Posts Tagged 'north carolina'

Choice-rich riding

Tonight’s bike commute home from Chapel Hill to Saxapahaw was decidedly a perfect summer evening ride, and I found myself prolonging it as long as possible. My bike tires left tracks through the yellow loblolly pine pollen coating the road, sweet wisteria filled the nose, and the growing shadows of evening cooled the air from the afternoon highs of around 90F. It felt so good to be out on a bike, I couldn’t go home slow enough. The area of North Carolina where I live is road-rich: I can take numerous routes of varying length home, and it’s easy to turn down one quiet farm road then another and add on a few more bucolic miles before calling it a day. The farm roads were so empty of car traffic this evening that I barely saw a dozen cars over the course of my last 12 miles. Not long after I got home, the sun set and bats came out to feed on the newly hatched insects over the Haw River.

My tandem partner-cum-bride-to-be had to drive to another city tonight for an evening engagement, leaving me to decide whether to take our other car (which I call the “bachelor wagon” since it’s from the my good old days, and it’s standard transmission makes it undriveable by my fiancee) or whether to ride my bicycle home from work instead. The big decision was which bike to take.

It was wonderful to have the choice to ride my bicycle home tonight – longer days and warmer temps make this a regular part of my life once again. I’m also lucky to have the benefit of so many quiet country roads. North Carolina is known for having just about the highest amount of road miles per capita in the U.S. It helps to know which roads most auto traffic takes, but there are plenty of highways that siffon off most cars, leaving the country roads relatively unmolested, although the lanes on these roads are notoriously narrow at 10ft with no shoulder, and make for a tight squeeze when a couple vehicles need to pass by. In my earlier, more righteous days, I would on occasion take up the cause of anti-road building, and there’s many reasons to follow that discussion. But frankly, as a bicyclist, I’m reaping the benefits of North Carolina’s road building policy: I haven’t researched its history, but what I know is there are vast numbers of short, quiet farm roads lacing the countryside here.

Much is being said in the biking/sustainable living media right now about Americans desiring more options for transportation. The advocacy group Transportation For America released the results of a survey showing a majority of us want to spend less time in cars and want more options for getting around. USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood even seems excited about this, and appears to be driving federal policy away from the traditional exclusive focus on, well, driving.

While this is all good, I have to say that the choice is already there for any of us to make every day. It’s an easier choice for me to make, and if you’re reading this blog, chances are it’s an easier choice for you to make, too. I consciously decided long ago that bicycling would be an integral part of my lifestyle. Experience breeds confidence on the road, mixed with the fitness that regular riding provides makes bicycling not just an easy choice, but a pleasureable, relaxing, and exhilarating one (yes, I think something can be both exhilarating and relaxing at the same time – my ride home tonight was just that). And by now in my early-middle-age/late-adolescence, I have more bicycles to choose from than hours in the day I can ride. But all it takes is one bicycle in the “stable” to have the choice.

Lately, my “steed” of choice has been my 10-year-old indefatigable Co-Motion Americano touring bike. It’s funny what so many options, or choice, can do to how you perceive circumstances and make decisions. In the case of choosing which bicycle to ride, how I view the Americano changed drastically when I acquired my CoMo Espresso, a light, fast racing bike. Where I once had only the Americano as my road bike, and on it I bike-toured across North America fully-loaded a few times – truly, this is a comfortable, capable, do-anything, go-anywhere bicycle, a real road warrior – the Espresso became my default bike for long (unloaded) road rides. The Americano became relegated this past season to my around-town commuter, ferrying me and a pannier full of lunch the three miles from the park-and-ride to my office, and the three miles back. If I was going to take the long ride into town from Saxapahaw, I would automatically choose the Espresso, thinking it to be the more capable long-distance commuter – sportier, faster, more comfortable.

