but one really stands out for my type of cycling and that’s Bicycle Times.   Two cycling organizations that I’m a member of are both great resources, The Memphis Hightailers and The Adventure Cycling Association.  

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

SW: Living within 1/2 mile of the Greenline usually means most of the cycling adventures start and end on the Greenline, although the T.O. Fuller State Park has been a destination several times.   I love the route taken by the Memphis Hightailers on the Tour de La Grange, and it is a favorite destination when my wife & I load up the bikes and head to the country.  We are hoping to do at least a week on the Natchez Trace this summer if work permits.

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

SW: I have two bikes, one is my special occasion group ride bike, a 1995 GT Force, which I’ve owned since new and just rebuilt this year.  My primary bike is a generic Nashbar (I know it’s a dirty word) touring bike that has slowly evolved.  My plan is/was to get all the parts as I wanted and then to get a really good frame.  Well, the components are pretty much there, but I’m in no hurry to replace the frame as it has provided a great dependable foundation for about 2000 miles now.  The one accessory I just can’t ride without is a GPS.  I was a geography major in college and I love maps and mapping.  I log every mile I ride and I’m hopeless without it, as was made clear when my trusty Garmin finally died recently.

BIM: What about drivers in Memphis?  How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

SW: I’m guilty of trashing Memphis drivers and I do have enough stainless steel in my body to prove my point, but for the most part they’re OK.  A few bad apples always spoil the bunch. I know before the Greenline opened, there were few points for a cyclist to safely go east out of the 240-loop.  Back then I’d use Summer Ave, and MANY people would get upset, honking, flipping me off and yelling to get on the sidewalk.  Lately, besides the occasional jerk, I mostly get honks.  They startle me, but I think that it just a reaction from someone not paying attention and then panics when they suddenly see a cyclist in the road.

BIM: Any other stories you’d like to share?

SW: Two quick stories that emphases the need for more than just infrastructure advances, but also advances in cycling education, in theses cases, education of law enforcement.

The first happened when my wife and I were riding from Mud Island to T.O. Fuller on a deserted weekday morning using a route used by many including the Hightailers and actually on a section of the MRT.  We were pulled over by a Shelby County motorcycle officer and told we couldn’t be in the road and had to ride on the shoulder.  His was polite, but when I pointed out the fact that the shoulder consisted of broken concrete and debris, he stated that it wasn’t his concern and if he sees us again in the road he would confiscate our bikes.

In the whole 5-minute altercation exactly two cars past us in the direction we were headed, that’s how deserted the road was, so we were obviously not an impediment to traffic.
The next story was when I was pulled over in the rain at 5:15am on National Ride Your Bike to Work 2010 on Poplar near Highland.  At this time of the morning traffic on Poplar is virtually nonexistent and I was running dual headlights and dual flashing taillights and even had a blinking light on my helmet.   It was obvious that the officer was genuinely concerned with my safety, and couldn’t understand why I was resistant to his suggestion of riding on the sidewalk.

Again I believe that both officers were motivated by genuine concern for my safety, but were completely unaware to the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

>>>>>>

Thanks for the interview, Steven.  I really enjoyed hearing the stories about cycling around town years ago.  Stay tuned for more such stories about biking in Memphis.

The Bike Lanes on Madison

My people.  By now you are likely aware that, yes, bike lanes are being installed on Madison Avenue.  In fact, you might have noticed that the bike lanes have already been striped and that, absent a few additional signs and markings, the issue is pretty much done.  You might have participated in the numerous facebook events centered around celebrating these new lanes.  You might have watched the absurd waste of time that was the City Council’s discussion of the impact of the bike lanes.  You might even have attended one or more of those meetings.  Major kudos to you if you did – it was especially awesome watching the video of all of the bike lane supporters in the smaller public-works committee meeting.  I very much wanted to, but due to my work load at the time, I was unable to.  So I watched the meetings from my office at home, hunched over a stack of exams needing to be graded, no doubt.

So, now that our city has achieved a huge victory and step forward – and there are many people who deserve credit and thanks for helping to make this happen – I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the bike lanes, and where we go from here.

1. The first test of having bike lanes approved on a major commercial corridor in Memphis is over … for now.

By the end of the discussion at the full City Council meeting about the bike lanes, where Mike Cooper (from Mercury Valet Cleaners) and a couple of other anti-lane advocates spoke (plus quite a few wonderful pro-lane people), I could hear the tiredness in his voice.  Clearly, he was sick of talking about this issue, a sentiment shared by many, including me.  He even hoped that the issue would not permanently divide the city; many others share that hope too.  Indeed, the only person who seemed to be fired up about the issue was Councilwoman Fullilove, who is to be commended for caring so much about businesses in parts of town outside of her district.

