Tagged: cyclist of the month

End of the week wrap-up

My people.  It’s been a while since I posted an end-of-the-week wrap-up.  But, since I have a few minutes tonight, and a back-log of articles to share, I think it’s time.

First, what an awesome and amazing article appeared in today’s Commercial Appeal about biking in Memphis.  As I noted on my blog’s Facebook page, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  In fact, I really need to interview this guy for my blog.

Second, I hope that everyone who participated in last night’s Cycle Memphis ride had a great time.  I had planned to go, but spent the day moving boxes of books and other crap from one office to another – it’s a long story – so by last night, I was pretty shagged out.  It looks like the turn-out was really good.  I hope to make September’s ride.  The Cycle Memphis guys always put on a good show.  Hmmm … maybe I should interview them for my blog as well.

Also, from Cort at Fix Memphis, there is a bike polo tournament happening soon.  The game goes down on September 29 at Tiger Lane.  It’s also a benefit for St. Jude’s; always a good cause.  Visit memphisbikepolo.com for more information and to register.

Next, James Roberts posted a question about local bike courier services on the About page of my blog.  I didn’t have anything to tell him, but if any of you have information about any local bike messenger services, please share it in the comments.

Do I have a GPS unit on my bike?  No, unless you count my iPhone.  Do I now want a Japanese GPS unit on my bike?  Oh hell yes.

A bit late, but yikes … be careful out there, Murfreesboro.

If you needed a reminder about all the ways in which biking is awesome, and a key part of our cities’ futures, here you go.

And that’s all for now.  As always, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all soon, biking in Memphis.

P.S.  I don’t have anyone lined up for the Cyclist of the Month profiles in the next few months, so shoot me a comment if you are interested.

August Cyclists of the Month: Memphis Pedicab Company

Hi everyone.

It’s been several months since I posted a Cyclist of the Month interview – that one with Jason Potter was pretty awesome – and I’ve been meaning to sit down with (read: email) the guys at Memphis Pedicab Company for some questions.  Well, after months of procrastination on my part, plus a ridiculously busy schedule, here we are.  Read on to learn about the history of Memphis’s only people-powered transportation team, how to recover from a night of hauling around passengers, and what it’s like to pedal a cab.

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Co-owner Chris Copeland taking some people for a spin.

1. Tell me about the history of Memphis Pedicab. How did this new business get started?

Jeremy Reese and I started the company after finding ourselves unemployed in early 2011.  It was a sudden and unexpected change after dedicating so much time, energy and emotion to someone else’s idea.  Not long after spending all day every day looking for a job and realizing, first-hand, how difficult the current job market is to navigate, we decided that we needed something to do with our time and abilities.  We did some research and found that Pedicabs were becoming more and more popular across the US.  We were intrigued at the possibility and set about finding a used Pedicab to purchase to fuel the fire and proove the concept to ourselves.

Once we found one and drove it back to Memphis, in the back of a rented pick-up, we were convinced. We then put together a business plan, a proforma and secured a business license. Next came our biggest and most rewarding hurdle to clear…We had to submit a proposal to the City and appear before a panel to present our idea and business plan. On the panel were representatives from the Memphis City Gov’t including the Permit Office, the City Attorney’s office, the MATA, the Taxi industry, the Visitors Bureau and Convention Center and the MPD. We really could not have succeeded without the support of the following people: Aubrey Howard at the Permit Office, Kyle Wagenshutz, the Mayor’s Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator, Mayor AC Wharton himself, Leslie Gower and Paul Morris of the Downtown Commission and Maria Fuhrmann from Kemp Conrad’s office.

2. Since you’ve been open, what’s happened to your level of business? Do you plan to add more employees any time soon?

Since starting at the end of last Summer business has most certainly picked up. We don’t have to solicit rides as much as we did initially. People are definitely starting to catch on as they realize how convenient and fun the pedicabs are. We are always looking for a few good men AND women to pedal. It’s a great way to stay in shape while earning a little cash.

3. You must have some really interesting stories from transporting people around downtown in a pedicab. What’s been your most interesting/bizarre clients?

Have you ever seen Taxi Cab confessions on HBO…??? People really will tell you almost anything while you drive them around.

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4. What’s it like driving a pedicab? Those things must be geared in a way to let you handle some serious cargo (i.e. people). And I imagine they have some serious brakes on them too. What’s the weight limit for a pedicab?

Driving a pedicab is tons of fun! Most of the time you are transporting people who are already out to have a good time and you get to be part of it…you get to actually be part of the environment. You’re always meeting someone new and you get to contribute to their experience. The cabs are geared just like a 21speed mountain bike and even though they have a pretty big granny gear a five or six hour shift definitely takes it out of you. Downtown is not as flat as you think it is, especially when carting a few hundred pounds around. The max load is about 800 lbs and they are equipped with hydraulic rear brakes. Usually as the nights progress we inch closer and closer to that max 800 pound limit as people pile on in fours and fives!