The other week, wanting to ride a bicycle into work the long way but needing to take a bunch of stuff, I grudgingly made the decision to load up the Americano out of necessity and putter my way into town. Grudgingly? Putter? What the hell was I thinking? And, where had all my past experience with the Americano gone when it came to making this decision? Of course the touring bike was more than capable, and probably more comfortable, for the long distance ride. While the Espresso does have sportier handling, and while over many miles I do average slightly higher speeds, it doesn’t really make much difference over 20-25 miles, and is certainly not more comfortable over long distances than the Americano. They’re both undeniably great bikes, and both have unique qualities. Furthermore, their points of difference really only matter to us small minority of people who are bike geeks, own too many bikes (and are willing to pay as much for them as for a good used car), and therefore have to make to make the “tough” decision about which to ride.

My goal this year is to ride as many of my bikes as possible each week. It’s not like I have that many. Naturally, I ride the tandem as often as possible with my honey. I hit the great mountain bike trails in Chapel Hill each week they’re not too muddy to ride. And that leaves me with the awful struggle, the over-privileged decision, I have between two too-sweet road bikes.


Snow day in Saxapahaw

The question of riding bicycles out of choice, necessity, or some mixture thereof was solved for this tandem couple this weekend. A friday night storm of snow and ice closed the roads and filled the fields, and persistent freezing temperatures have kept it all in place. We were forced, albeit happily, to hang up the Sidis in favor of the Bean boots and go frolic in the snow.

No biking today, but plenty of fun to come...

The unusually wintry winter we’re experiencing in North Carolina delivered the sort of snowy weekend that exists deep in the collective American sentimental memory of the season – this is real winter. Whether you’re from a serious winter climate (i.e. The North, like this Mainer) or an unserious winter climate (i.e. The South, like my honey), I bet we conjure up a similar vision of the perfect winter day – bright white snow sparkling under the sun after snowing all night, sound softened by the deep snow, meditative crunching of snow under boots, red-faced children on sleds, hot cocoa. This was exactly the scene in Saxapahaw this weekend, a scene that comes around perhaps once every five to ten years.

This being the South, it’s a given they don’t have the equipment to clear and treat the roads – and I’m happy for any reason not to get in the car. However, it also means that when the snow hits, we’re not prepared with the truly essential equipment. What to use for a sled? Luckily we live in a river town, so improvisation was easy. That which floats could also be used to go down a steep slope. We dug out our truck tire inner tub that we use to float on the Haw. It’s old, and had a couple holes. This is where bicycle skills come in handy:

Patch kit and pump, no problem.

My stoker’s enthusiasm for sledding, partly due to her geographic deprivation of snow during her childhood, is unparalleled. Long before I roused myself from bed on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, she had our warm gear pulled out, a lunch packed, and a thermos of hot tea ready for full days out on hills. These were to be epic days for us and our dog who’s built for this weather more than anything.

Recently I’ve been considering why Saxapahaw was a better place for a settlement along the Haw as opposed to any other stretch. It’s been continuously inhabited for centuries, mostly recently by the Sissipahaw Indians, before the Europeans migrated to the area with their mills and churches. Following the closing of the mill in the 90s, Sax has entered its latest state of transition, as the center of a community that is trying to be more inclusive of workers, farmers, foodies and artists regardless of race. Why all of this activity here at this point along the Haw? It has to be the tall hills that rise above the river, which provided enough high ground for housing and a water tower. The major landholders in the town, the Jordans, maintain a huge open field of rolling hills. These hills are of course perfect for sledding.

After a few runs to break trail, we were attaining some long runs and serious speeds.

At either end of the field where the hills were steepest and longest, neighbors gathered with whatever sleds they could find. I’d never met so many Saxapahemians. Even during the summer when the Saturday farmer’s market and live music draws a couple hundred folks, you’re never sure who of them actually live in the area. The snow was an event for the local community itself. It’s a tradition that goes back decades. We sledded with a family for a couple hours who’d been in the area for a few generations, who said they’d all come around to these fields every time there was snow.

