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Friday, May 17, 2013

Memphis has a lot to offer anyone who might be interested in cycling

Memphis has a lot to offer anyone who might be interested in cycling
By:  Michael G. Lander

These cyclists are crossing Mullins Station Road near the intersection with Farm Road in East Memphis.  Currently cyclists can ride from Germantown, into Shelby FarmsPark, and then travel west on to the Greater Memphis Greenline toward Memphis and back.

Look in and around Memphis and you are likely to notice a lot more cyclists riding their bikes than ever before.  Over the last couple of years there has been a tremendous rise in the number of cyclists riding on some of the new trails that have been created, while others are out riding in the parks, in the neighborhoods, or on the city streets.

From the young and old, and people of different shapes and sizes, Memphians seem to be coming out in force to ride their bikes.  Some of them do it just for the fun of it, while others ride their bikes as an alternative form of transportation and still others who are into bike-riding for exercise and who ride to stay in shape.

Whatever the reasons might be, most health experts will tell you that cycling is one of the best aerobic-style, low-impact activities that people can do.  And getting to take in all the scenery around you is an added plus for many.

For those who aren't already cycling, the biggest challenge or question might be exactly how to get started.  Kyle Wagenschutz's answer to this is clear and to the point.

"Just keep it simple and keep it fun," Wagenschutz said. 

Wagenschutz is the current bike and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Memphis and the first to occupy that position.  He recommends starting out slowly by just doing a few rides here and there, and he then suggests doing a little more over time.

For the president of a local bike club, no time has been better to think about starting to ride a bike.

"The new bike lanes and trails in Memphis have been awesome," Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club President, Bill Ramia, said. 

Ramia believes that people now have a lot more places to ride than ever before and that things are getting a lot better for cyclists in the city, including the attitude that people have toward cyclists themselves.  He attributes this to the efforts of the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club and the city government under Mayor A.C. Wharton and the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator.

Cyclists have a bike and pedestrian trial that runs along the Mississippi River near the Harahan Bridge to Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis.
As for choosing a bike, Ramia doesn't think that someone just getting into cycling needs to worry that much about the bike that they start out with.  For him, the most important thing is to just to get out and ride.

"Pretty soon, you will begin to figure out what you need and what you want," Ramia said.

Cost-wise, Wagenschutz said that you can spend as little or as much as you would like to on a bike.

"Generally speaking... you don't need to spend thousands on a bike though.  For a couple hundred dollars you can get a bike and start enjoying the ride," Wagenschutz said.  "Practically speaking, a bike is a bike.  If it has two wheels, goes forward when you pedal, and stops when you hit the brakes, you're in good shape."

More than anything, for Wagenschutz and for most avid cyclists, getting the right bike comes down to sizing.

"If your bike is too small or too big, it will be uncomfortable to ride and could cause pains in your back, neck, or legs, and it could be unsafe," Wagenschutz said.

Both Ramia and Wagenschutz advise beginning cyclists to think about riding with others and Ramia said that there are several groups in the city tailored specifically for them.

One of the trails in Germantown currently runs parallel to Humphreys Blvd with another that runs along the Wolfe River.
"The Hightailers have true beginner rides on Monday evening led by one of our past presidents, Steve Watson, which meet at Cameron Brown Park," Ramia said.  "There are also two beginner-level rides in the midtown area with one organized by the Vollentine-Evergreen Community Association and another ad-hoc group that meets at Overton Square each Wednesday night."

One of the advantages that group rides offer, Ramia said, is the chance to talk with other cyclists and to learn from one another.

When it comes to safety, Ramia strongly recommends always being visible and always being predictable.  He also thinks that it's a good idea to carry a cell phone and to carry a few basic tools and items needed to change a flat tire.  For maintenance and upkeep of a bike, Wagenshutz said that cyclists should always consider their ABC's, which consists of air, brakes, and chain. 
"Make sure you've got enough air in your tires, check to make sure your brakes are working properly, and keep your chain lubed," Wagenschutz said.

Cycling is a big part of For Ramia's and Wagenschutz's lives.

"For me, riding a bike is a logical and rational choice for how I live my life.... I wouldn't use a car unless I absolutely have to.  It's cheap, efficient, and it keeps me in good health," Wagenschutz said.

The bike and pedestrian trails in Germantown and Memphis are perfectly suited for those who want to do a slower, more recreational bike ride while taking in the scenery, and who prefer not to ride on the city streets.
Depending on his work and travel schedule, Ramia said that he tries to ride his bike two to four times a week.  
"I ride for many reasons.  I do it for exercise, relaxation, and social networking.  My wife and I have made a lot of friends through cycling, and I am motivated by getting to see my friends and by the desire to get faster and stronger in my riding skills," Ramia said.

