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Biking is Thriving

By Jason Brady

It’s 10:30 a.m. on the Saturday starting the Memorial Day weekend. Hawley’s Bicycle World, the iconic bike shop on Raeford Road, is already busy with customers.

Some are looking to buy, others are bringing in their bikes for repairs or tuning. Hawley’s three bicycle technicians are in the brightly lit repair shop plying their skills: changing inner tubes, tuning spokes and giving what is obviously a young child’s first two-wheeler the once over, making sure everything is working properly. Hawley’s is a family- owned business that sells bikes for two-year-olds and grandmas alike. It also prides itself on keeping bicycles bought at the store in tip-top shape. Much of the business at Hawley’s consists of loyal customers who have invested in a top-quality bicycle and want it serviced by top-notch bicycle mechanics.

In spring, particularly around the Memorial Day weekend, sales for bicycles pick up dramatically since the Christmas season, according to Sandy Hawley, one of the owners of the shop started by her father-in-law back in 1964. Ironically, he only stocked bicycles to capture customers for the Christmas and off-season when people were obviously not mowing grass or going camping. The rest is history.

Cycling and thus bicycles have evolved tremendously over the past decades. While one might still find a replica of Pee Wee Herman’s Schwinn model, replete with baskets galore and lion’s head speaker at a yard sale, today’s bicycles are made for efficiency and a particular genre of bicycling. "We sell a lot of road bikes, probably Cannondale is our best-selling brand," Hawley noted. She added, “We do sell a lot of mountain bikes too.”

Across town on McPherson Church Road, Chris Anderson who manages The Bicycle Shop, is also having the usual increase in business that spring and summer weather brings. His best seller is a hybrid, which comes in two forms: one for comfort and one for fitness. "The comfort hybrids are just that, comfortable. They put the rider in a more upright riding position and tend to have more of a riser handle bar and wider seats," Anderson acknowledged. The fitness hybrids are for those who want longer rides or who want to commute to work and want a bike that’s both efficient and comfortable. "Our second most popular bike is the mountain bike followed by the road bike, which gained popularity in the early 90s," he said.And what Hawley’s, The Bike Shop or any locally owned bicycle shop can offer that big box stores can’t is a bicycle that fits the rider and a bicycle that the business stands behind.

To ensure a proper fit, Hawley’s for example, stocks bicycles that come in six frame sizes for men and three for women. Hawley explained that size and weight of the rider determines the frame size. For extended riding, a bicycle has to fit the rider’s position and angle over the bike and his or her leg extension on the pedals. For the most serious bicycling aficionado, Hawley’s uses the “Fit Bike” by Guru, one of only 50 computerized hobbyhorses in the world. The computerized bicycle facsimile ensures the most efficient fit. It can take from one to two hours on the device to ensure a maximum fit resulting in the most efficient coordination between man and machine.

According to Hawley, there’s a huge biking community in Fayetteville who enjoy a variety of bicycling venues. There’s the recreational neighborhood cyclist, the road biker, the mountain biker and the cyclo-cross biker, which is a fairly new form of competitive cycling that resembles a steeplechase on a bicycle. Hawley believes most of her customers are road bicyclists, those daring riders who defy aggressive driving motorists who do not realize bicycles have the same rights on North Carolina roads. Locally, many are members of the Cross Creek Cycling Club.

Cross Creek Cycling Club

It’s a week earlier on a warm and already muggy Saturday morning where Mike Thomas, president of the Cross Creek Cycling Club, marshaled volunteers and fellow cyclists at Mendoza Park in Spring Lake. The occasion was one of the club’s many fund-raising efforts. That morning’s second annual Ride To Honor was organized to raise money for the Army’s Army, a non-profit organization that supports military families.

A day earlier, Thomas and a friend used five cans of neon orange spray paint to mark both the 30- and 61-mile routes in the Anderson Creek community, providing turn-by-turn markings to ensure no one would get lost on their individual treks. Steven Walker from Hawley’s had set up his safety inspection station, offering free safety checks of the bikes and making sure tires were properly inflated and bikes were generally in good shape for the upcoming 8 a.m. ride.

Mike’s Story

Thompson is a former U.S. Army paratrooper, serious rugby player and avid basketball player. They all took a toll on his back, knees and ankles. "I had two Achilles tendonitis surgeries in 1998 and 1999. That is basically when I turned to cycling as my main form of aerobic exercise," he said.