A slope behind the mill houses off Hilltop St was by far the most popular. By the time we got there, the slope was completely slick, and jarring moguls had formed. It was teeming with children, and plenty of adults were joining in the fun. The slope went off the back yard of one house whose residents have been there renting for a few months. They had set up a stand of hot cocoa for everyone to enjoy. I said it was cool of them let people play off their back yard. They replied that they didn’t have a choice. This is just where the locals go whenever it snows.

Watching this group from afar, we’d seen some large objects going down the slope. As we approached, we realized we were watching the true merging of the river town with a snowy day. The older kids, by whom I mean the adult men, were running their canoes and kayaks down the slope.

Drag race!

We watched this crew launch downhill, hit a rut on the way down and turn full sideways before righting themselves, and finally flip over. No worries about drowning in that canoe, but bones have something to fear.

Our only lament was that we only had one tube to slide on, and that we didn’t have a sled we could ride on together. We’re a tandem couple, and we needed something like a classic toboggan (for the southerners out there, I mean the multi-person sled, and not a knit hat). On our very last run of the day, we decided to try it anyway – we both loaded onto our tube and set off down the hill. It was the wildest, funnest ride of the day. As a sort of turnabout, my beloved stoker sat up front and could watch the path down the hill and the quickly approaching edge of the woods, while I, typically the captain on the tandem, was on the back, laying back unable to see forward or control our speed or direction in the least. I was literally being being dragged along at epic speed, at the mercy of gravity and whatever control my partner had up front. It was the best run of the weekend.

Who’s biking? Choice or necessity

I made contact this week with a fellow bike commuter I’ve seen nearly every day since last summer. His is a rare sight on a bicycle on the rural roads outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro – an older Latino man that we dubbed Cristobal so that we could talk about him between us. When the temperature and day light permitted the 20-mile ride to town, we’d cross paths with this man going the opposite direction. My partner and I would both wave from our tandem across the busy road, and eventually he started waving back.

As a sort of complement to this story, a new report called “Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report” was released today by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, which uses what (limited) available data there is to look at how many people are biking and walking in the U.S., and who they are. Well, there’s us. And there’s Cristobal.

Before we met Cristobal, we speculated that he was Mexican, probably from a certain state where most of the latinos in this part of North Carolina come from. (It helps that my partner works with migrant populations in this area of Mexico). We also figured that he was commuting by bicycle to work at a farm or quarry 12-15 miles out into the countryside because he didn’t have a car. In my head, I was happy for Cristobal, and hoped that he enjoyed the choice of bicycling as much as I do. I thought, he must be one of the most fit guys in his neighborhood.

He rides an older, beat-up blue bike with cruiser handlebars and baskets on his rear rack. Until recently he wore a cap rather than helmet, and still he wears a helmet only occasionally. When we would pass by on our tandem in warmer months, he seemed comfortable on the bike, even a bit amused. We stopped riding for the winter, but we see him every day on our drive. The morning temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. He has a thick coat, mittens, and a helmet sits atop a knit cap. He looks miserable.

As we were traveling home in the early winter dark, we didn’t see him. Not because he wasn’t there, but because he had no lights or reflectors. I decided to buy him a set of front and rear lights. I was worried for his safety, but I also took this as my opportunity to meet him. There’s a gas station where we often see his bike where he probably stops for a snack on the way to and from work. After weeks of driving by, we finally passed the store while he was there. We stopped and met Cristobal.

First off, his name’s not Cristobal, but it’ll do for this blog. We approached with big awkward grins and the set of lights. Luckily my partner is also fluent in Spanish. While I set to installing the lights on his bike, she was able to get Cristobal’s story. As she guessed, Cristobal is from Guanajuato. He’s a bit older than the typical recent Mexican immigrant, though he’s probably younger than he looks. He moved here two years ago and lives with his son who’s in his 20s. I shook Cristobal’s hand, and it was rough and chalky.

