We like to ride our bicycles

The Asheville cycling community has made some major strides in the past few years, thanks in large part to the efforts of Asheville on Bikes, a local advocacy group that hosts community rides, raises awareness for cycling-related issues and works to improve local infrastructure. Now, area riders have a new outlet for sharing stories and highlighting upcoming events with the emergence of VeloCity, a quarterly magazine dedicated exclusively to cycling in the Asheville area.

The magazine, available online and at local bike shops, the YMCA, Highland Brewery and REI, aims to “shine a spotlight on, and act as a mouthpiece for, every aspect of our well established and burgeoning biking community,” says editor Michael Lancaster. Regular features include a calendar of local organized rides, “how to” guides, a Bike Doctor repair column and Why We Ride, a feature that looks at individual cyclists.

The latest installment includes an extended interview with indie cellist Ben Sollee, who’s made a habit of touring on two wheels, with gear in tow, in order to connect with fans and communities while raising awareness for cycling issues. Sollee performs here regularly and has strong ties to the Asheville community (his tour manager Katie Benson works at Asheville Music Hall and local fiddler Casey Driessen collaborated with Sollee on an album as the Sparrow Quartet).

I joined the songwriter on his last attempt in November, a 600-mile trek from New Orleans to Orlando that was cut short because of unsafe riding conditions, which he addresses in the article. At the time, it was a somewhat devastating blow, but Sollee clearly emerged undeterred, with hopes that the experience will highlight the need for better infrastructure in that area of the country. Thanks to publications like VeloCity, that’s more likely to come true.

A brief excerpt from the story:

“I asked Ben if striking out in his own direction had been in any way dangerous. 

“‘Sure, sometimes it’s dangerous. In Charleston, S.C., one of the paths we rode was over a very dangerous bridge that was made out of steel grating. It was wet when we went across and it was really really dangerous! So we rode through, did a show, tied up with some community organizations and later we found out that another rider on that same path had actually fallen on that grating and got hit by a car! So his death and our effort to push in that area was the two main things that the community and spokespeople brought to the city council. They said you have to make these changes and here are two reasons! They’ve got full bike infrastructure on that road now. So those sorts of things do make a difference! Even though we didn’t make much money on the show we did make a difference.

“‘We just recently had to call off a tour because it was too dangerous. It was along the gulf coast. There was no infrastructure and people took chances with us that we weren’t used to. We’re used to people, especially around Walmart’s, driving really dumb, but people were just getting really, really close and getting really aggressive, so it just wasn’t worth it because we were doing it for the fun of it, right? We’re not doing it to save the world, so we got off the bicycles.’

“So did it taint his perspective on bikes and touring? ‘No, it was just like a lesson to me. Like pay attention. Work harder at finding places that have better infrastructure, focus on those and champion those places. And if you can do that, hopefully that infrastructure will radiate out. But it did upset us that a place that was supposedly being recovered and rehabilitated after the storms, is not getting investment in livability infrastructure. They are just building more of the same. We’ve got so much space, I understand why the philosophy of more of the same is, because you can make more money at it. But it doesn’t mean it’s better! I think people slowing down and having to make their way there under as much of their own power as possible is a great way to build a community.”

Check out Sollee’s exclusive performance for Xpress, filmed at Hearn’s Cycling and Fitness last June:

Ben Sollee “Captivity” for My Side of the Mountain from Jesse Hamm on Vimeo.


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