Riding a trend: Business, recreation, tourism will all benefit from cycling in Hickory area [Hickory Daily Record, N.C.]
(Hickory Daily Record (NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 03--HICKORY N.C. -- Scene One: its five o'clock and you're driving home from work when you see a group of cyclists peddling in the road ahead in your lane. As the weather has warmed, you've noticed more and more of this aggravating activity. You slow to their pace and remain slightly behind the pack, looking for an opportunity to pass, and all the while your patience is growing thin.
Scene Two: You are crossing Lake Hickory on the bridge on NC 127, heading north on your bicycle for a leisurely ride. You've got your bike helmet on, are to the right side of the road, and are peddling at a pretty good clip -- maybe 15 mph. A car approaches from behind, and you hear it speed up. It passes dangerously close to you. You are slightly buffeted by the breeze it causes, and you wonder where the idiot got his driver's license.
Both are familiar scenarios, and it appears that these conflicts between bicyclists and motorists are on the increase in the greater Hickory area.
"My wife was hit by a car," said Shane Cooper, founder and president of DeFeet, manufacturer of sports-related socks and wearables, and a well-known name in the international world of cycling. "We have encounters with angry motorists on a regular basis. It's dangerous to ride a bike on the roads around here."
According to a 2009 report (the most recent available) by the US DOT National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, cyclists ages 25 to 64 have made up an increasing proportion of all cycling deaths since 2000. The percentage of cycling fatalities among those ages 25 to 64 was 1.2 times higher in 2009 as in 2000 (64 percent and 52 percent respectively).
It is significant to note that alcohol involvement was reported in more than 40 percent of all fatal cycling crashes in 2009. The obvious caution: don't drink and ride.
The laws governing the use of bicycles on public roadways
Motorist may be unaware that bicycles have the legal status of a vehicle, according to the NC Department of Transportation.
"This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle," according to state law.
Basically, bicyclists must follow the same rules of the road as a motorist, which includes traveling on the right side of the road and obeying all traffic signs and signals. They cannot ride through a red light, cannot use sidewalks as a pathway, and must indicate turns and slowing down through the use of accepted hand signals.
For night use, bicycles must be equipped with headlamps that are visible from 300 feet ahead, and rear reflectors that are visible from 200 feet behind.
Children under the age of 16 are required to wear a bicycle helmet on public roads, public paths and public rights-of-way, according to the law. Adults, however, are not required to wear a safety helmet, although the state strongly recommends using one.
There are no laws regarding bicyclists having to ride single file, and none that give cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast. Cyclists are urged to ride courteously and responsibly in order that motorists can pass them safely.
Health benefits of cycling
Derek Luney is a cardiologist who lives and works in Hickory. He and his wife, Sandy, have been riding bikes for four to five years. He ought to know the benefits of cycling.
"It is an excellent aerobic exercise, and helps people with heart function, blood pressure, weight issues," he said.
When he thought to begin biking as an exercise regimen, he went to the Hickory Velo Club website and found there are basically three classes of riders, from A to C. C class riding is the slowest pace, from 14 to 16 miles an hour. He picked out a route and began riding to build up his stamina before joining the club at the C level.
"I was riding about 10 miles an hour, and the group was at 14 miles an hour when I joined, so it was difficult at first," said Luney.
He advises anyone with a family history of medical problems to check in with their doctor. Walking 20 to 30 minutes, at least three days a week (preferably seven days), is a good place to start, he said.
City planning: bikeways and bicycle lanes
The city of Hickory began planning land use projects for cyclists, joggers and walkers in 2000, according to Andrea Surratt, assistant city manager.
"The planning involved Parks and Recreation, the Planning and Public Services departments as well as interested citizens and organizations," said Surratt.
A detailed report was the result of the effort. "Sidewalk, Bikeway, Greenway, and Trail Master Plan" includes plans and information about sidewalk and bikeway needs, benefits, planning and costs. The plan was updated in 2005 to include greenway information, which had not appeared in the original document, according to Surratt.