We introduced ourselves as the tandem couple that waved to him when we passed him back in the warmer months – he seemed to remember us. We told him that we were impressed he biked so far out everyday, that he must be strong, and that he’s a better person than us for dealing with the winter. The private bicycle cheerleader in my head was shouting RAH-RAH, but Cristobal’s take on it was different. He said he hates biking. That he only does it because he needs the job, the job is far from town, and he has no car. But he said he was grateful for the lights, shook our hands with genuine warmth, and mounted his bike to ride back home in the dark.

We passed him on our way home today and were glad to see his new lights flashing from the side of the road. It was a warmer afternoon, in the 50s, but tomorrow they are predicting snow, which at least means cold and precipitation. Trucks were spraying “brine” along the road.

Without speculating about Cristobal’s personal circumstances, we know that North Carolina makes it difficult for immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses now – a reckless conflation of poor immigration policy with public safety, which is what the license process should really be about – but that’s a problematic topic for another post. According to what I can gather from this new “Benchmarks” report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking (ABW), Cristobal’s reasons for bike commuting are at least as common as all of us folks now blogging about our conscious decisions to commute by bike. Mine is a choice, his is not.

As I said at the beginning, Cristobal, the Latino immigrant bike commuting out of necessity, is a rare sight out on the country roads. But it’s not so rare in cities and towns across this country. According to the ABW report, while Hispanics now make up 15% of the U.S. population, they account for 22% of total bike trips. If this data is accurate, then that population is overrepresented among bicyclists, while perhaps underrepresented in the popular media image of who bicyclists are.

The ABW report also attempts to break down bike trips by socioeconomic brackets, but that data seems to come from 2001 numbers, which may or may not be relevant anymore. For what they’re worth, those old numbers indicate that across income levels, the share of bike trips is basically the same. What is even harder to capture is the reason (utility or recreation or some combination of those) for the bike trip. ABW speculates that the lower-income share of bike trips may be more for utility, while higher income classes may bike more for recreation. Given that Hispanics have a very high poverty rate in North Carolina and the rest of the U.S., it’s probably not a wildly irresponsible assumption that among Hispanic bikers, utility trips out of necessity make up a large proportion of their total trips by bike, like Cristobal.

There’s another image of the bicyclist that I don’t see represented in the media and bike blog community that much, but was probably the most prevalent when I was a kid growing up in rural Maine, and may still be the popular image of bicyclists among certain communities, such as low-income communities and rural areas. My childhood mind remembers basically three types of bicyclists: kids like me on their bmx’s; the occasional odd-ball adult in neon lycra; and, more commonly, the slovenly-looking fellow biking against traffic. Bikes in this last category were known as DUI-machines, and I bet their popularity has not waxed or waned one way or the other.

I’m happy, and exceedingly lucky, to have the choice to ride my bike (er… choice of one of many bikes) for utility or for fun. (I’m even luckier to have a partner to ride a tandem with, who has by and large the same motivation as me, plus can speak Spanish…). There’s probably at least as many bicyclists who ride out of necessity, as out of choice. As our society looks at products to market, services and education to offer, and new transportation plans and policies, I hope that a major demographic of the bicyclist population doesn’t get lost on the side streets.


I was looking forward to moving back to North Carolina from Chicago for many reasons: mainly to begin living with my fiancee, but not the least, I was looking forward to a full 12-month year of bikeable weather. When I originally left NC a few years ago, I rejoiced at returning to the land of four distinct seasons, each resplendent with their respective glories and miseries. In the south, winter seemed to flatten into a continuum between fall and spring, basically stretching the entire period into one long season, that is just kinda nice.

I quickly realized, however, that the previous years in North Carolina and a couple in mild western Oregon, had permanently shaped my expectations. Snowy landscapes are indeed beautiful, and I have a bizarre sort of nostalgia for shoveling the driveway (formerly a bane of my childhood spent in Maine). But I want to stay active year-round in the physical activity I had chosen – that being biking.

