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VOL. 125 | NO. 192 | Monday, October 4, 2010

'Right Direction'

Bike business booms as trail – and retail – options improve

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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“I don’t think (biking) is a fad in Memphis, I think it’s a movement.”

– Paul Rubin

Paul Rubin has a little more company these days when he rides his bicycle with the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club. He’s been a member for more than 20 years, but right now about half of the club is just getting started.

“Our club membership has almost doubled in a year,” said Rubin, who serves as president of MHBC.

Rubin, who said the group’s membership last summer was around 300, expects to break 700 members this month.

A number of factors have led to a dramatic increase in cycling interest in Memphis, and bike shops representing the full spectrum of price ranges are working hard to keep up with demand.

“The city is now, I think, pro-bike,” said Rubin. “Memphis has a terrible reputation for being unfriendly to bikers. I think that is now changing. The mayor has a whole different attitude toward biking.”

Bike shop owners credit Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. with introducing the word “sustainable” to the average Memphian on the street and with following through on projects that offer new facilities for cyclists.

Earlier this summer planning began to introduce new bike lanes in Midtown. In September, Wharton named Kyle Wagenschutz the city’s first bikeway/pedestrian coordinator, who is charged with finding new ways to initiate and fund facilities for foot and bike traffic.

And perhaps most importantly, the Shelby Farms Greenline, stretching from Midtown to Shelby Farms, will formally open this week bringing several miles of nearly unimpeded trails to cyclists and runners.

Clark Butcher and Robert Taylor opened their custom bike-fitting shop, Victory Bicycle Studio, in Cooper-Young in early September based largely on increased demand in their individual work with cyclists and runners.

“It sounds wild, but in some of the worst economic times people are still finding two or three grand to spend on a bike,” said Butcher. “Yes, there is an initial investment to it, but you don’t have to pay to go ride a bicycle. The upkeep and maintenance is incredibly nominal. It’s an affordable, low-impact sport.”

Last week a fire damaged Victory, but Butcher said the company is in the process of renting a temporary space in Cooper-Young and remains open by appointment.

Wagenschutz said price options for bikes in Memphis range from several thousand dollars to nearly free. New riders, he said, often like to test the water before investing heavily in a bike.

Daniel Duckworth of Midtown Bike Company, 509 S. Main, sets up a few of the business' Electra bikes in front of the shop after opening for business on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Wagenschutz remains director of Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop at First Congregational Church, also in Cooper-Young, where members make an annual $40 donation and serve 10 hours of volunteer time while learning to construct their own bicycle from donated recycled parts.

“Since 2002 when the shop opened, we’ve recycled over 2,000 bikes and put them back out on the street,” said Wagenschutz. “Every day I ride and I’m seeing more people riding on a daily basis. Somebody asked me where did all these bicyclists come from? I like to think that if you put 2,000 more bikes on the street, somehow you’re going to notice an increase in cycling.”

Others are simply pulling their old bikes out of garages and attics and taking them for a spin.

“Definitely we’re seeing a lot more repairs for this time of year than usual,” said Daniel Duckworth, general manager of Midtown Bikes, Downtown, which sells new and used everyday urban bikes.

“Generally in spring and summer we’re busy anyway, but particularly after the heat wave we just had, the weather breaking coinciding with the opening of the Greenline and the allocation of future bike lanes, we’re seeing more people wanting to participate.”

Of course putting hundreds of new cyclists on the street or on the Greenline has its challenges, safety being chief among them.

Walt Rider, owner of Rider Performance Cycles in Collierville, said he’s seen plenty of common sense mistakes being made on the Greenline like cyclists making U-turns without signaling the people behind them.

“Hopefully they’ll get some guidelines on the trail,” said Rider, who sells high-end bikes, including his own manufactured line. “It’s a two-way street, but you get groups who take the whole trail.

“They need to have signs every so often with basic rules – (such as) stay to the right unless you’re going to pass someone. There are a lot of people out there with no helmets on. It’s not going to be a place for the serious cyclist. It’s more a recreational path.”

Rubin said he wasn’t certain if the Greenline and forthcoming bike lanes would increase the number of bike commuters, but Joe Royer, owner of Outdoors Inc. said there’s a bigger picture than just one trail.

“How do we keep the Phi Beta Kappas in Memphis?” said Royer. “They’re all leaving and we can’t hire Harvard MBAs to come here.”

A city’s bicycling facilities and water-access for canoeing and kayaking, he said, can be likened to having a symphony orchestra, an entertainment district or a major league sports team in their appeal to highly trained workers.

“Having connectivity throughout the city and county is critical to us having self-esteem about our city,” said Royer. “We hear every day how great Chattanooga and Asheville and Louisville are doing. So many folks are not quite happy with Memphis.”

But all agreed that Memphis is heading in the right direction and that the city’s change in attitude toward biking could be long lasting.

“I don’t think (biking) is a fad in Memphis, I think it’s a movement,” said Rubin.

Look for more about Shelby Farms Greenline in Tuesday’s edition of The Daily News.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 56 9,658
MORTGAGES 0 49 10,665
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 12 1,301
BUILDING PERMITS 0 548 21,505
BANKRUPTCIES 0 256 6,219
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 64 4,003
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 60 2,952
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 52 2,073