What concerns me is the open-ended promise that the city would look into the revenues earned by businesses on Madison in a year’s time or so, to see if the the lanes were having an adverse effect on those businesses.  It’s probably no big deal; once everybody sees that the lanes did not have a measurably negative impact on Madison, we’ll all move on.  Except that the U.S. economy is hardly chugging along right now, and with the situation in Europe deteriorating rapidly, we face the very real possibility of a second recession in the near future.  I’m hoping that a European financial crisis can be avoided, but if not, both the real and financial sectors in our economy will be hit.  How hard remains to be seen, but Memphis will certainly not escape the damage.

So here’s the situation that worries me: Europe implodes, creating a wave of financial sector panic and the accompanying restrictions in lending.  The U.S. economy follows Europe’s down the water slide, only this time there is less appetite for stimulus and, at least from a fiscal perspective, if not monetary as well, less ability to employ it.  Businesses on Madison begin to suffer; some close.  And guess what … some tool bag blames the bike lanes.

Most likely this would happen in the comments section of a CA article, but if Fullilove and her minions got a hold of it, it could grow legs, at least in terms of the discussion about where else to install the lanes.  I think the likelihood of there being any significant fall-out is pretty low; there will by then be other roads with bike lanes, and certainly businesses outside of Madison would be affected if we entered another recession, throwing doubt on any claim that the bike lanes themselves were the problem.

But we’ve already seen this lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.  The day of the debacle in Council chambers, Fullilove mentioned repeatedly that some business on Madison had already experienced a significant drop in revenue … and the bike lanes weren’t even installed yet! Unbelievable.  Repaving does tend to disrupt traffic, you know.

2.  The process of integrating bike lanes on a major commercial corridor is by no means over.  In fact, it is just beginning.

As I mentioned above, the lanes on Madison are not 100% complete yet.  On-street cyclist icons are sorely needed, intersections need crosswalks, signs, and so on.  Just this past weekend my wife and I drove (I know … I know) up to Boscos for brunch.  As we were walking down the sidewalk along the north side of Madison, we could see numerous cars, trucks, and SUVs heading west on Madison without a clue about what was a bike lane and what wasn’t.  (In fact, I was a little confused myself.  I didn’t think we were getting bike lanes on that stretch of Madison, but I’m certainly not going to complain about them being there.)  I know that many of these issues will go away when the street is appropriately marked and signed and all that, but I also suspect that the drivers who frequent Madison Avenue will need a bit more time to adjust to the (hopefully) frequent cyclists they encounter.  It makes me want to bike Madison once or twice a day just to move along the acclimation process.

What we also need is effective enforcement of existing regulations governing bike lanes.  I bike to campus nearly every day on Southern, and hardly a week goes by when I don’t see some vehicular violation of the bike lanes.  Cars and trucks – often municipal vehicles – parked in bike lanes; drivers using bike lanes as turning or passing lanes; to say nothing of the sheer amount of gravel and detritus that accumulates along the side of the road, though that’s not a violation per se.  We need to have MPD officers trained on what sort of driver behaviors constitute violations of laws surrounding bike lanes.  I still remember, not long after the bike lanes were striped on Southern, I was biking home from school when I encountered a car parked in the bike lane not one block from my house.  Perhaps because I was new to the lanes, I called the police when I got home to report the violation.  The officer I spoke to did not even know that there was a violation.  Fortunately I was able to cite the number of the local ordinance that rendered parking in a bike lane illegal, but I still see people doing it nearly every week.

Look, I know that out local police have more pressing matters than monitoring bike lanes for vehicles, but if local drivers are going to understand what is and is not acceptable behavior in regard to the bike lanes, we need the police to write a few tickets.  Visible signs and cyclist persistence will also help.

UPDATE: Apparently the police are stopping people for driving in the bike lanes on Madison!  (h/t Ty)

3.  Memphis is taking the first steps toward becoming a truly bike-friendly town, and we have many more to take.

In the past year or so our city has added something like 30 miles of bike lanes, and we are due for many more than that.  Compared to the total miles of lanes in Memphis, that’s a relatively small number, but I’m not even worried about that.  I’m just so excited about the lanes we have – knowing that more are on the way is like Christmas every day.

And I hear that the future waves of lanes will be installed with an eye toward connecting the existing lanes and creating a network of lanes, from what is now a somewhat discontinuous collection of lanes.  To be sure, we should celebrate this collection, because they are the best evidence of our evolution to a truly bike-friendly town.  As more lanes are installed, it will become ever easier for cyclists to navigate from home to school, school to work, and neighborhood to neighborhood.  This is what I am most excited about.