Yes, you can bike in Chicago throughout the winter, and I’ve seen a few news articles lately giving tips (here and here), but I’d say that’s mainly for urban commuters who go a few miles at a clip, or for daredevil masochists. I’m talking about getting those long country miles under my wheels without the threat of snow plows and ice hazards.

The short days have obviated the 20-mile bike commute, until the light begins to hold out long enough for safer passage on the rural roads, and I’m left with a 3-mile bike ride from the park-and-ride lot. I also have to admit that the unusually cold days that struck the south the past month did a number on my and my tandem partner’s motivation to take weekend leisure rides (I realize there’s no excuse for this given the above comments about the north).

In any event, despite the colder than normal temps and the short days, we have occasionally gotten out for a tandem ride. And this is what I’ve found out: the less frequent bike rides during this season have given me a new perspective that there is indeed something that is distinct about the southern winter. This season, chilly if not cold, darker and rainier than the others, uncovers an environment that I can’t see during the other seasons. Here, the fall leaves hang on long, and spring bursts forth with an explosion of green come March. But right now, I can actually see the landscape around me that, for the other 9 months of the year, I literally can’t see for the trees.

From our back deck, we have a clear view of the Haw river, and the dam over which the river swollen from repeated heavy rains continues to thunder. And bike rides down roads regularly pedaled throughout the year yield discoveries otherwise invisible to us: junk yards usually hidden in the woods; houses deep into properties we didn’t know where there; farm fields that extend farther and support more livestock than we realized. Basically, more cars, people, and cows surrounding us. On the bike, we pass through these areas, stealthily glancing into back yards, seeing our world more clearly.

One of my early complaints about the piedmont landscape was that the mild hills and dense trees prevented me from ever getting a grasp on what the environment around me was shaped like and what it contained. Winter provides that chance.

And then, when rides become more rare, things happen on usually familiar roads that totally change our ride. E.g.:

bridge out

Uh oh... bridge is out.

Note to local readers: bridge is out on McBane Mill for the foreseeable future.

Tandem gems from Raleigh

For some reason, it’s not easy for us to get over to Raleigh. On the weekends, it seems we’re either bunkering up in the vicinity of Saxapahaw to enjoy great bike rides, and goat burgers from the General Store, or we’re escaping very far away, like last week’s trip to the Bay area. Raleigh, the dominant city in the region, seems to exist an uninteresting nomansland between near and far. It doesn’t have much to offer that Orange and Alamance Counties don’t already have, so if we’re going to make the effort to get over there, we may as well head straight to RDU and fly away.

Unless we’re talking tandems. There’s no shortage of great bicycle shops and experts in North Carolina – probably a testament to the diverse and extensive conditions for riding across the state – any state that can claim “mountains to the sea” deserves a leg up over the top tube. However, Raleigh seems to be the locus for tandem riding. Raleigh is home to the southern cuisine-themed riding club GRITS (Greater Raleigh Intrepid Tandem Society). The focus for the locus is All Star Bikes at Quail Corners. I’m still re-acquainting myself with my re-adopted state of NC, and while researching dealers to find the kind of high-end tandem we’re looking for for our wedding registry, I found out that All Star Bikes is the closest by a long shot. A trip to Raleigh finally seemed necessary.

The store location in a non-descript suburban strip mall in the uneasy mishmash of business and neighborhood developments of fast-growing north Raleigh is more a comment on the realities of Raleigh city planning than the shop itself. While there, we got to chat with their expert wrench Terry, and long-time sales guys Jeff and Neil. They sell Santana and Co-Motion, which is exactly what you’re hoping for when you’re looking for the highest quality production tandems.

We got to test ride a Co-Motion Speedster, which is only the exact tandem make and model I’ve pinned my dreams on since my first ride on a tandem (a Co-Motion Big Al) back in 2000. The differences between the good ol’ Burley Duet and the Speedster are just about night and day. First the similarities: they’re both steel; both handmade in Eugene, OR; both are tandems. There the similarities basically end. I’ve always enjoyed the functionality, serviceability, and smart details of the Burley. It’s handling is predictable, and even though on the chubby side, I’ve often felt its weight lends it an impressive gravity – when the road starts to point downhill, the momentum it generates makes it feel like a muscular train steaming across the vast expanses of the continent. What I didn’t realize is that I could feel the same confidence in a tandem, and still feel nimbleness similar to a quality single bike.

