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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bike rides offer opportunity for quality time with family

Bike rides offer opportunity for quality time with family
By:  Michael Lander
Bike rides can provide an opportunity for a father and son
and other family members to get some exercise and to spend
some quality time together.
Life today, for most of us, can feel a lot like being in a car that is in the fast lane and is on the verge of possibly careening out-of-control.  Everyone, it seems these days, is in a hurry, they are always on-the-go, having to grab some fast food, and having little time in the day to get everything done.

With our hectic and fast-paced lives-on-the-run, it isn't always easy for us to find ways that we can pull back the reins on our hurried lives and to make room for some good quality time with our families.

As difficult as that might be, however, it is sometimes necessary for us to step back, to try to slow things down just a little bit , and to carve some time out of our busy lives for those who matter the most to us.  

Parents who are willing and able to free up or to make some time for their families, though, may find that one of the most enjoyable and healthiest activities that they can do together with their children is to go out and do some occasional bike riding as a family.

Whether it is just around the neighborhood or on one of the many trails in and around Memphis, cycling offers a level of family fun and exercise that can be beneficial to both parents and children alike. 

Even though the first ride or two might seem a little challenging to some parents, it usually is something that they will easily overcome after just a few outings.  All that is a needed beforehand is just a little planning and preparation and just making sure that the bicycles or tricycles are the right size for their children.

For their own safety, children should be given a helmet
to wear while riding and a bicycle that is appropriate for
their size and abilities.
Along with the size of the bike or trike, a parent should also check it over to make sure that it is equipped with reflectors, that the tires are properly inflated, and that everything is in working order before starting any ride. 

As for the children themselves, parents should make sure that they are wearing helmets and parents should also set the example by wearing one as well.  The helmets are especially important for a child's head, which is not fully developed and cannot sustain the same impact as an adult.  Since helmets can help protect against serious head injuries, they should always be worn by both children and adults.

Along with the helmet, parents should also take a little time to talk with children about bicycle safety.  This will help lay the groundwork for them as they get older and start riding on their own.  The cycling experience also offers other teaching moments for a parent on how to ride, how to do simple maintenance and repairs, and providing them with some of the basics on the rules of the road.
Family members can take in some beautiful scenery
while enjoying a nice pleasant bike ride with
each other.
For most children, parents can and should expect them to do a slow and steady pace, and it is always a good idea to keep it that way, especially when they are really small.  You do not want to overly exert or wear a child out by going too fast or too far since that will quickly reduce the fun factor for them and you, too.

A slow and leisurely pace allows you to take in the scenery of wherever you ride and provides an opportunity to meet neighbors and other families like yours.  To make it even more enjoyable, you can always pack for a picnic or, for older children, you can consider riding through a national park, or on scenic bike trails, or even participate in an organized bike riding event.

Research and studies that have been conducted seem to indicate that parental involvement in a child's education seems to lead to academic success and that, more than anything, children want parents who are involved and show interest in their lives, and who just take the time to do things with them.  As far as I see, that really doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

The Shelby Farms Greenline, and other local area trails, are
popular with families who want to be able to safely ride
with one another.
There are websites, like the one from the Relationships Foundation and Brigham Young University's "Forever Families," that highlight the importance of parental involvement and time that is spent with family.

A big part of any quality time with family includes time that is spent together having fun and playing together.  It has been said that the family that plays together, stays together and cycling can be a great way to unite and bring family members closer to one another.

When it comes down to it, you really can't put a price on the time that you spend with family, and what could be more important than that?  Bike rides are not only fun, but they can create some great childhood memories than can last a lifetime.  They also help to promote a healthy lifestyle, and it is one way to get children interested in athletics and sports.  This could eventually lead them into competitive cycling, triathlons, or other exciting adventures.

Taking some time out of your life and spending that time with your family on a bike ride will pay big dividends to you and your children now and for many years to come.

To learn more on family bike rides, you might want to visit Kiri Blakeley's blog, "6 Road Rules for Fun Family Bike Rides," and Erin Mirabella's blog, "Family Bike Rides: Keeping Them Fun and Safe."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring is the best time for bike riding in Memphis

Spring is the best time for bike riding in Memphis
By:  Michael Lander

With appropriate cycling attire, cyclists in and around Memphis
can ride throughout the year, but the spring is arguably the best
time of all to ride with longer days, lower humidity, and
temperatures averaging in the 60's and 70's.
What's not to love about spring?  It's that time of year that many of us cyclists in Memphis, look forward to, especially after a long, cold, and seemingly endless winter. 

With longer days, warmer temperatures, and with only the slightest amount of humidity, it provides about the most ideal conditions that a cyclist could possibly ever hope for. 

It is made all the better with everything coming back to life and there are few things that are any prettier than riding by and seeing jonquils sprouting from the ground and blossoms on azaleas, tulip poplars, aristocrat and chanticleer flowering pear, dogwood and cherry trees.

Yes, with all the beauty that nature has to offer, spring has got to be the favorite time of year for most of us who truly love and appreciate the magnificence of it all.   

Granted, there is a downside to having everything come back to life because that means the arrival of pollen, which is dreaded about as much as, if not more than,  an unwelcomed house guest.  

Pollen usually makes its debut sometime in April and quickly comes out in full force, coating just about everything that doesn't move, and wreaking havoc and leaving many in and around Memphis with a common malady of allergy and sinus problems. 

As bad as that might be, however, it is almost impossible not to look at the bright side of what springtime brings to those who enjoy being outside, and with all things considered, the good definitely outweighs the bad.

Spring is not only one of the prettiest times that we have in Memphis, but it also holds the promise and the beginning of what of most cyclists hope will be another great year of riding.

Even though there are some diehards out there who will ride throughout the winter months, for the most part, the majority of us are usually exiled to the stationary bike or the gym, which may be seen as a modern day medieval torture chamber. 

While indoor workout equipment may be an effective way for staying in shape throughout the dreary and miserably cold days of winter, it by no means comes anywhere close to eclipsing a bike ride outdoors, particularly in the spring.

If you weren't able to take advantage of a few unseasonably warmer days throughout the winter, come March, you are probably as eager as a kid at Christmas time about pulling our bike down off the rack, dusting it off, and getting it ready for some long-anticipated bike rides.

Like most cyclists, this usually doesn't require much more than just pumping some air into the tires, making sure that everything is tight, that the chain is lubricated, that the lights are working, and that you have everything that you need, like a fully equipped tire repair kit. 

This is also the time that you might want to consider trying to get a tune-up if you didn't already take care of that at the end of the season months before.

As for those who are thinking about getting into cycling, spring may be the best time to actually start.  If you are not already in shape, it takes awhile to get your muscles and your body accustomed to the workout that you can get on a bike.  It is also better to do this when the weather is more comfortable and it is not adding to the discomfort level that you might otherwise be feeling.

Trying to begin in the heat of summer can be a little discouraging for some, but if you begin earlier in March or April, you can work past some of the sore muscles and you can then acclimate yourself to the temperatures and the humidity as they steadily rise in the summer months of June, July, and August.

With the beautiful scenery, the ideal weather, and the extremely pleasant temperatures, almost nothing is better than spring time in Memphis.  As a cyclist, it just doesn't get any better than riding this time of year, and it is always what you wish it felt like in the rest of the year.

Friday, March 14, 2014

View of Memphis drivers may not be all bad from perspective of Memphis area cyclists

View of Memphis drivers may not be all bad from perspective of Memphis area cyclists
By:  Michael G. Lander
Memphis drivers share many of the same roads
with cyclists and they should expect to see more
of them in the years ahead.  (Photo Credit: James Hall)
Distracted, careless and dangerous..... Bad drivers seem to be everywhere and some people think that Memphis has more than its fair share of them.  Whether that's actually true or not is open for debate, but for most cyclists, their main concern is how these drivers will react and interact with them.

I often say that from my own personal experience about 98 percent of Memphis drivers seem to be courteous and careful around cyclists.  At least for the Memphis area, the available data that we currently have seems to back that up. 

Statistically, the number of vehicles hitting cyclists and the number of fatalities associated with these accidents in the Memphis area seems to be relatively low.  Since 2010, there have only been two cyclists who have been killed, with one in Midtown Memphis on August 11, 2011, another on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge on August 12, 2012, one in July 14, 2014, and two in March 2015. 

Aside from these fatalities, there have been very few reported incidents between cars and cyclists with the notable exception of one cyclist who was struck and seriously injured while riding on Wolf River Blvd in Germantown on May 23, 2010. 

As sad and as tragic as each of these incidents is, many in the community are able to find some reassurance in the fact that there have been so few injuries and fatalities between cyclists and motor vehicles over the past couple of years.  There are factors, however, that could possibly have an impact on whether or not we see any more of them in our future.