The city regularly updates a list of the top 10 priorities for greenways and bikeways. Surratt said the document is kept current in order that if the state DOT has available funds for these projects, Hickory will be prepared. The current list covers an accumulated 27.47 miles of construction at an average cost of $450,000 per mile, according to the document.
The number one priority (as well as least expensive) is a greenway trail proposed to begin at Lenoir-Rhyne University and end at Stanford Park. The .27 mile project is estimated to cost $121,500.
Surratt agreed that a bike-friendly community is a major plus at attracting new business -- especially entrepreneurial kinds of business -- that can have a major impact on the local economy.
"We've launched Inspiring Spaces in response to that reality," she said.
Inspiring Spaces involves four phases in addressing such issues as streetscaping, urban design and other concerns with bike and pedestrian linkages and greenways. One of its highlighted goals is to promote Hickory as a welcoming and vibrant destination, as well as a thriving place to work, live and play, according to a promotional piece.
Inspiring Spaces is part of the "Hickory. Well Crafted" marketing efforts to draw businesses and visitors to the area. Biking in the Catawba Valley is emphasized in the push.
Potential for positive local economic impact
Various local biking enthusiasts believe the greater Hickory area can become a hotbed of cycling, and have a definite impact on the community.
"As far as year-round racing and training goes -- and becoming a real center for cycling -- North Carolina and this area has the potential," said Cooper. "Gregg LeMond told me that the North Carolina mountains are as good for riding as any in the world."
LeMond was a three-time winner of the Tour de France, now the only American winner of the event after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his wins due to using performance-enhancing drugs.
Cooper pointed out such benefits as terrain, weather, and road conditions as definite positives.
"And the people," he said. "There aren't any finer people as far as welcoming visitors as those in North Carolina."
The Bikes Belong Coalition is a biking advocacy organization with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often, according to its website. It estimates the economic impact of the biking industry in America at $6 billion.
"From the new velodrome in Rock Hill, to the races and biking support in Charlotte, to mountain biking in our mountains to road cycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this area has a lot to offer," said Mike Swanson, manager of Clark's Bicycle Center in Hickory.
Local expert bike retailers
Clark's has been a mainstay in Hickory since it opened in the mid-1950s, according to Swanson. Schwinn was the brand the store used to sell. Now, in addition to Schwinn and all of the bicycle accessories, Clark's sells Giant, the top bike sold around the world, according to Swanson.
Unique to the shop is an empty area where shoppers can try out their bikes. The emphasis of the store is family biking.
"You've got to try out the bikes," he said.
Swanson and his mechanic, Jim Sencio, are cyclists themselves. They provide customizing services as well.
"One customer is an amputee -- his right arm -- and we had to build the gear and brake controls on the left side," said Swanson.
RockNRoad is located on NC 127 north, and is owned by Lanny and Angie Lambert, who bought the store from the previous owner in 2011. The two have been cycling enthusiasts for 25 years, said Lanny.
"We've always had a passion for cycling, and our friend wanted to sell," he said.
Both have full-time jobs and don't run the shop. Their master mechanic, Chris Lynch, runs the store, which sells Trek bicycles and a myriad of bicycle-related products.
On the floor at the store is what Lanny refers to as his "show bike" and retails for $5,200. Features include electronic gear shifting, and a frame constructed from carbon fiber, far stronger and lighter than conventional steel tubing used in less expensive bikes found in department stores.
"The most expensive bike we've sold was for $12,500," he said.
These high-tech bikes can now be equipped with GPS that, hooked up, can record routes, speed, and even heart rate.
"I can plug the memory chip into my computer and get a complete printout that includes a history of the ride as well as a map. My wife can track me on her computer via GPS, and know where I am at any given moment," he said.