This is so with the CoMo Speedster. We got to test ride the tandem along residential streets that actually offered a couple of decent hills by which to gain a sense of its climbing prowess and the feel as it picked up speed downhill. We also got the blah attention-demanding surburban experience of dodging cars exiting driveways and sucking exhaust and debris belched from noxious leaf-blowers. The CoMo handled these challenges and grievances as easily as Gatsby navigates a cocktail party. The Speedster seriously is about 15lbs skinnier than the Duet, but gives nothing up in rigidity or surety. The handling is much sportier, turning with the ease of a Panamian drug-running boat, as opposed to a container ship turning miles in advance of an iceberg. Sure, components that are 15 years newer are also a nice upgrade, but the real advancement is the slick handling and smooth riding. A high performance machine, the steel Speedster is also ready for self-supported touring, with all the right rack and fender mounts. Alas, the only thing missing is a pump peg.

Back at the shop, we absorbed some good tips from Neil, a dedicated tandem-rider (owning a carbon Calfee), veteran racer, and salesman for 25 years. Here’s some new things we’re thinking about:
-Cornering technique: the stoker should slightly elevate off the saddle, lean into the turn, and keep weight on the lowered pedal on the outside of the turn (the pedal opposite the turn) to achieve the lowest center of gravity. Our first experience with this is that this move has to be smooth, natural, and unconscious, as the concerted effort by the stoker to force weight down on the pedal is more upsetting than we usually experience.
-Disc brakes versus drum brake on the tandem: disc brakes offer an upgrade in stopping power over rim brakes, but when it comes to long, steep downhills, they’ll fade out. I’m thinking rim brakes are the most sensible to run, adding a drum brake set up to drag with a friction shifter for the rides in the mountains.
-Contrary to popular thought, it doesn’t matter whether the heavier person is in the front (usually considered best practice) or the rear. I was thinking it makes sense to have the heavier person up front since that’s the fulcrum of steering. But our whippy salesperson Neil, who’s “130lbs soaking wet” claimed to have no problem riding with a 300lb stoker. As long as the stoker is a smooth pedaler and leans with the captain, it doesn’t matter at all.
-There’s two ways to start off on a tandem. This is news to me, since I have always done this by having the stoker mount the rear and push off and start pedaling at the same time as me. The other technique, supposedly to be used for less experienced stokers, is to have the stoker sit on the rear with both feet on the pedals while the captain balances the weight up front and pushes off himself when ready to go. Even though the later is supposedly good for inexperienced riders, I can’t imagine doing it like that. Stopping at a stop light and balancing the stoker who doesn’t put a leg down seems unlikely to me. Of course, on tandem, you do just about all you can to avoid ever having to stop and put a leg down.
-Take “butt breaks.” Who doesn’t like the sound of that?
-Cut-up old inner tubes are better than bungees cords.

The field trip to Raleigh was eye-opening for lots of reasons. Not the least of which, of course, is that we have identified the bike dealer for our dreamed-of wedding tandem. We also got some good tips on rides around North Carolina. As great as Saxapahaw is, it’s good to get out from time to time.

Anniversary, Or our first century together

My honey and I celebrated what we consider our one-year anniversary yesterday by participating in the same event we did last year when we got together. We rode the Habitat for Humanity Halloween century ride in Durham. Since it was Halloween, we decided to dress up as nerdy, matching, tandem bicycle riders:


Fantastically gaudy matching jerseys - a must for any tandem couple.