5. You must be pretty exhausted after a full day/night of pedaling people around Memphis. What’s your favorite energy booster?

Sugar, sugar and more sugar followed by carbs and more sugar.

6. What other neighborhoods do you think would be well-suited for a pedicab? I could see one making the rounds on Madison Avenue, between Cooper and McLean, especially once Overton Square is renovated.

We ask ourselves that question all the time. We keep coming back to the Cooper-Young/Overton Square area. We really like the feeling and activity in that part of town. Hopefully the Square will make a comeback…it has such great potential. Pedicabs would be perfect for the trip from Cooper Young to Overton Square. That part of town would also be ideal for a dispatch-type of pedicab servivce.

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7. What’s been the response to your business among downtown locals and businesses? Do the horse-drawn carriages ever try to race you?

Sometimes it can be a slow process trying to start something new or break into an industry that has established players. You certainly can’t escape the “new-kid-on-the-block” feeling. Before we had all the required paperwork and been properly vetted the response was not what we had hoped but certainly expected. We are finding our place in the higherarchy, we are starting to be accepted as part of the downtown scene and we couldn’t be happier. And yes, the carriages regularly ask us if we want to race.

8. When the Harahan Bridge project is completed, we’ll have bike lanes crossing the Mississippi River. Any plans to transport people across the river to West Memphis and back?

That is certainly in the cards.

9. What other types of biking do you do around town?

I also race as a Cat 3 cyclist.

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

We are perfect for parties, weddings, corporate events, brand ambassadors or even as a valet service.

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And there you have it, folks.  I’ve been meaning to head downtown and take a ride on a pedicab myself.  Have you done so?  Leave me some love in the comments section, and say hello to Chris, Jeremy, and the rest of the Memphis Pedicab people the next time you’re downtown.

April Cyclist of the Month: Jason Potter

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>>>>>

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

March Cyclist of the Month: Kyle Wagenschutz

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

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Photo credit: Nathan Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>>>>>>

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

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Presenting August’s Cyclist of the Month: Brett Edmonds

Brett
Hi everyone.  Please join me in welcoming “Mr. August,” Brett Edmonds.  Brett has been biking in Memphis since 2004 and is an avid bike polo player.  Read on to hear about Brett’s adventures on his bike and his favorite biking blog.  (Brett: the check is in the mail, bro.)  By the way, the credit for the above photo goes to Jason Sheesly.  Mighty fine shooting there Jason.

1.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Tell me about your experiences as a cyclist in Memphis.  Do you bike to work?  To the store?

Although I rode a bike when I was younger, I wouldn’t say I really took any steps towards being a cyclist until 2004.  I returned home from college in Massachusetts full of environmental zeal and bought a used Trek mountain bike for commuting to work, determined to cut down on my car use.  I was only able to keep this up for about a year though before my front wheel got stolen.  I had to learn one of my first commuting lessons the hard way: use a cable lock to lock up your wheels!  Even if you’re just in Walgreens for five minutes.  After that, cycling fell by the wayside until about 2007, when my girlfriend Cara and I started borrowing my room-mate’s bikes for midnight rides all over town.  Soon, we had to have bikes of our own and ended up going to Revolutions, and I haven’t looked back since.  I now make the trek up to Whole Foods for work 5 times a week, and there’s not a day that I’m not on a bike in some capacity.

2.  Tell me about bike polo.  I’ve cycled past the sporting goods store’s parking lot on Cooper several times and seen people playing bike polo there.  Why is this sport so much fun? What do you recommend for someone who is interested in bike polo but perhaps a bit wary of giving it a try?

First and foremost, Bike Polo is FUN – fun in all the ways that any team sport is.  But beyond that, I’m helplessly drawn to it simply because I’m a bit of a bike freak, and it’s something new and different.  Because it’s so new, there’s a real feeling of being in on the ground floor of something big.  Bike polo is blowing up all over the US and Europe, and it just feels great to be even a small part of that.  There’s also a DIY aspect to bike polo that most sports lack.  Bikes are heavily customized to match personal styles, the mallets are made of ski poles and gas piping (or whatever you can get your hands on that’s light and won’t shatter), and wheel covers are made from old campaign signs.  Polo just happens to combine a bunch of things I love.  As far as newbies are concerned, the biggest thing is just getting out there!  We’re always looking for new players, and we tone it down so people don’t get scared away by the pace.  If you’re nervous about your first time, bring a friend or two (or three!).  I had the luxury of starting with a bunch of other friends and we all sucked together.  Making a fool of yourself isn’t so bad when you’re not alone.  And you can always practice a little bit beforehand – the balls are street hockey, and a croquet mallet will work fine for just shuffling the ball around by yourself.

