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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.

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