We somehow fit the length of the tandem into the back of my old Honda wagon, tying down the rear hatch. This meant that we were directly inhaling exhaust in the car, a pretty nauseating way to wake up. The air was heavy with mist alternating with rain, but at least it was warm. The mood at Durham Bulls Ballpark where the rode started and finished was upbeat among the couple hundred riders despite the thickening rain. I think people get excited by the upcoming challenge, and by the presence of so many other riders, and probably get off even more on all of the bikes and gear to check out (I get off on sweet bikes as much as the next lycra’d guy, and was pretty excited to see a gorgeous randonnuer-style bike hand-built by a local builder called Coho Bikes). There was even a couple of fun Halloween costumes among the riders – a Calvin and Hobbes pair, and a woman with a pink machine gun who somehow rode atop her clipless road pedals in high-heels.

We identified the two other two tandem pairs before we departed. Among us we had the notable west coast tandem builders covered – Burley (us), Santana, and a lovely Co-Motion Speedster with couplers and disc brakes – just a little drool-inducing. I have to say that, my bike lust notwithstanding, we performed quite well on the old Burley Duet.

I love any reason to ride as long as possible, and an organized century is as good a reason as any – perhaps better, as it has an air of collective excitement. I personally like riding long days like century rides because so much happens over the long expanse of time. It feels like a novel with many chapters, a large cast of characters, recurring themes, highs and lows, many changes of place and scenery. Here’s a few reasons to ride an organized century:

1. Another reason to ride a bike.
2. Explore new roads. Tired of the same old loop? Join a ride and get a map to miles and miles of bike-friendly (one hopes) road you never knew about. This route brought us along quite rural roads northwest of the city of Durham, through Durham, Person and Granville counties, and through hills much more challenging (and therefore in my opinion, more rewarding) than the roads I normally ride in adjacent counties.
3. See other cyclists. Cycling can be a lonely pursuit, as all it really needs is one rider, one bike, and some free time. Seeing hundreds of other cyclists is reassuring to me in that there’s proof that what I choose to do isn’t so unusual and that car-culture isn’t solely dominant.
4. Challenging yourself. Riding 100 miles, or any length much longer than you’re used to, is hard, but then it wouldn’t an accomplishment if it wasn’t hard.
5. Benefit rides raise money for good causes.

Reasons to ride a century on a tandem:
1. Six hours closely connected to your partner. At least, this works out for us, since we still seem to be in that honeymoon phase, and expect it to last long after the actual honeymoon.
2. Share the pain and effort.
3. Sing-alongs make the miles tick off.
4. Tandems are a conversation piece. I have a tandem blog, so I obviously already enjoy talking about tandeming. On a ride with hundreds of other people, I get to talk about it a lot.

I’ve personally done a few organized centuries, and few 100-mile days while touring, but never have I ridden 100 miles on a tandem. I am proud to say that we finished the whole thing together in good spirits, despite the rain of the first 50 miles, and the dubious shape of our legs after a few sparse weeks of biking before the event. I had no doubt that we could do it, but it’s still gratifying to have it behind us, and also to have the memories that accumulated throughout the day. It was my partner’s first century (we did the 60-mile route last year), and thus her first tandem century, too. I’m optimistic that the experience will also elicit her first blog post here on Honking In Traffic.

For now, I’ll leave you with the tandem at rest against the coolest bike rack in Durham:


Open letter to Saxapahaw

Dear Saxapahaw,
You are no longer merely a rural crossroads and a boarded up mill. You have become a desirable residential area. And you are now a regional destination for arts, food, and entertainment. I’ve enjoyed living in your town for four months now, and I intend to stay a while. It’s pretty here.

The view from Saxapahaw.

The view from Saxapahaw.

Your star is rising. People claim to be “saxy” and “saxapahawlics.” There’s even a nascent cycling club that calls itself the “Saxapahawgs.” OK, we love you, now change.

Your roads and intersections are dangerous, and incidences of injury and death are likely to rise if you don’t take planning and re-engineering seriously.

