Category: Techniques

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.

BicyclePotato

(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.

Quick links

My people.  I feel like I haven’t blogged in weeks because, oh yeah, I haven’t blogged in weeks.  So to remedy that situation, I present to you the following links that have been occupying my browser’s tabs for the last week or so.

Ahem.

Handmade bike bags?  Yes, please! (h/t Leah)

I’m not going to argue that the number of used bikes for sale in the local Craigslist (per capita, that is) is the best way to measure the “best” cities for cycling, but it is interesting to see that Portland is only number 3 on the list.

Speaking of used bikes, curious about what that old Bianchi in the garage is worth?  Here you go.

Speaking of used bike prices, turns out that the cities with the highest used bike prices also have the lowest used car prices.  Neat.

OK, the indices are getting a little ridiculous, but here’s one measuring the hipster quotient of the five New York boroughs by, you guessed it, the number of fixies for sale in each of them.  I assume a skinny-jeans index is not too far behind.

Here’s a great article about how to normalize cycling, courtesy some guy named Anthony you might have met.

Green bike lanes?  I’d vote for Tiger blue in Memphis, or maybe blue and gold (for the Grizzlies), or maybe barbecue-sauce red.

Down with cycling myths!

OK – that’s all for now.  More next week I promise.

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.

Gloves

Anyone have a recommendation for good cold-weather cycling gloves?  I have some Christmas $$$ cash to spend and the Eddie Bauer fleece gloves I’ve been using don’t cut it. They make my hands too sweaty and take days to fully dry.

Please leave your recommendations in the comments.  Thanks!

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.

Catching up: Round 2

You might have heard about the east Tennessee mom who was threatened with arrest on charges of child endangerment for allowing her 10-year-old daughter to smoke cigarettes and bring vodka to school in her lunch thermos ride her bike to school.  The story appears to have broken on Bike Walk Tennessee‘s blog. (Here’s a follow-up post from the same source.)

Then the story was picked up by Bike Portland’s wonderful blog and a couple of other sources.  The local newspaper reported that the issue had been resolved, a matter that the mother disputes.  The officers in question also claim that “no one has ever told this child she could not ride her bike,” a claim that also appears to be in dispute.  (You can read the full police report here.)

The girl in question had been kicked off her bus for bad behavior – perhaps she was advocating cycling to her seatmate? – and after consulting with her mom and taking a bike safety course, was allowed to bike to her school, which she soon grew to love.  The officer in question observed the girl biking in traffic near a bus and some cars and decided that it was an unsafe situation.  (Never mind that the best way to improve safety for cyclists is not to ban them from the road, but to accept them and create facilities to encourage safe biking and respectful driving.)  That was when the officer paid and visit to the girl’s mother and initiated a Child Protective Services report.  And here we are.

Apparently it is not uncommon for school kids to be forbidden from biking to school.  I remember when I was growing up in west Knoxville wishing that I could bike from my home to school. I knew of a few backyard-short-cuts that could get me part of the way there, but Knoxville, laid out as it is, with one primary east-west corridor, offered few safe routes for young ones to bike around town, outside of their respective neighborhoods.  (I don’t know if Knoxville has changed in the past few years; the time period I’m speaking of here was the early 1980s.)  But given the rampant problem that is childhood obesity – to put this in perspective, when I typed “childhood” into the Google search bar in my browser, “childhood obesity” was the first result that appeared; not “childhood” by itself, or even “childhood games” or someone nice like that, but “childhood obesity” – it seems a little shortsighted to deliberately limit physical activity for our young ones.

I have no doubt that the officer was well-intentioned in his actions, and that everyone involved in this debacle is legitimately concerned about this girl’s safety.  If one is not used to seeing cyclists using streets that they have every right to use, I imagine it could be a little shocking to see a girl biking to school.  But is her biking really the problem?  Is her mother really a bad parent for allowing her daughter to ride a bike on what appears to be mostly residential streets?  Yes, cars and buses also use these streets, but if any roads are to be shared among all users, shouldn’t it be these?

I would put forth that the real problem is two-fold.  One, parents today appear to be far less tolerant of risk when it comes to their children than they were even in my youth.  I never ever owned a bike helmet or any protective gear when I was a kid, and while I rode almost entirely on safe residential streets with little traffic, it doesn’t always take a car to cause an accident.  I probably still have scars on my knees from all the spills I took.  Today, I see hardly a child without a bike helmet.  This is of course good, but concerns about safety can be taken too far.

The other and more important issue here is that cycling continues to be marginalized behavior.  Sure, many cities have made great strides in improving cyclist safety and building facilities for bikes.  This is great.  But this is in the face of an ever-greater penetration of the internal combustion engine into our lives and public policies.  Funding for cycling facilities continues to be tenuous and regarded as optional, or frivolous.  Cyclists continue to fight for respect and equal access to the roads, even in pro-cycling regions like Portland.

We’ve seen this here in Memphis, with the continued fight over bike lanes on Madison Avenue.  Cyclists are (wrongly) perceived as being bad for business or as not having a legitimate place on our roads.  It remains to be seen how this particular issue will be resolved, but for the time being, cyclists of all ages will continue to have an uphill battle (or ride) in claiming their rightful place on the streets.

September Cyclist of the Month: Joe Wieronski

Everyone, please say hello to the September Cyclist of the Month, Joe Wieronski.  Joe is an architect with Askew Nixon Ferguson and a bike commuter in Memphis.

Joe wieronski with bike

I sent Joe a list of questions about his experiences as a cyclist in Memphis; here’s what he had to say.