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

I actually have a beef with the Greenline … just kidding!  It definitely goes to 11.

4.  If you could identify any single road where you would like to see bike lanes installed, which one would it be?  How would that make your life as a Memphis cyclist better?

Maybe this is crazy, but I’d love to see bike lanes on Poplar.  Now, I’m not denying it would take a lot of resources as well as a VERY hard sell.  The street would have to be widened, I’d imagine, and I think it’d probably need to be separated for some people to feel comfortable.  But Poplar is like the aorta of Memphis.  On top of its utilitarian value as THE major east-west street, its symbolic value would be through the roof.  Buuuuuut, realistically, I’ll say Central.  It’s nice and shady, not too crowded, and is a pretty good connector.

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

I definitely run the occasional errand on my bike, but I tend to rely on backpacks and bungees.  You’d be surprised how much you can bungee to your frame if you really have to.  I’d really like a cargo bike and pined for one for a while, but really, do I need another bike just for hauling stuff around?  I already have four bikes for specialized things, do I HAVE to have another?  Of course not.  It’d be really cool, and I haven’t abandoned the idea of welding one together out of old frames, but it’s on the back burner for now.

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

Without trying to suck up too much, let’s just say I peruse a local commuting-specific blog.  I also look at a few other local blogs (fixmemphis, brickhouse racing) and check out Urban Velo often, but there’s only one commuting-specific site I go to (wink wink).  Of course, Google Maps, as always, is your friend.  Group rides are great ways to meet up with experienced locals, along with Revolutions and local shops.  It’s through them that I’ve met people like Kyle Wagenschutz, Anthony Siracusa, Kermit, Cort Percer and a bunch of other awesome commuters.

7.  Tell me about the cycling adventures you’ve had, like riding from Shelby Farms to downtown or from midtown to T. O. Fuller State Park.  What’s the most adventurous day you’ve had on your bike?

My cycling adventures all tend to take place late at night, when the cars are mostly gone and red lights are mere suggestions.  The golf courses are all a ton of fun, especially Galloway with it’s crazy steep little bridges.  Even more exhilarating is going over the I-55 bridge and winding through gravel roads to get to West Memphis.  And the Wolf River Conservancy and the Greenline at night are a blast.  Some of my best ride memories are just going and going and going with a group of friends, till you end up nearly in Collierville or Olive Branch on streets you’ve never heard of before.  Of course some adventures have been a little more harrowing, like having Cara put into the back of a squad car and getting ticketed for “obstructing traffic” at 2 am on an empty 2nd Street, but even these I look back fondly on with enough time.

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

I have four bikes right now, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t always have my eye out for another one.  First, my commuter: an early 80’s Schwinn World Sport 10-speed – this is the bike I cut my teeth on at Revolutions, first learning how to fix my own problems instead of going to the shop.  Then there’s my polo bike, a fixed-gear, super-spinny Charge Scissor.  Finally, my fast bike (Mercier Kilo TT) and mountain bike (Surly 1×1).  No matter what bike I’m riding, I’ve gotta have my Knog lights – they’re just so easy to take on and off and you can put ‘em pretty much anywhere.  My other favorite accessory is the road morph frame pump – there are times I use this even when I have access to a regular floor pump.  It’s THAT good.

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

I know that most drivers really aren’t all that bad, it’s just that I only remember the ones that really make me see red.  Rarely do people roll down their window and yell words of encouragement (although this has happened and it makes my millennium), but it seems weekly at least I have someone tell me to get off the road.  Many people still have the attitude that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road at all, or, if they do concede your right to it, they simply think you’re crazy for risking your life by doing so.  That said, with as many cars that pass me and give me the required three feet, or even change lanes to avoid getting close to me, I hafta say the haters are vastly outnumbered.  They’re just way louder.

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

I can’t finish this up without pimping bike polo!  We play every Wednesday and Sunday from around 7pm to 10:30ish (or whenever people need to leave) at Bluff City Sports on Cooper and we want you to play with us!  Bring yourself and a bike – mountain bikes are usually the best for beginners, but when there’s enough people there, someone can probably lend you their bike for a game or two.  You can check out the website at memphisbikepolo.com.

And there you have it, my people.  Yet another testimonial from a local bike commuter and cycling enthusiast.  I hope to interview many more local cyclists in the coming month; in fact, I’m booked up all the way though December!  So if you want to be interviewed, leave a note in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading.