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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour offers the chance of fun for everyone

Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour offers the chance of fun for everyone
By:  Michael Lander

Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton speaks to those gathered during the 2013
Lunar Festival as Meritan's President, Melanie Keller, looks on.  Keller
assumed the role of president after Deborah Cotney retired after 30 years
with Meritan in January 2013.

If you're looking for something that's fun, a little different, and involves riding a bike in the middle of the night, the Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour and Lunar Festival may just be the thing for you.

Meritan will be hosting its 15th annual Midnight Classic Bike Tour at midnight, Saturday, August 23, at Tiger Lane.  You might think that this would not necessarily be a big draw, but the event attracted more than 2,000 bicyclists last year and it is likely only to grow in the years ahead as more people in the Memphis area turn to cycling and they discover one of the best rides in town.

As it is, the bike tour is currently listed in Holly Whitfield's "I Love Memphis" blog as one of the 25 Things to Do in Memphis this summer and there are thousands of Memphians who would seem to agree with her.  Some might feel like it's a big party on bikes with many in and around Memphis out there.

The Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour is advertised as a leisurely, non-competitive bike ride that is open to all of those who love to ride, regardless of age or abilities.  Even though some might try to take it fast and see the ride as some sort of Tour de France, it is actually a much better experience when it is taken a little slower and seen as a late night/early morning Tour de Memphis with the emphasis on having fun with friends and family and seeing Memphis in a way that only comes once a year. 

One thing that many cyclists may find extremely appealing is the fact that, at least for a brief moment in time, you get the feeling that cyclists have taken over the city streets, that you own them, and that they belong almost exclusively to you and the thousands of other cyclists around you.  There are few opportunities when you ever get to enjoy that kind of feeling and to ride down streets in the heart of Memphis that you wouldn't otherwise be willing or able to ride on during the day.

One of the great things about this event is that it also brings people together as a community.  You will find both young and old and people of different shapes and sizes, cyclists of varying skills and abilities, and those who are from all walks of life and across the entire socio-economic spectrum.  The one thing that you will find is the common thread that ties all of them together is that they are there to ride, to have fun, and to do something that will benefit a good cause.

Participants in the Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour have a chance to
compete and win prizes for the best "bling" during the Lunar Festival
that takes place several hours before the bike tour at midnight.

The Midnight Classic Bike Tour event provides an evening of fun for those who participate and, from the proceeds of this,
Meritan is able to fund senior care, home healthcare, foster care, care for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals and other vulnerable members within our community, along with skilled nursing care services.  Meritan is one of the city's largest non-profit health social service agencies in Memphis and was established in 1961.  It is a private, not-for-profit agency classified as a 501(c) (3) organization. 

In an interview on WMC-TV 5, with Kontji Anthony, on Saturday, August 16, 2014, Meritan President Melanie Keller said that the bike tour and lunar festival got started when the non-profit was looking for a signature event that would be a little different and that would emphasize Memphis and would bring the community together.


Prior to the start of the Midnight Classic Bike Tour, and beginning around 9:00 p.m., participants in the ride can partake in some pre-ride festivities, known as "the Lunar Festival"  where they can eat, tailgate, listen to music from
Gary Escoe's Atomic Dance Machine, and to compete and win some prizes for the best bling for themselves and for their bikes. 

The route is approximately 17 miles long, with
Memphis City Police Officers and volunteers stationed along the route for safety and to help guide you in the right direction.  It takes you through the Midtown, Cooper-Young, Central Gardens, Vollintine-Evergreen, and University District neighborhoods.  Click on the following link if you would like to view the tour route, courtesy of Donnie Webb (at http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/10039261).

Cyclists will have until 3:00 a.m. to finish the ride and they can be picked up if they are unable to complete it.  To help make everything go a little bit smoother, beginning this year, participants will start the ride in waves with the more experienced cyclists leaving out first.

Over the years, the start and finish of the bike tour was at various locations, with the first in Overton Square and then, up until 2012, it was at Poplar Plaza Shopping Center at the corner of Poplar and Highland.  In 2013, the location was changed to Tiger Lane (around the Fairgrounds Youth Athletic Fields) and it seems to be better suited to accommodate a large amount of people and vehicles with more space, parking, and adequate lighting.  It is also more scenic with the Liberty Bowl stadium lit up in blue with some green.

You begin the bike tour on Tiger Lane, (around the Fairgrounds Youth Athletic Fields), you travel north on Early Maxwell Blvd, west on Central Ave, north on S. Belvedere Blvd, east Peabody, north on Cooper St, west on Poplar, north on Stonewall St, east on North Parkway, south on East Parkway N., east on Union Ave, east on Walnut Grove Rd, south on S. Goodlett St, west on Central Ave, south on Zach Curlin St, west on Walker Ave, north on Patterson St, and west on Central Ave.


Prior to the Meritan Midnight Classic Bike Tour, participants are treated
to live music, like that of Gary Escoe's Atomic Dance Machine and to fun
events with the Liberty Bowl, lit up in blue and green, as a backdrop.

Organizers of the event seem to make every effort to make this a safe and enjoyable experience for those who participate and participants are strongly encouraged to wear a helmet.  Throughout the history of this event, there has only been one serious injury when a cyclist (Vincent Oglesby) was struck in a hit-and-run incident in August 2010. 

For the most part, the streets are adequately lit, but cyclists should have a headlamp so that they will be able to see the road in the one or two darker areas and so that they can be seen as well.  Having reflectors and a light on the back of a bike is also a good idea.

The biggest danger for participants comes from the sheer number of those who are riding, with a differential speed, (some going very slowly and some exceedingly fast).  There are also a good number who do the ride who do not give any verbal warnings when they are slowing down, about to stop, turn, pass, or if they see any road hazards.  With that being the case, cyclists need to be a little more alert and exercise a little more caution than normal when participating in this ride.

After finishing this bike tour, cyclists have the chance to meet with friends, family, and fellow cyclists while being treated to Central BBQ, Gibson's Donuts, and various beverages including Fat Tire Beer. 

Registration is $35 for adults and $20 for children, students, and military personnel with proper identification. To register, you can go to Meritan's website at Meritan.org.  For more information about this event, you can call (901) 766-0678 or you can visit their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MeritanMidnightClassic.

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