After coming back to Fort Bragg in 2003, Thompson hooked up with a group of area cyclists who were forming what has become the Cross Creek Cycling Club, C4, taking its name from the region rather than a single city or county. Thompson, a charter member, became the group’s first vice president and today is serving his second term as president. The club’s mission is to “...encourage all people to participate in bicycling without regard to age or expertise...“

Among the riders that morning was Heather Barbaro, who 1½ years ago decided on a whim to show up for one of the club’s Wednesday evening rides. “We rode 28 miles as a group. I was hooked from that day forward!” she exclaimed. She encouraged her husband Rich to join her in her newfound passion. Before bicycling became a part of her life, Barbaro was what she called an occasional runner, doing 5K runs here and there.

When tragedy struck the Barbaro family, cycling took a more therapeutic turn. "Our 10-year-old daughter Emerson died in a sledding accident last December. We did not ride for two months after that and when I got back on the bike, it was such a wonderful feeling. The people in this club have been so supportive of us and I don't think they realize how important they have been during this difficult time," she affirmed. "Cycling is good for the soul." Today, Barbaro rides three to four times a week logging between 100 to 120 miles. "I don't really have a favorite route, but do most of my riding in the Wade and Eastover areas," she shared.

To that end, the club offers several “developmental” programs for both men and women who are neophytes to the sport of bicycling or hanker to become competitive racers. C4 member Sarah Kraxberger heads the women’s developmental program. "So far we have a ladies' only ride that is held on Monday evenings. Most of the women who come out are very new to cycling and group riding, so we work on the basics." Kraxberger said currently only a few other female club members compete in the more aggressive races, but she hopes to eventually have a women’s racing team.

According to charter member and former 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper Bob Miarer, age is not as much a factor in this sport as other sports. “I am 59 years old and still hanging out with the younger riders.” Cruising at a fast pace he said, “We have done 56 miles in 2 hours and 19 minutes. I have ridden with people in their 80s.” One great thing about cycling is that you can ride on your own, or meet with folks who have the same skill level, or interest in riding.

Miarer also participates in another form of bicycling: tandem rides, but with a partner who is visually impaired. The tandem started with Ivan Castro asking fellow C4 member Furman Hammons if someone would take him out on the road. He was Furman’s student in a spin class. “Furman asked me if I would take a blind guy out on my tandem, to which I said, heck yeah!” noted Miarer enthusiastically. “I thought it would be good for cycling if I stepped up; that it would be great club exposure, and it gave me more of a purpose to be riding.” Castro then introduced Miarer to another visually impaired would-be rider, Dexter Durrante. “Between Dex and Ivan we have done some cool rides and logged over 6,000 miles together.”

John Masson’s Challenge

John Masson is a former Ranger and Special Forces medic who lost three of his limbs serving his country. While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Masson decided he needed something to keep him in shape since his former running regimen was no longer an option. He joined the Walter Reed Bethesda Cycling Program where he was introduced to a hand cycle. “I primarily “jumped all over it” to keep in shape!” joked Masson, who retired this past December and moved back to Fayetteville.

Initially, the program provided him with the support he needed to get started in the sport. And while he believes group support is essential, Masson now completes 25 miles on his own. "It took me awhile, but I realized how much fun it was. You have to keep at it to build endurance. It didn't come easy, but you just have to keep putting in more miles," said Masson. He averages 20 to 25 miles four times a week, depending on what he might be training for.

North Carolina Bike Ranking

The League of American Bicyclists ranks North Carolina at 28th in the nation for bicycle friendliness. It ranks North Carolina low in bicycle infrastructure and funding to relatively high in education and encouragement. The North Carolina Department of Transportation provides an annual matching grant fund to local governments in an effort to encourage towns and cities to come up with comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plans.

Currently, Fayetteville’s dedicated bicycle paths include the 4.5-mile Cape Fear River Trail as well as bike paths in other local parks. Rusty Thompson, the city of Fayetteville’s Engineering director, said efforts include creating multi-use lanes on newly resurfaced streets where possible. Additionally roads such as Fairfeld and Ravenhill and neighborhoods such as Vanstory Hills have multi-use lanes that can accommodate recreational bicyclists. Fayetteville has also incorporated bicycle racks on Hay Street, at Veterans’ Park and other city park areas. And being pro-bike, Thompson has been putting on the pressure, “We’ve asked businesses and schools to do the same.”

Thompson added that he has worked with the Fayetteville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on bike plans to identify short, mid and long-range multi-task lanes. "We are also looking for ways to connect area trails and link them through residential areas and side streets, " he confirmed.Miarer, who served on the local FAMPO’s Transportation Advisory Commission, says education is the first step. "Signs are everywhere to let motorists know they need to share the road," he expressed. “Paint is cheap. Just paint us a bike lane.”

For more information on how you can log your own 20 miles a week on a bike, visit www.crosscreekcyclingclub.org