In the past month, I’ve visited two other cities which are further along in their evolution toward being truly bike-friendly: Chicago and Washington, D.C.  (In fact, I’m finishing this blog in DC.)  Washington has a very popular bike-sharing program – more on that later – and both cities have extensive bike lanes, at least in the neighborhoods I frequented.  I am very excited about Memphis adding additional facilities and becoming just as bike friendly, if not more, than these two cities.

So what else do we need?  Here’s a short list:

  • More bike lanes.  Those are coming soon.
  • A city-wide bike rental program.  I hear good things on this front.  More to come.
  • Bike rental programs at local colleges and universities.  Rhodes has one, CBU I’m not sure, and U of M … optimistic.
  • More bike polo players, more fixie enthusiasts, more distance riders, more casual/comfort riders, and more bike commuters.  More of everyone and everything.  The more diverse our scene becomes, the more mature the community is.  Hell, let’s have even more tall bikes.  And, more Cycle Memphis group rides.  I look forward to them every month.
  • More enforcement and education about biking and cyclist safety.  This goes for drivers and cyclists alike.
  • The occasional street-sweeping of the bike lanes.  I know, I know – many needs, few resources, but few things suck worse than wet leaves.
  • More bike bloggers!  I have great respect for the good people at Living Loud in Midtown, Fix Memphis, and Gotta be Gritty, but there are dozens of cyclists with hundreds of stories that are not now being told.  Keep in mind that I’ve been writing this blog for less than one year.  What stories do you have?  I’d love to read them.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Weekend wrap-up

People.  I have good news (and bad) for the Memphis biking community: the Shelby Farms Greenline will be receiving $3.3 million to be extended east to Cordova.  This is awesome.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to Cordova in the five years I’ve lived in Memphis.  With this new cycling path, perhaps my visits out east will become more frequent.

But here’s the bad news: $1.1 million for a bike-lane project on Broad Avenue was declined.  I don’t know what this means for extending the Greenline west to Midtown – whether or not other sources of funds for this project have been identified – but it’s a drag to have this initiative not receive funding.

Have you registered for the Bluff City Blues 100?  I haven’t, but only because I’ll be out of town that day.  Get on that ride and support a good cause.

I’m not so crazy about e-bikes – I like an unassisted ride – but if I were to buy one, this might just be the one.

…..

Dear Santa,

I promise I’ve been a good boy this year.  I ate all my vegetables and made my bed every day.  Now just bring me some MonkeyLectric Lights and there won’t be any problems, fat man. Capiche?  Because I’ve got a u-lock with your name on it otherwise.

Love,

Doug

…..

A bicycle mecca?  Yes, please.  Also, I did not realize that Anthony Siracusa rode across the entire freakin’ US of A when he was only 16.  FTW, Anthony.

Don’t forget that funding for cycling projects is never guaranteed.  It’s a shame that we have to fight for these dollars.  Don’t hesitate to contact your local Congressional representative.

Drivers, be nice out there.

So, what is the difference between cyclists and drivers?  At least in my state we have equal rights to the roads?  Is there any reason to classify us differently?  I think not.

Big thanks to Cort and Ty for helping me promote Bike to Campus Day.  I hope to see you all there.  Let’s all show that Memphis is a cycling-friendly and active town.

Yesterday and today

Hi everyone.  I’ve been a bit slack in my writing in the past couple of weeks, but with good reason.  Fall semester began just under two weeks ago and, no matter how much preparation I do, there’s always 1,000,000 tasks that need to be completed in the first days of the term.  That, plus being taken out of commission for a few days due to some weird, random abdominal pains, I haven’t felt like writing much.  This means that I have an ever-growing backlog of daily rides, articles, and special events to write about.  (It’s good to know that I’ll never run out of fodder for posts.)  So I’ll knock out a couple of them right now.

Last night was the third Cycle Memphis group ride.  Last month’s event was ridiculously fun, so I arrived at the gazebo at the intersection of Cooper and Young with high expectations for this month’s ride.  I’ve learned to accept that group bike rides will often start a minute or two later than advertised; this just means more time for socializing.  Once the ride began we set off from Cooper-Young and headed down Young Avenue to Barksdale.  We then biked north to … well, just check out the map.

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And here’s a clickable link.

