Maybe you noticed it earlier this year as gas prices rose: There seemed to be more Richmonders pedaling to work. But even as fuel prices relented, we found evidence that our region's bike obsession continues to grow.
For starters, membership in the Richmond Area Bicycling Association climbed to about 650 members this year, "an all-time high," says Champe Burnley, who sits on the boards of RABA and the Virginia Bicycling Federation.
Then there's the Richmond Sports Backers: "We're definitely trending toward cycling," says Mike McCormick, the group's communications director. In 2009, the Sports Backers will again host the National Duathlon Championships, featuring hundreds of athletes cycling on the road and along the city's riverside mountain-bike trails. And the group hopes to bring the national cyclocross championships here as well.
Meanwhile, Ellwood Thompson's Local Market is boosting eco-consciousness by rewarding cycle-riding customers (among others) with a 25-cent thank you for each shopping trip. In August, the retailer co-sponsored "Speaking with Spokes," a community bike ride that drew about 200 riders.
And early this year, 29-year-old Craig Dodson launched Richmond Pro Cycling. Under Dodson's design, when the team is not training or racing, riders tutor and mentor schoolchildren. This atypical approach to running a pro team and Dodson's prowess on the bike have earned him top-five status in the nationwide "Inspired Soles" competition run by Outside Magazine.
As Dodson and others keep riding for new horizons, we offer a reminder of a year when Richmond turned up its pedal power. Meet five cyclists who ride for sport, for exercise, for travel and for a living, while brushing up on your rules of the road.
After all, Burnley says, the region's many bike-centric efforts are poised to change our culture and way of life: "I'd like to see Richmond become the next Portland or Boulder."
21, a kinetic imaging major at Virginia Commonwealth University
Tall bikes are just for fun. I mean, they're just goofy as hell. It's definitely fun riding a bike that puts you above cars. It makes you stand out more. I'm sure it kind of pisses a lot of cars off. I love riding by cars and having people turn their heads. We get made fun of a lot. Probably as many times people are like, "Awesome! Tall bike!" When you see kids riding them, though, you assume that they are dedicated somewhat to bikes, because you have to build them yourself. I have one of my own that my friend James helped me build. He's a welder and a sculpture major at VCU. A friend and I started an after-school program called "U-Locks of Love" that teaches kids at the Boys and Girls Club about bikes and gives them locks for their own bikes. Every kid that we see always asks for a tall bike or asks to ride one. We're always terrified of putting them up there. We don't want them to fall down and eat s---, so we're in the process of building a tall bike made out of two BMX frames — like, a little mini one that the kids can ride. It'll be tall for them, so once we build that, we're gonna be stoked to get kids out riding that, and getting a feel for, you know, making it fun. There's so much you can do with bikes, you know? —As told to Miles Dumville
50, a bicycle and pedestrian planner at the Virginia Department of Transportation — a commuter who bikes to work from the Byrd Park neighborhood to East Broad Street 3 miles each way, five days a week
Usually I use the bike to go to work or to run errands — to the grocery store, if I'm not getting many things, or to run over to the post office or to a bookstore, or out to eat. I don't bike at night or in the rain that much. Going to work, I'm on Franklin Street pretty much all the way from Monroe Park. They have a lane that I can go in that's supposed to be no parking from 7 to 9 a.m. That's how a lot of cyclists ride in to downtown from the West End. We're a one-car family. For doctors' appointments, I just make them at the beginning of the day; then I'll go home and ride my bike to work. If I'm riding home and I have a flat tire, I'll just throw my bike on a bus. I carry a bus schedule for all the bus routes with me. I'll do that, too, if it rains. The bus has been really helpful. I'm not a real bike racer and don't come from a real work-on-your-bike kind of tradition, so I'll take the bike home, and when I have an hour, I'll change the tire. But I won't do it on the road or anything. —As told to Carrie Nieman Culpepper
29, team manager and rider for Richmond Pro Cycling
I was four years old, and I hadn't been on a bike. My brother had a bike, though. I actually climbed on a picnic table to get on it. We had a small embankment in our back yard, and I just started riding. Of course, I couldn't really stop the bike — I wasn't big enough — so I crashed into a holly bush. But at that point the kinetic senses were sort of developed. When I was in high school, I started racing BMX bikes. That definitely was a nice little launch pad for developing the bike handling that I need now at this level. My biggest accomplishment? It's probably more off the bike than on. I'd say it would have to be starting my own team when I was 25 years old. I sort of wanted to create something different, which is why there are two sides to Richmond Pro Cycling — a nonprofit and a racing team. I basically take young, educated, elite-level cyclists, bring them to Richmond and teach them about social responsibility — and how to give back. They go into the community and conduct a lot of youth outreach. On top of training and racing, we worked with close to a thousand kids this year in Richmond, and we logged close to 1,000 hours of community service. There's no other professional cycling team in the world that's doing this. It's a different model. And I'm probably more proud of that than any race result I've ever had. —As told to Jack Cooksey
28, a bike messenger in downtown Richmond for the past three and a half years