Even though it can be a lot of work, Ramia said that he enjoys his role as the Memphis Hightailers president and what all the club does for the community.

"We are involved in supporting numerous charities through the proceeds of our rides and we donated over $15,000 last year to charities like the Church Health Center, the Mid-South Food Bank and Moscow Food Bank, Rossville Volunteer Fire Department, Oasis of Hope Bike Ministry, Bike/Walk Tennessee, Livable Memphis, Shelby Farms Park, Greater Memphis Greenline, Inc., and others," Ramia said.  "Many other groups come to us on a weekly basis to help them with rides that they are organizing, too."

With the group rides for beginning cyclists and the proliferation of trails and bike lanes in the area, Memphis offers much, especially to those who might be interesting in cycling.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Southaven Mississippi resident and alderman-at-large candidate is passionate about cycling

Southaven Mississippi resident and alderman-at-large candidate is passionate about cycling
By:  Michael G. Lander

Steve Dodd often rides one of two bikes that he owns in his Southaven neighborhood, but he enjoys riding the Memphis greenline whenever he can.

In the stillness and the quietness of his Southaven, Mississippi neighborhood, Steve Dodd enjoys getting up, before most of the world around him wakes up, pulling out his bike, and getting out for an early morning bike ride.  For him, watching the sun slowly rise and taking in the cool morning air and seeing the beautiful scenery around him is one of the simple pleasures that he has in his life.

Like so many others, Dodd grew up riding a bike and continued to do it through college, but then, as with so many other people in our fast-paced world, many other things in life, such as a career and family, took over and drew him away from his bike riding.  He did not return to it until 2005.  It was that year that he bought a hybrid bike simply for recreation and slowly started to experience the same enjoyment that he had for it when he was younger.

After he fell in love with cycling again, Dodd soon found another reason to ride that had even more meaning and gave him an even greater motivation than ever before. 
"I heard about a two day, 150-mile bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society from a friend of mine at FedEx," Dodd said and he knew immediately that it was something that he wanted to do.
Knowing someone who had the disease was all the more reason he needed to do it he said.  Since then, he has participated in five of these events and was the inspiration for several others to ride for the same cause too.

Within the last couple of years, Dodd's passion for cycling has crossed over from the city streets into discussions that he has had with city leaders.  It is also something that has been an important issue for him now that he is currently running for the Southaven Alderman-At-Large position.  He is in a run-off election that is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, May 21.

"For three years now, I have been petitioning the city leaders to install bike lanes," Dodd said.

Dodd has talked with the city planning director, Whitney Choat-Cook, about a master plan for bike lanes, but found that the Mississippi Department of Transportation has a $850,000 federal grant that is on hold due to the city not having a clear financial audit.

"If elected, I will want to work toward getting the audit cleared so that the grant can be received.  Then I will work closely with the planning director to have multi-purpose lanes installed," Dodd said.  "I will also work toward getting Central Park connected to Snowden Grove via a greenline type of path.  From there, we will work on getting some lanes throughout the city," Dodd added.

Olive Branch and Tunica have gotten a head start over Southaven with either bike lanes or bike trails being put in and with many to the north in metropolitan Memphis and surrounding areas.

Choat-Cook has compiled a map that places street bike and pedestrian paths on the wider street systems that currently exist in the city of Southaven. 
"Due to the city being primarily built out, we are having to utilize existing street systems with 30 foot or more widths and restripe them for bike access," Choat-Cook said.  "In addition to that, the remaining undeveloped areas are required to submit plans with mandatory bike and pedestrian paths incorporated into them.  We have also applied for grants through state and federal outlets for bike and pedestrian enhancement programs."

Whether it is cyclists or vehicles, the safety of those on the roads is an important issue for Dodd.
"I absolutely think that all cyclists should be very well-versed on the rules of the road," Dodd said.  "You are out there in traffic and need to obey the same rules as cars do."

Dodd is currently serving on the DeSoto County School Board, which he has done for 18 years and has been employed by FedEx for 27 years.  He is a member of the Memphis HIghtailers and he says that, while riding his bike, he often gets a quite a few second looks, smiles and waves because of his beard and Santa Claus-like appearance.  He is a professional real-bearded Santa and it's not every day that you see Santa on a bike, unless of course, you live in Southaven, Miss.