With an ever increasing number of bike lanes, and the expansion of our existing trails, I am totally convinced that we will see more and more people taking up cycling in the years ahead with some even traveling here from other places to check out what we've got.  For me, of course, that would be a great thing and something that I and many others would very much welcome. 

Some of the cyclists in downtown Memphis carry badges.  These
Public Safety and Memphis Police Officers patrol the city streets
and other areas and they offer another way of providing
assistance to both Memphis residents and tourists.
My only concern with that, however, is that we might possibly begin to also see even more serious accidents and fatalities in and around the city of Memphis as more people take to the streets and ride.  None of us, I know, want to have that happen. 

As I see it, the only way that we will be able to prevent this from occurring will be to have an even greater amount of vigilance, caution and awareness on the part of both Memphis area drivers and cyclists.  Prevention can come in the form of public services announcements or with other similar avenues, much can and should be done to avoid any cycling and motor vehicle-related injuries or accidents in the future.

Currently, one issue that I think should get more attention by vehicle operators is the need for some of them to allow for a greater separation and distance when passing cyclists.  Many drivers, I am sure, are unaware of the law requiring at least 3 feet of clearance.  Fortunately, from what I have seen, there are many drivers out there who give that much separation and more. 

Regrettably, however, there are a small number of drivers who have passed by me so closely that I often have jokingly told my friends that I could have buffed the side of their cars with my cycling shorts.

One other issue that I have encountered on my bike rides involves some drivers who pull up behind me and immediately want to pass me even when a car is quickly coming up on them from the opposite direction.  Naturally, I am concerned about this and the danger it might present, and it always seems like an unnecessary risk to me just to save a few seconds of someone's time.  

Since I don't like having traffic backed up behind me, I always try to wave cars to go ahead and pass me whenever the road ahead is clear.  I am able to see them when this happens because of a rear view mirror attached to my helmet.  This mirror is also good for seeing everything that is going on behind me, although I have often joked that it would probably only give me a few extra seconds just to see something before it hits me.

Over the last seven years of cycling, one of the things that I have come to realize is that you can't always assume that everyone understands hand signals.  There have been several occasions that I have signaled and started to move over only to be cut off. 

In these instances, I can't really tell if people are just not paying attention or if they're misinterpreting what I'm doing when I stick out my arm out, so I have found it best to never assume what someone behind the wheel is thinking or doing.  It is always better to be safe than sorry and to only make lane changes with the most extreme caution.

In less than a decade, Memphis has seen a tremendous
increase in the number of trails and bike lanes like the
ones added to Cooper Avenue in the Cooper-Young
neighborhood in Midtown Memphis.  Memphians can
expect to see a whole lot more in their future.
One other disturbing trend that I have also seen over the past seven years is just how many people appear to be distracted either by talking on their cell phones, texting or looking off somewhere other than road ahead of them.  This inattentiveness is one of the biggest dangers and risks that cyclists, pedestrians and everyone else on the road should never have to face.

Whatever it is that people are doing, I just cannot imagine that it is possibly as important as the lives of other people on the road.  I understand that life is full of risks, but it would be nice if all of us could at least eliminate some of the unnecessary ones that might be harmful to us and to others.

After riding over 19,000 miles on city streets and roads, I have come to believe that, for the most part, the majority of Memphis drivers are considerate and act with caution around cyclists.  That is not to say, however, that I haven't ever experienced a few very serious and dangerous situations along the way. 

On one occasion, I was literally run off the road and I have had a couple of folks pull right out in front of me, and some who have not yielded when I clearly had the right-of-way.  For all the times that this happened to me, though, I have felt fortunate enough that I was able to anticipate what was about to happen and was able to avoid an accident or collision.

Regardless of what the circumstances might ever be, ultimately, it is almost always going to be the cyclist who is going to be on the losing end of the deal whenever an accident involves a car.  Even though the cyclist might take some consolation in knowing that he or she was right, or that they had the right-of-way, that really won't matter all that much if the accident results in a serious injury or death.    

One other sad fact is that, legally, the consequences of hitting a cyclist does not seem to be as punitive in the eyes of the law as it should be.  Being charged with a simple misdemeanor would probably not be all that acceptable to any of us if it were a family member or close friend who was run over.  We should all be outraged when this happens, whether we know a victim or not.