It's a physically demanding job. That's why I do it. One of the best things about being a messenger is waking up, checking the weather and knowing you're going to have to go to work no matter what. It doesn't bother me that I wake up and it's raining. It doesn't bother me that I wake up and it's 30 degrees and windy. It keeps you in tune with the seasons. If there's slush and ice on the ground? I'm at work. I mean, if there's money to be made, I'll show up. But if 90 percent of the businesses downtown close, then there's no money, you know? Ninety-some percent of what I do stays within the downtown zone. I would say 30 to 40 runs is an average day. But each run is two stops, so that means that's 60 to 80 times where I stop, dismount, lock the bike, walk in, walk out, unlock and go to the next place. That action occurs maybe 60, 70 times a day. I think I unlock my bike lock about 120 times a day. How many miles a day do I ride? It's hard to judge. I never ride with a bike computer. But more important than the miles is the hill. At the end of the day you start wondering, "How many times have I been up this hill so far?" But then, even after a while, the hills just start to level out. If you do Main Street 15,000 times, then, you know, it becomes flat. Then Broad seems like a challenge, and you do that enough times and it seems flat. You're just able to ride up it, no problem. —As told to Jack Cooksey
48, an avid recreational cyclist and a teacher at Appomattox Regional Governor's School in Petersburg
I am not a super athlete, but I started biking 11 years ago. I had been in a long-term relationship that ended. It was a really hard breakup, and I knew exercise would be good for me. But I also knew I would have to force myself to do it. This was in the early days of the "AIDS rides" from Boston to New York and L.A. to San Francisco. And I thought, "I want to do that." So, I trained, and I did it. It was three days of riding — close to 300 miles. I was incredibly slow, but I finished, and it got me hooked, especially on charity rides. Since then, I've done a number of them — the Tour de Cure for diabetes; the Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; and the MS 150 ride to Williamsburg and back for the MS Society. The idea that you're working for something greater than yourself and that you're raising money for a charity spurs me on. Of course, there's something really fundamental about cycling. It takes you back to that feeling when you were a kid and you first got on a bike — that freedom, the wind blowing in your face and that thought of how far you could go. I think that feeling comes back every time you get on a bike, at least it does for me. When I arrived in New York City on that first AIDS ride, I thought, "I got here by my own power." For someone who never had done anything remotely like that in her life, who was overweight all her life, that was beyond my wildest dreams. —As told to Jack Cooksey
Sharing the Road
A short guide to vehicular harmony
Whether it's a cyclist who runs red lights at the disregard of others, or a motorist who honks and yells at a law-abiding cyclist, it's not hard to find examples of bikers and drivers in conflict. For a refresher course on the rules of the road, we scanned the state traffic laws and sought advice from Sgt. Robert Evans, a Virginia state trooper who's also an avid recreational cyclist — this year alone, he has logged almost 3,000 miles on his road bike.
- Pass with care. Give the biker at least two feet from your side mirror, and pass at a reasonable speed.
- Road rage is a crime. Any intention to harass, intimidate or injure a cyclist is considered aggressive driving, a charge that carries penalties if you're convicted.
- Show simple courtesy and respect. Evans says it helps to consider that the person on the bike has a name and a family.
- The same traffic rules apply to cyclists. Obey stop signs and traffic lights, stay in your "lane" (to the right of the road), and signal when turning or stopping. "When you're seen doing that, you gain the respect of motorists," Evans says. Also, look for road signs banning bikes on sidewalks.
- Make yourself visible. Bright clothing is a good start. And even in daylight, Evans says, "To have a blinking light on the back of your bike or a white light up front really makes a huge difference."
- Don't buy into road rage. Says Evans: "If you go out there [riding] with a chip on your shoulder, you're likely going to have those kinds of harassment issues." He suggests carrying a cell phone, too — call 911 if you truly feel threatened. —JC
Scooters Vs. Mopeds
Comparing motorized two-wheelers
During the month of May, as local gas prices were climbing higher than $3.50 a gallon, Scoot Richmond sold more scooters and mopeds than it did in all of 2007. And not just to recreational riders. More buyers were looking for better mileage. We asked owner Chelsea Lahmers to help size up the motorized two-wheel transportation, since she sells and services both scooters and mopeds. But first, let's get a couple of things clear: In the commonwealth of Virginia there are two classifications — motorcycles and mopeds (some scooters are considered mopeds; others are classified as motorcycles). To further confuse you, there are two types of scooters: fast ones and slower ones. We stuck with the slower, less expensive ones. Here's a breakdown.
Buddy 50 Scooter
No insurance, tags, inspection, registration or driver's license required.(Scooters 50CC and under are considered the same as mopeds.)
college kids with some money up to retirees. "Difficult to get
a demographic," Lahmers says.
Pros: Less maintenance, better gas mileage, a smoother ride and better reliability. "Scooters were designed to wear dress clothes, or you can wear a skirt," Lahmers says. "You can't do that on a moped — you'd get your pants caught. In a scooter, all of the motor
Cons: More expensive than mopeds and slower than a
motorcycle or bigger scooters.
pros & con s
Tomos Sprint Moped
No insurance, tags, inspection, registration or driver's license required.
Typically 18- to 30-year-olds who need to get around without spending too much money. "They're kind of cool with the punk rock kids," Lahmers says.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to park anywhere and easy to
Cons: Slower and not quite as fuel-efficient as scooters. They also require more upkeep. The two-stroke engine requires oil mixed with gas (older mopeds require that you manually mix the fuel). Also, more exposed engine parts than scooters — not good if you're trying to ride in work clothes.