Clubs and rides
RockNRoad is also a sponsor of the Hickory Velo Club, a group of cycling enthusiasts from in and around the Hickory area. Club road cycling officially starts at the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, which will be March 10 this year, according to Aaron Tosky, president of the club.
The first official 6 p.m. ride will be on Tuesday night, March 12. From then on rides will occur, weather permitting, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at that time. Cyclists gather at RockNRoad bike shop, located on North Center Street.
Routes will vary according to ability.
Saturday mornings the group meets at Cafe Gouda, located in Belle Hollow Shopping Center. Times vary due to different rides, such as the breakfast ride for beginners that begins at 10 a.m.
New riders will need to sign a waiver of liability to participate.
The club has a riding team, which is less team-oriented in terms of team tactics and "plays" due to the relatively small number of advanced cyclists to draw from, according to Randy Guymer.
"It's more of a solo pursuit on the part of the bikers," said Guymer.
The age range of the team cyclists is from 17 or 18, to the oldest participant, Dan Dillon, who is 70, according to Guymer.
Guymer, who is a flight attendant on international flights, is an avid cyclist. He has competed several times in the Leadville Trail 100, which takes place in Colorado. The event traces out a 105-mile distance, reaching altitudes up to 13,000 feet to its lowest point of 9,100 feet, according to Guymer.
Guymer travels out to Colorado three to four weeks ahead of the event to train for the altitude. His personal best finish was eighth in 2000, he said.
Clark's Bicycle leads rides that will begin at the end of March, according to Swanson, and are more fun-riding experiences than competitive.
"We don't leave any bikers behind," he said.
Mondays is geared for beginner bikers, and those who desire meet at 6 pm in Union Square in downtown Hickory for a ride that will start at about a 12-mph pace, and gradually increase over the summer to around 17 to 18 mph.
Wednesdays are at the same time and place, but the rides begin at the 17 to 18 mph pace, according to Swanson.
Hickory cycling events
Three annual bike riding events are held in the greater Hickory area that benefits various organizations through sponsorships and riders.
Murray's Mill Bike Ride will celebrate its 14th year on June 1. The ride starts at 8 a.m. and begins at historic Murray's Mill. The event benefits the Catawba Valley Heritage Alliance as well as the Catawba County Historical Association. It is described as "a pleasant ride through the rolling and flat expanse of eastern Catawba County" on the event website. A 15-mile, a 30-mile and a 65-mile ride make up the event.
The 22nd annual 30-60-100 Mile Century Bike Ride, though not yet announced, should be held during the Soldiers Reunion events in Newton. The date for the ride, based on the Reunion tradition, falls on Sunday, Aug. 18. The ride is open to anyone; however, those under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian while participating in this event, according to past event information. Rides of 30, 60 and 100 miles are options.
Brett's Ride, organized in honor of Brett Gosnell, completed its ninth year in 2012. Gosnell was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma on April 8, 2003, according to the event biography of Brett. He inspired many during his struggle with cancer. Gosnell became too ill to attend college classes and moved home where he lost his battle to cancer on Aug. 17, 2006.
The event, which benefits Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem and Levine Childrens' Hospital in Charlotte, has raised more than $1 million, which includes matching donations, over the last nine years, according to Jim Powers, Director of Brett's Ride.
Brenner received $645,000 and Levine $261,500 -- with matching funds of $261,500.
Close to 9,800 riders have participated over that period of time.
The ride is traditionally held on the first Sunday in October.
Trails and routes
Carolina Thread Trails is a network of 125 trails, greenways, blueways and cycling lanes that connect through 15 area counties, according to Mack McLeod, Hickory Parks and Recreation director, and a member of the Catawba County Greenways Advisory Committee.
"There are 11 trails in the city," he said. "A large majority of the network was existing infrastructure."
The Hickory Velo Club, RockNRoads and Hickory Bicycle Center can provide information about various area bike routes and trails, including distances and degrees of difficulty.
(c)2013 the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.)
Visit the Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, N.C.) at www.hickoryrecord.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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