One of the most common misconceptions that I run into when talking with non-cyclists is about whether or not cyclists have a right to be on the road.  Of course, the answer that I give them is always an emphatic "yes."  If anyone isn't willing to take my word for it, I often direct them to my Memphis Cyclist website so that they can see it for themselves. On the site, I have provided the driving manuals and the laws that anyone can reference concerning cyclists on the roadways for our tri-state area of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. 

There are also some who think that you have a death wish by taking the risks of riding on the roads and city streets, but for me, cycling is no more dangerous than most anything else that we do in our lives.  When you are riding a bike, the only thing that you must do is pay a lot more attention to what is happening around you. You don't have anything to insulate or to protect you like you do in a car and you don't always get second chances for lapses in judgment. 

In spite of whatever risks there might be, though, being the true cyclist that I am, if given the choice, I would much rather be on a bike than riding somewhere in a car.  I can see the world around me a lot better than I can from behind the steering wheel and, as I often say, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Even though a lot of people like to talk about how bad Memphis drivers are, we cannot ignore the fact that there are some cyclists who aren't doing what they should on the roads, either.  Some of them blow past stop signs and red lights, don't follow the rules of the road, and don't yield to those who have the right-of-way. 

Not only is this dangerous to them and to others, but it can leave people with the wrong impression that all cyclists are like that.  After that stigma is there, it is always difficult to erase it or to shake it off.

For their own safety, cyclists should always have situational awareness of what is happening around them and they should always have safety in mind whenever they ride.  The old saying that "you can never be too safe," has a lot of truth in it, and one lapse in judgment can have terrible and life altering consequences. 

To help put the odds in your favor, cyclists should always wear a helmet, have on bright clothing and should have reflectors and lights on their bikes.

With safety and caution in mind, Memphis drivers should be able to make room for cyclists on the roadways and, together, they can help make the roads safer for everyone.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My first long-distance bike ride at the FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150 had a lifelong and lifechanging impact

My first long-distance bike ride at the FedEx Rock-n-Roll MS-150 had a lifelong and life-changing impact
By:  Michael Lander

One of the most difficult challenges during the FedEx Rock-n-Roll
MS-150 is trying to ascend "The Wall," located on Prichard Rd in
Coldwater, Miss on the second day of this event.  This photo is
from the 2013 ride on Sunday, September 8, 2013.

Anyone who has ever done a long-distance cycling event never forgets that first time.  For me, that first big ride of my life happened on the weekend of September 15-16, 2007. 

I was riding in my first FedExRock-n-Roll MS-150 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).   I was on the FedEx team with my brother-in-law.  He was the one who had gotten me interested in cycling and in doing the MS-150 bike ride. 

On the morning of this two-day, 150-mile event, I was extremely excited and eager about getting started, but I was also a little nervous and anxious about it as well.  I remember wondering to myself if I was really ready for it or not and if I could even actually do it. 

In spite of any reservations that I might have had, I knew that there was nothing that would stop me so long as my legs could move.

Just six months prior the ride, I had purchased a Trek hybrid bike and then, a couple of months later, I bought a Mercier Serpens road bike from a friend.  I thought that the road bike would be a much better bike for any long-distance rides. 

The hybrid then became my workout bike and I managed to put in about 800 miles on it prior to my first MS-150 ride in September.

Even though I had a lot of optimism about being able to complete this 150 mile ride, I wasn't exactly the image of someone that most people would ever think could successfully accomplish this feat. 

I was slightly overweight with extra insulation around my middle and I was barely able to run the mandatory mile and a half for my military physical fitness exam that I was required to do each year.  If that wasn't bad enough, until March of 2007, I had not even been on a bicycle in over 27 years and I knew almost nothing about bikes or about doing long distances bike rides.

Regardless of all that, however, I was inexplicably drawn to the MS-150 bike ride.  If anything, I think that I was initially interested in doing the FedEx Rock-n-Roll ride because of the mere challenge of it.  I just wanted to see if I could actually do it. 

Shortly after registering, though, a friend of my wife and I announced to our church family that her daughter, Ellen, had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).  For me, that changed everything.  The ride was no longer about me and what I could do, but the focus was on this friend's daughter and about riding for her and all of those afflicted with MS.

The ride, unfortunately for me, began with an inauspicious start.  I had taken my bike to get air put in the tires and about 10 to 15 minutes before the ride was set to begin, I found that the rear tire had gone flat. 