So basically, we biked through Midtown to the north end of downtown, then down 2nd Street to Court Square Park.  There we rested for moment, took a group picture or two, then headed south again on 2nd Street.  I loved biking past the throngs of people in downtown – hell, I just loved seeing throngs of people in downtown – and waving to them.  It was really great to see the stares and hear the comments from bystanders.

The best part of the ride?  Hands down it was biking on Riverside Drive.  Honestly, I was a little nervous about it at first.  When traffic is heavy on that road there’s not much room to move if things get heavy.  But coming down the bluff and seeing the river and the bridges come into view … it was really amazing.  The fact that Kanye West was playing on the mobile sound system only added to the awesomeness.

After a stop or two to fix a flat tire we headed back to Cooper-Young.  Quite a few people dropped off the ride before the end; the crowd at the gazebo was a bit smaller than last time. And sadly there was no spontaneous dance party.  But that’s OK.  There’s always next time.

Other coolness from the ride: I finally met Ty from Living Loud in Midtown!  I was waiting at the intersection of Linden and Cleveland for cyclists to pass when another rider stopped with me.  We continued on and chatted and, lo and behold, it was Ty.  He recognized me from my blog.  It was really cool meeting a fellow cyclist and blogger.  Ty: let’s have a beer soon, and thanks for the shout-out.

I arrived home from the ride and promptly went to bed.  (OK fine … I actually sat outside and read for a bit while swatting away mosquitos.  I think I crashed around 2:00 AM.)  But today began sometime this morning, and so I decided to run a few errands on the bike.

Errand #1: take a huge pile of mixed-paper recyclables to the recycling bins at First Congo.  The reason: the pile of magazines on and under our coffee table was getting a little ridiculous.  So I decided to load those magazines into my panniers and dump them.  My best guess is that each pannier weighed about 30 pounds fully loaded.  That made my bike ride to the recycling center quite fun.  Here’s a few pictures.

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Yep, that’s a lotta paper.

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Close-up of pannier #1.  Quite a load, right?

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Feed me, Seymour!

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And a little more for my messenger bag.

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Ahhhh … much better.

Next I headed to the Easy Way on Cooper for a few veggies.  Here’s the scene.

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Nice parking job, if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, Easy Way doesn’t open until noon on Sunday, so I had to wait for about an hour to complete my shopping.  Hello, Otherlands!

Here’s a map of my ride today.

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Nice and boring, just like I like it.

Memphis, I hope your weekend was as good as mine.  Look for more stories about biking in Memphis soon.  Good night.

Rides so far this week

I’ve biked two days this week, Tuesday and Wednesday, as I elected to work from home Monday and today.  (BTW, these days are soon to come to an end – classes start next week.)  It’s been a pretty uneventful week thus far although I have had some fun experiences.

Tuesday … wait, actually I worked from home Tuesday as well.  But I had a meeting that afternoon with our local insurance guy about … life insurance.  Gawd.  Just writing that makes me feel old.  But, given the fact that if either my wife or I died, leaving the other to fend for him/herself, the surviving spouse would be pretty much fucked financially, we decided it was a good idea to get insured.  Also, I’m getting disability insurance, in case something bad happens to me while biking.  (And the Oscar for most depressing blog post goes to … )

After an hour or so of listening to the fine points of term life, whole life, universal life, and other things I promptly forgot, I stopped by the house for a minute before heading to the University district for the Peddler’s Tuesday night ride.  I hadn’t ridden one in a long time, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long.  The main reason for my participation was that a friend of mine is considering buying a bike, so I took him to the Peddler to shop for one.  He found a really beautiful bike for not that much; can’t remember the model though.  He had fun on the ride but was rather exhausted by the time we returned.

The best part of the ride was a family of two parents with three kids, two boys and a girl.  The girl slept in a trailer her parents pulled for most of the ride – she was maybe two years old – but her brothers rode the entire distance to Overton Park and most of the way back.  And they were maybe four and six.  Seriously.  They were flying.  It was awesome.

Anyway, here’s a map of the day’s ride.

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Wednesday I was in meetings most of the day, but I biked to work and then home nonetheless.  I felt really crappy when I got home, allergies maybe, so I had to bail on a dinner with friends.  But the ride was fun at least.  Here’s a map.

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I had to run an errand at Poplar Plaza, hence the funny route home.

So, Tuesday’s ride was 17.4 miles and Wednesday’s was 9.11.  Not bad for a slow week.  I’m sure cycling and writing will pick up next week, when I’ll have to go to the office almost every day.  Seriously.  I know.

Until then, happy biking, and be safe.

Weekend Wrap-Up

I’ve been meaning to mention how much I love the new Reading List feature in Safari.  It’s made collecting links for my weekly wrap-up considerably easier.  I know, there’s probably some Firefox plugin that does it 10x better, but I am after all a creature of habit.  Safari became my default browser around the time it first showed up in my Dock.  So there.

OK, on with the news.  Pleasanton, California deserves big props for using microwave technology to protect cyclists.  Microwaves: not just for burritos anymore.

The effort to get bike lanes on Madison – seriously, I think those are probably the words most commonly used together on this blog – continues.  Visit the blog and sign the petition if you haven’t, please.  Here’s a great article by the creator of said blog and petition.  Hat tip to Les Edwards everyone.

The Memphis MPO wants your pictures.

It’s good to know that North Carolina appreciates complete streets.  So do Tupelo and Hernando.  Hopefully Memphis will too.

Have you heard of Drag’n Frozen Treats?  No?  Well, you have now.  Hit up the dude for some heat-beating treats.

This is awesome.  (h/t Cort).  So is this.

So it looks like bike lanes aren’t that bad after all.

Haters gonna hate.  Also, biking in a skirt is really, really bad.

Yes, please.

The good people over at Operation Broken Silence are organizing a Ride for Refuge bike ride on 5 November at Shelby Farms.  I hope to be there, but my morning is already booked and the ride leaves at 1:00 PM.  It’ll be a stretch, but if I can be there, I will be.  You should be too.  (h/t Ryan)

And then there’s this.  Suffice to say that I will have more to say in the coming days.  Stay tuned, my people.

(Very delayed) Weekend Wrap-Up

First of all, as I indicated at the end of my next-to-last post, I had planned to participate in a bike polo match for the first time tonight, having been invited by local bike polo aficionado Brett Edmonds.  As it happened, I decided to bow out, instead choosing to spend a day getting stuff done and hanging out with the wife.  It was a day much needed and well spent.  (Even “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was not as abysmal as I thought it would be.)

But beyond that, I have quite a few links and articles to share with you.  So let’s get started.

First, here’s a great letter to the editors of the Commercial Appeal about the need for improvements to Madison Avenue.  While the letter does not explicitly mention bike lanes, the fact that it was written by a Midtown business owner gives it additional credence.  Let’s hope that the writer’s vision comes to fruition.

Did you ever think that Car and Driver magazine would endorse alternate transportation systems?  Well, they have.  And kudos to them for that.

Some really awesome (and adventurous) people are cycling across the U.S. in super-awesome velomobiles.  While they won’t be stopping in Memphis, I am impressed with their efforts. Especially considering this book, which I finished a few weeks ago.  I will likely complain many times about the state of roads in Memphis (Cooper Street just north of Central, in the far-right southbound lane; Linden Avenue heading into downtown … the list goes on), but I will do so with the understanding that many past cyclists had it far worse than I ever will.

This woman is awesome.  I don’t know that I would have had the guts that she did.

It’s hard to believe that the Shelby Farms Greenline is less than one year old.  Honestly, it feels like it’s been around for years, and I haven’t even biked it that many times.  Whatever the case, there is a half-marathon scheduled for Sunday, 2 October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its (official) opening, plus a day-long party on the Greenline the day before.  I’ll be at the latter for sure, but probably not the former.

Cort over at Fix Memphis continues his heroic and awesome quest to chronicle every bike rack in the whole damn city.  That’s a lot of pedaling.

My wife and I have no immediate plans to have kids, but if/when we do, I want a cargo bike like this lady has.  How ridiculously awesome/adorable is that?

Charles McVean is also awesome.  The CA agrees.  So does this cyclist.

In other Cort news, here’s a great discussion on bike cargo transportation-solutions.  Makes me want a bike trailer even more.

Yep.

If the Harahan Bridge project should go through, here’s a snapshot of what it might mean for Memphis.  Granted, the mid-south is not the mid-west, but drawing more tourists to the area can only be a good thing.  Here’s more about the project.

I’m glad to see that slow biking is getting some attention.  Granted, I had not heard of this idea before reading that article, but it’s good that some people are recognizing the benefits of biking, in terms of allowing (if not encouraging) us to slow down and take in our surroundings and communities.

The awesome people at Livable Memphis are sponsoring a discussion on Portland, Oregon and it’s livability.  It’s scheduled for Tuesday, 16 August, from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM at the Benjamin Hooks LIbrary on Poplar.  I don’t know if I will be there, but maybe you should be.

Biking to work keeps getting more awesome.

People, be careful out there.

OK, that’s all for now.  I’m heading out of town on Wednesday so my biking (and blogging) this week will be somewhat limited.  But I’ll be back soon.  Thanks for reading.