Cyclists look to enlarge ranks as city enhances trails

by Amy Kingsley

At half past six on the evening of Nov. 30 a handful of wiry, informally dressed men gathered at Recycles, a bicycle repair and retail shop on Spring Garden Street. One sat at a round table covered with cycling magazines and another perched at the glass counter. Both turned their attention to the trick riders bouncing across a television screen.

On most Thursdays that would have been the sedentary precursor to a vigorous 10- to 15-mile bicycle ride through downtown Greensboro. But the sky outside spat rain, and ride organizer Merritt White contemplated whether to cancel the outing.

“There’s a saying on the West Coast that if you don’t ride in the rain, then you don’t ride at all,” White said.

Greensboro, though, is pretty far from the West Coast. Sometimes it seems hard enough to find people in this town who are enthusiastic about riding when the sun’s out and the temperature moderate.

White is trying to change that with his weekly rides, which usually attract anywhere between three and 10 riders who carve a route around downtown Greensboro. He and another bike mechanic from Cycles D’Oro have instituted informal evening rides Monday through Thursday every week.

The Greensboro Department of Transportation made White’s efforts a little easier this year when they installed the first of several planned bike lanes. On Nov. 30 the Greensboro Bicentennial Commission announced its adoption of the urban greenway project as a gift to the city on the occasion of its 200th birthday in 2008. The commission will secure funding for the multimillion-dollar project that has been in the works since 2001.

“When we were asking the public about ideas for projects, the greenway came up most often,” said Zana Wall, executive director of the commission.

Greensboro’s bicycle infrastructure consists of a patchwork of piecemeal trails funded by various public and private sources. Last year the city unveiled a plan to unify these loops: the Greensboro Urban Area Bicycle, Pedestrian & Greenway Master Plan.

White can attest to the need for such cohesion. Riders usually gather outside his store around 7 p.m. then head east on Spring Garden, through downtown to the greenway across from Moses Cone Hospital. White prefers the route because it bypasses the busiest streets – until the riders reach the end of the greenway at Green Valley Road and Friendly Avenue.

“When you come out at Friendly,” he said, “at that intersection it stops. Bike-friendly is just nonexistent there.”

Part of the stretch of Green Valley Road between Wendover and Friendly avenues has a sidewalk; the other part doesn’t.

“There’s little blocks here and there where there’s nothing,” White said.

White’s interest in these urban escapades is twofold. He wants to raise the profile of Greensboro bicycle riders to attract more people to the sport and to prove to city leaders that the bike lanes are being used.

“There are a whole lot of people who want to get into riding but are intimidated by big group rides,” he said. “We aren’t an intimidating group.”

Combining bike and car traffic on streets with newly painted bike lanes can also expose problems.

“If someone goes down a road and it gets all bottled up that shows that maybe things need to be adjusted,” he said. “Bikes and cars can coexist with each other. It’s not like bikes hate cars and cars hate bikes.”

White lives about a mile and half from his store, which shares strip space with a neighborhood bar, comic book shop and Goth boutique. He rides his bike on most days, but also owns a truck for ferrying bikes and parts across town.

White started tinkering with bikes when he was seven. Now 28, his shop does brisk repair business alongside sales of used bikes White has fixed up. He pointed to various cogs and joints with grease-stained fingers a shade lighter than the matte black bike frame that hung behind the cash register.

“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

His single mindedness is evident in the hours and after hours he spends working on and riding bikes. Pint glasses, clothes and snacks geared toward the bicycle community crowd Recycles’ glass display cases. When he looks at the abandoned railroad outside his store, White sees prime real estate for a bike route. He gestured toward the television.

“Snowshoe,” he said referring to the West Virginia ski resort. “Beautiful Snowshoe.”

On the screen BMX riders sailed over dusty hills. There was not a snowflake in sight.

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