Normally I would be the last person that would want to disrupt the quaintness of an historic place – the old mill on the Haw river sitting atop a Sissipahaw Indian site. We all want to preserve rural heritage and individual character. However, it’s not quaintness and history that is your particular allure. Your historic river mill shut down almost 20 years ago, and the old mill house community has long since changed. It’s time you caught up.

Development thus far seems to have worked for you, at least from my perspective. Local culture and entrepreneurship are thriving and expanding. Your big attractions are the farmers market and live music that run half the year and draw hundreds of people from surrounding regions; the Shell station that is now the Saxapahaw General Store – it still serves as a filling station and convenience store, and is now home to a wildly inventive grill that is cooking some of the best food in the entire region, on par with the finest restaurants in Chapel Hill and Durham; and you are the home of the Southeast’s premiere puppet company, Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The River Mill apartments, resurrected from the ashes of the closed mill, are a bee hive of residential activity.

It’s not just that I’ve lived here for four months: you have been a stop on my cycling routes for 8 years, far enough back that the mill was not renovated and the General Store and its amazing grill really was just a filling station and a place to get cold gatorade. Now I’m happy that all my bike rides end here with you.

The result of your growth, which is not likely to subside soon, is more people on the roads, more modes (driving, walking, biking, young engaged couples on tandems) in use on the roads, and more need for safety and appropriate facilities to accommodate the volume and the modes. Children of all ages reside here, and are now zooming on bikes and skateboards and scooters, and bouncing balls, through roadways not meant to accept simple walking, much less the antics of kids.

The current road situation is an inevitable legacy of the past. Now you have to take account of the present reality, and catch up with the development you’ve made possible. The River Mill and the attractions have concentrated a greater population here.

Here’s my wish list:
1. Sidewalks. Well, there’s one 200 ft. section of sidewalk from the River Mill apartments along the road to the General Store. But no sidewalks connecting any of the other neighborhoods to the center of town.

The right idea.

The right idea.

Let’s have more.
2. Crosswalks. This is especially a problem on Farmers Market/Music events on Saturday evenings when the town becomes a parking lot and neither cars nor pedestrians know how to proceed.
3. Sightlines. There’s no visibility around corners, due to tight corners, overgrown vegetation, and narrow roads.
Turn left here? Look out!

Turn left here? Look out!

No sightline around curve. To make a left turn, you have stare hard through the bush on the right to see cars coming, or drive around the corner to see oncoming traffic and risk traffic running up behind you around the curve. We take a leap of faith every single time we turn here, be it in a car, on bike, or crossing on foot. I walk this narrow, curving hill at night with my dog around this corner to get home and there is no refuge at all. If a sidewalk were here, it would serve dozens of residents (and their pets).

4. Streetlights, particularly at major intersections. Though not in “downtown” Sax, the intersections from the major highways (87, 54, Old Greensboro) need to be lighted to safely guide the increased volumes of traffic turning onto the rural roads that meet in Sax.

5. Improved intersection of Sax-Beth and Swep-Sax.

Intersection of Sax-Beth/Swep-Sax/River Mill.

Intersection of Sax-Beth/Swep-Sax/River Mill.

Hill, curve, no sightlines, signs all over the place indicating nothing, no street light. Recipe for crash.

6. How about a widened road and shoulder (i.e. bike lane) along Sax-Beth road out to Highway 54? How about shoulders everywhere? This could mitigate roads conflicts between bikes and drivers.

7. Enforcement. Regular speed checks would put drivers on notice that they are coming into a pedestrian area and need to slow down.

I’m writing this to you, Saxapahaw, because I feel like I’ve come to know you and we’ve gotten along so far. I don’t have the same rapport with N.C. DOT and Alamance County planning yet. I think you and I should get together and call them sometime and see what we can do. Maybe we can meet at the General Store, order up a kick ass goat burger (you’ve had it, right?), and talk.The parking at the General Store by and large still looks like this:

They know food, and they’ve got the right idea about where this town is headed. This parking lot shows the style of the future:

Bike + ice cream + parking at the General Store = the right idea.

Bike + ice cream + parking at the General Store = the right idea.