As I anxiously waited in line for help with this, the ride started and the majority of the 700 - 800 cyclists headed out from where the MS-150 began at the visitor's center at Graceland.  By the time that it was fixed, I ended up being one of the last cyclists to leave.  The anxiety level intensified and I was more nervous than ever. 

On the upside of this, however, it made me even more determined than ever to make up for lost time and to try to catch up with at least a few other slow riders.  I eventually did this by riding as fast as I could and skipping a few of the rest stops along the way.

Just before I came up to the second rest stop, I happened on to the scene of an accident in which a cyclist had been struck by a car.  If I hadn't given any thought to the possible dangers of doing this type of ride beforehand, this served as a wake-up call for me. 

Even though I did not know the specific circumstances of what happened, the cyclist did appear to have suffered some injuries but was otherwise alright.  His bike, however, was not so lucky and was a mangled mess.

I was able to finish the ride on the first day in a little less than six hours and averaged about 12 mph.  I was really tired as I rode that last few miles to the finish line, which was at the Grand Hotel and Casino in Tunica, Miss

I probably looked like I had been run over myself and the driver of a SAG (Support and Gear) vehicle likely thought the same thing when he passed by me.  He slowed down, but the casino was in sight and there was no way I was going to quit at that point.

As it is for most beginners, the next day of the ride back to Graceland was a little tougher than the first day.  You are sore and tired, but you know that every mile gets you closer to the finish line and that gave me the motivation that I needed to go on.  The weather was perfect for me with temperatures both days in the mid-eighties, which is about as good as you can hope for in the Memphis area.

Even a thunderstorm is not enough to stop everyone
from trying to finish the Pedal-to-the-Point MS-150 in
Ohio on August 14, 2011.  (Photo Credit:  Kim Morris)

About 30 miles into the ride on Day 2, I began to see the steep hill and bluff that is appropriately named "The Wall."  It was a lot more fun riding down a similar one the day before, but I knew it was going to be extremely tough to climb. 

In a cruel and unusual sort of way, you can see "The Wall" four or five miles away, which gives you plenty of time to contemplate the torture that is about to be inflicted upon you. 

After seeing it, I deliberated the whole way trying to decide whether I would attempt the climb or just get off my bike and walk up this incredible monstrosity. 

When I finally got to it, I just made up my mind that I might as well try it and with the encouragement and cheering of the wonderful volunteers there, I gave it everything that I had and made it to the top.  After the ride, I actually was more proud of conquering "The Wall," than doing the 150 mile ride.

After that, my legs really felt like Jell-o and the fatigue factor started kicking in, but I kept pressing on.  I was going slow, but I knew it wasn't a race and just finishing the ride was all that mattered to me. 

The only mishap that I had came at one of the rest stops.  I slowly pulled in and tried to unclip my shoe from the peddle and, almost in slow motion, I fell on to the gravel like a large sequoia or redwood falling in the forest.  Nothing was hurt but my pride and I appreciated the fact that none of the volunteers laughed, at least while I was still around them.  

After that, I began having some saddle soreness that was so bad that I wanted to holler, but I rode through it and it eventually eased up and I started having other aches and pains that made me forget all about it. 

When I crossed the finish line hours later, I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment that I had rarely ever felt before in my life.  I was never an athlete growing up, and so having the volunteers cheering for me and the other cyclists at the rest stops and at the finish line was an experience that I will never forget.

For me, this entire experience left an indelible impression and changed the course of my life.  It inspired me to start down the road for a healthier lifestyle, in helping others, and eventually in creating a cycling blog and a cycling website

Even though I have ridden for other causes now over the years, the MS-150 rides have always been especially meaningful for me.  I have done a total of 13 of them now, (with four in Ohio and nine thus far in Memphis).  Many of us who do this ride do it for friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances or neighbors who have been stricken with MS.

It is really for them that I do this ride and it is the best way that I know to help raise money and awareness about MS.

For me, my participation in this event is the least that I can do to assist those who are living with MS every day of their lives and to help in the efforts that may eventually help to prevent others from ever learning what it means to live with this disease. 

Any pain or discomfort that I experienced on these rides is nothing compared to a lifetime of pain and suffering that someone with MS must endure every day of their life. 

When it comes to this and other charitable rides that I do, I always like to paraphrase a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that "We must be the positive change we wish to see in the world." 

It is my hope that others will join me in the crusade to make this world a better place for others, and I hope that I will be able to use my passion for cycling in order to do just that.