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.