1.  Let’s start at the beginning.  I understand that you bike to work?  How long have you been doing that?

I do bike to work when I can; if I have meetings outside the office, I drive my hybrid.  I’ve been biking to work for a few years now.

2.  What were the main concerns or fears you had when you first started cycling?

Falling off when I was a kid; later riding on the road with cars.

How has your actual experience on the road compared to your expectations of what it would be like?

Pretty good, no major problems except when I wasn’t paying attention and ran over a biker who fell off their bike.  I love biking on the road, you experience so much more than driving in a car.

3.  How long is your commute to work?

Very short, it’s just a mile and a half.

What route do you follow?

I follow the back roads through neighborhoods with lots of trees.  That makes it much cooler in the hot summer.

Do you cross or ride on any roads that are particularly well suited for cycling?

I don’t hit the Greenline on my way to work but neighborhood roads are great for cycling.

Any that are not so well suited?

Poplar is not, but I only have to cross it, not travel along it.

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

10+.  Everyone should take advantage of this great amenity we have in our city, we are very lucky.

5.  If you could identify any single road where you would like to see bike lanes installed, which one would it be?

Complete the Greenline to downtown and Madison should be bike friendly too.

How would that make your life as a commuter cyclist better?

It would be easier for me to hit the Greenline from my midtown house and, as far as Madison, I believe it would pump life into that area in many more ways than we can see at present.

6.  Do you run any errands on your bike?

I do from time to time, but mostly just to get frozen yogurt for a biking break.

How do you handle cargo?

I have a pack that attaches to the back of my bike, giving me plenty of cargo room for now.  My iPad (for work) will easily fit along with a change of clothes if needed.

Have you invested in any panniers?

That’s my next investment.

7.  Where do you go for information about bike commuting?

The Memphis Hightailers is a great resource along with Livable Memphis and others.

Are there websites you consult?

Memphishightailers.com and livablememphis.org.

What about friends in the area who are experienced cyclists?

There are so many friends and acquaintances that I make everyday from biking, all who are glad to give you pointers and to be riding partners.  There are many weekly rides, such as the one that leaves every Tuesday from the Peddler Bike Shop.

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

I’ve biked to Shelby Farms from midtown and midtown to downtown many times but one of my most memorable adventures was a MS 150 I did a while back.  The first day was a great 75 mile ride, the second day started out OK but soon started raining and lightning about 10 miles into the ride, that’s when I caught a ride back to Memphis in the back of a covered truck.

9.  What kind of bike do you have?

I have a Trek 7.2.

Are there any biking accessories you can’t live without?

My helmet and lights for night riding.

10.  What about drivers in Memphis?

I have not had a problem but I’m always looking out for the other guy, cars are much bigger than me and my bike.

How friendly are they to commuter cyclists?

So far so good but I did have a homeless person throw an empty beer can at me once, I think I was on their turf.

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

The only other story I have to share is that biking is great and everyone should give it a try if you can.  If you don’t bike, try walking, running, swimming or anything to be active and remember to share the road.

Thanks Joe.  If you’d like to be interviewed for this blog about your cycling adventures in Memphis, just leave me a note in the comments.

 

Catching up: Round 1

Since I’m bed-ridden for the time being, I thought I’d use this opportunity to catch up on some articles I’ve been meaning to share with you, dear readers.  (If it’s not obvious already, I’m a really bad patient when I’m sick.  I don’t whine or complain or annoy my caretakers; I just have a hard time sitting still and resting for an extended period of time.  After a few hours I’m ready to get up and organize something, or do some laundry, or anything.  I know … I need to work on this.)  I’m going through these in roughly chronological order, so you might have seen some from this first batch, as they are the oldest.  Whatever the case, here we go …

I had a rather unpleasant and unfortunately typical biking on Madison the other day.  It was Monday afternoon, around 5:30, and I was heading home from buying the wrong lightbulbs at Home Depot.  (No, I did not mean to buy the wrong ones.)  I was heading east and had just crossed McLean.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how tight Madison gets right there: parked cars to the right, narrow traffic lanes, little room to bail if something happens.  In hindsight I should have more assertive as I entered that stretch and taken the lane, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.

The first few cars to pass me did so fully in the left lane.  But then an elderly woman driving a Mazda decided to “share the lane” with me, without asking me first of course.  I figure her right-hand-side mirror came within about 18 inches of my handlebars.  It was at that point that I began to yell profanities and make certain hand gestures.

I’ve had a conversation or two about this.  I don’t think I suffer from road rage, at least not when I’m driving my car, but when people come that close to me on my bike, it does touch a nerve. I have made a concerted effort to be less hostile to inconsiderate drivers of late, and more thankful of those that do obey the rules.  So it was with great interest and a feeling of community that I read this article.  I really like the author’s principles of peaceful biking.  As soon as I get back to being a normal human being, I’m going to give them a try.

And speaking of being mindful and calm about the numerous offenses and infractions we cyclists must suffer at the hands of idiot drivers … oh wait, never mind.

But really, here’s a great video on greenway etiquette, courtesy the City of Memphis

Sometimes the planets align in interesting ways and I manage to find not one, not two, but three Star Wars-related custom bike (or bike accessory) articles in one week.  “The Empire Strikes Bike” … how awesome is that?  (h/t to Kyle)

Speaking of awesome

The Bluff City Blues 100 Ride is coming up soon.  I won’t be riding, but maybe you’d like to.  It looks like fun.

It’s never really been a concern of mine, mostly because my hair is pretty short (and my standards of grooming are somewhat “relaxed”), but here’s an interesting take on the issue of helmets and hair.

And finally, bringing it back to being mindful and cycling, here’s a great article about yoga for cyclists, courtesy my pal Leah.

Look for another round of articles soon, 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.