The gospel of cycling for everyone

by Jordan Green

As group rides go, this one is pretty laidback.

Getting my daughter to her babysitter an hour beforehand isn’t much of a challenge. But I discover that the front tire of my bicycle won’t hold air (that’s what happens when you’ve been out of circulation). So I wrangle my wife’s fat-tire cruiser out of the mudroom. I typically remove the front tire of my bike and slide it into the backseat of my 2002 Kia Spectra. Two new elements add to the difficulty this time: a) The substitute bike is larger; and b) there is now a car seat base in the middle of the seat to work around. The whole ordeal puts me back about 20 minutes and I still manage to break a couple plastic components of the Kia console while jamming the bike in the backseat.

The ride is scheduled for noon in High Point and it’s a quarter ’til by the time I finally get around to leaving Greensboro.

Twenty minutes after the appointed time I spot a 1970s-vintage blue cruiser outside DeBeen Espresso, the High Point coffeehouse serving as the meeting place for the ride, cluing me in that I haven’t been left behind. The bicycle belongs to Steve Hollingsworth, the owner of Green Door Wheel Works.

“Leisurely paced” is the term Hollingsworth, whose bushy beard gives him the look of an 1890s tinsmith or a friendly, young Amish preacher, uses on a Facebook invite to describe the ride. He greets me outside the coffeehouse and asks if I mind waiting while he finishes his coffee.

As it turns out, the only other rider today is Bill Petrie Jr., who drove from Winston-Salem. Petrie, who was prompted to take up cycling because of a healthcare issue when his blood pressure went way up, is a serious rider: He wears a proper cycling cap and spandex. But his steel bike is equipped for safety and comfort rather than speed or competition. He rides on fat tires and equips his bike with saddlebags whether he needs to carry anything or not so that motorists will be more likely to spot him on the road.

Hollingsworth said the rides typically attracted 10 to 15 participants when the weather was nice this past spring. He attributes the low turnout today to cold weather.

Petrie often rides Salem Creek Greenway, which is relatively remote, at least in the section from Winston-Salem State University to Salem Lake. He’s interested in checking out High Point Greenway, which runs through the heart of the city and connects High Point University to adjacent residential neighborhoods. The original plan had been to ride around downtown and the furniture market district, but Hollingsworth suggests we change tack to explore the greenway.

We set out heading east on Lexington Avenue, a major thoroughfare equipped with two lanes and wide shoulders. Having largely taken a hiatus from cycling and running since the birth of my daughter about four months ago, I find myself straining against the slight incline of the road. Petrie asks me if I’m doing all right. Then he suggests I shift down to a lower gear. My legs will have to make more rotations, but he says the lower gear will save my knees in this cold weather. He often “sweeps,” that is takes up the rear in the procession, both so that the group can benefit from his taillights and to ensure that no one gets left behind.

Later, Petrie tells me that when he was younger he found himself riding with a competitive group who were impatient with the slow riders. Every rider at one time or another has encountered the experience of suffering silently in a group ride as they try to keep up. Ever since, Petrie says, he has resolved to make sure no one ever feels that way if he’s part of the group.

Petrie is a fan of a blog called Fat Cyclist written by a rider who calls himself Fatty. The premise is self-evident: Anyone can be a serious cyclist, no matter how in or out of shape.

Hollingsworth is a cycling populist, too. As an owner of a shop that builds and refurbishes bicycles, he holds a vested interest in getting as many people in High Point interested in cycling as possible. He also genuinely believes that making the city more bike friendly will improve the quality of life for everyone.

In January, Hollingsworth plans to go before city council to ask them to dedicate 1 percent of its annual transportation budget – about $200,000, he estimates – to bicycling infrastructure. He’ll also present a plan for investing the money. High Point has a key advantage, he says: The streets are overbuilt and underutilized.

“The federal standard for level of service A is 700 cars per lane per hour…. English Road, where my shop is located, has 1,200 cars total per day. We’re way below what would be required to be a level-of-service-A road. To paint some bike lanes, it would cost next to nothing.”

He adds that slowing down car traffic by adding bike lanes and on-street parking would increase spending in the local economy by inducing motorists to slow down and take notice of small businesses that they previously had sped past.

Hollingsworth is not discouraged by the fact that today’s ride only attracted two people.

“My belief is that if you keep educating people and keep taking steps forward eventually you’ll make a difference,” he says. “I’m not a flash-inthe-pan kind of guy.” !