Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution
Lake Norman’s cycling sub-culture is on a roll
By Mike Savicki
The stools adjacent to the bicycle service bay at The Cycle Path in Cornelius are full of eager cyclists picking up free tips on mountain bike repair. At Cool Breeze Cyclery in Mooresville, upbeat “girl music” blasts in the fitness studio as a predominantly female group of triathletes begin a sweaty, numbers-driven Computrainer workout. And the action of one elementary school is catching the attention of politicians and policy makers as urbanization moves ahead in the towns and counties of the region.
“Cycling a really unique sport,” admits Mark Sullivan, owner of The Cycle Path. “Customers come in to the store all the time and tell me they aren’t a cyclist but want to buy a bike. They are surprised when I tell them that if they can ride a bike, they are a cyclist. It doesn’t take bright spandex and a cycling jersey to belong. You are right in calling it a sub-culture. It appeals to people of all ages and abilities no matter what sort of experience or goals they have.”
A day in the life
While no two days are alike for cyclists around Lake Norman, sub-culturists like Mark Sullivan say the day follows a familiar pattern. He says, “Before sunrise, the roadies hustle to beat automobiles onto empty roads. During the morning rush hour, I’ll see professors on bikes rubbing elbows with the more imposing four wheeled friends. As the evening commute lightens, the working class trade their business casual for cycling shoes and a helmet and rush to get in a quick ride before darkness.”
And somewhere in the woods, Sullivan adds, the fat tire gang navigates rocks, stumps and single track. It doesn’t matter if it is day or night to this crowd, helmet and bike-mounted lights illuminate the darkness.
Weekend rides are also an important component. When Bruce Guild, founder, co-owner and manager of Cool Breezy Cyclery, opened his bicycle business in 1988, evening and weekend rides from the shop’s Downtown Mooresville location were common. “But as residential and commercial development change the landscape and more and more vehicles fill the roads, finding a safe and enjoyable place to ride is more difficult. We have moved many of our weekend rides to Lake Norman State Park because we believe knowing the routes and keeping our cyclists safe is important. ”
Bruce Guild says being on the bicycle carries a greater responsibility than selling bikes. When Cool Breezy Cyclery opened its Mooresville Gateway location in 2006, Guild brought aboard two additional co-owners, Steve Doolittle and Chris Vasiloff, to expand the community connection. “When we made the move to the new location, we made it a priority to do more outreach and play an expanded role in things that take us outside our four walls and tie us to the community.”
Steve Doolittle spearheads Cool Breeze’s community outreach efforts. “We have a role that goes beyond selling bikes. We bring cycling awareness to the community, and that is the biggest issue we face, especially as the area grows and the roadways becomes more densely packed,” Steve Doolittle explains. “Part of growing the sub-culture is proposing a system where any time there is a high impact development project, you look beyond the car and include plans that take into consideration the pedestrian and the cyclist. It is important to advocate and start now, before urbanization is complete, and there is no way to go back and make changes.”
Doolittle remembers a time when most elementary school students either rode their bikes or walked to school. Childhood obesity was nothing more than a blip on the radar, and children spent most of their free time outdoors. “Things like neighborhood traffic, video games and busy schedules changed things,” he says, “And now most kids either take a bus or a car to school, even if they live nearby, and childhood obesity is an epidemic.”
One local elementary school is making a difference. Of the seven hundred fifty kindergarten through fifth grade students at Lake Norman Elementary School in Mooresville, eighty-five percent live within walking distance. Until recently, the barriers to the children walking to school, says Dr. Boen Nutting, principal, was that the school sits on a busy road with no sidewalks for the children to use.
After hearing students ask for bike racks and safe routes, Dr. Nutting met with the school’s transportation director. The pair decided to implement pedestrian and bicycle safety activities at Lake Norman Elementary. The town manager, officials from the department of planning and zoning, and officers from the police and sheriff departments offered assistance to ensure safety, and students soon began cycling or walking to school one day a week. The school added bike racks and developed a plan to build sidewalks.
To install the necessary sidewalks, Lake Norman Elementary School officials spent ten thousand dollars of school funds to create part of the sidewalk, and the town of Mooresville worked with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to paint the crosswalk. The sidewalk was completed in May 2008, just in time for the school’s first “Walking and Wheeling Day.”
More than two hundred students walked or biked to school on the first day, and between thirty and fifty now bike to school on an average day.
“If you look at the steps Lake Norman Elementary School did to change the system, and think about all the other schools and groups out there with a voice, well, the potential to bring about change is so powerful,” remarks Steve Doolittle.
“That’s really the beauty of cycling,” concludes Mark Sullivan. “It doesn’t stop when the wheels stop turning. Cycling means something different to everyone on a bike, and there is always work to be done.”
A properly fit bicycle will make the sport healthier and more enjoyable
“There are so many problems that can occur when someone gets on a bike that doesn’t fit properly,” says Bruce Guild, founder, co-owner and manager of Cool Breeze Cyclery in Mooresville. “Something as simple as knowing how to sit on the saddle can impact overall health, not to mention your performance on the bike.”
Bruce Guild says the old method of matching a frame size to a rider’s height changed as road and mountain bike geometry evolved. A good shop now matches a body type to a geometry and not a height to a frame size. “When that happens,” he says, “the likelihood of getting it right is pretty slim.”
Bike fit is a complex process. A properly fit bike is the result of analyzing a series of body measurements and comparing the numbers to factors such as biomechanics, muscle imbalance and flexibility. Understanding a rider’s experience, goals and reasons for riding also plays a role.
“You really can’t take a bike and adapt it to fit you,” adds Mark Sullivan, owner of The Cycle Path. “You don’t necessarily have to go out and buy a new bike, but having a knowledgeable technician work with you to find a personal solution is the best way to start.”
“Most people think that to ride a bike, you have to have some degree of pain,” concludes Bruce Guild. “There is a reason for every pain you have on a bike and there is also a solution. It’s so much fun for me to work with someone who has endured pain for years and then, after a fitting, ride for hours on end pain-free. A degree here and a centimeter there make a big difference.”
This article was originally published in the July 2009 edition of Currents Magazine.