Bicycling in Charlotte

I live on an island, known to the natives as NoDa, The Arts District, or North Charlotte (depending on how old-school they are). 

With the recent LYNX Light Rail construction, NoDa has quite literally become a destination retreat, with many access roads closed over the past months or years. There are only a couple of ways in and out of the neighborhood. 

This makes ordering an Uber a certain kind of new challenge, but it also makes my recent latest obsession of cycling even more fun. I don’t use the term obsession lightly. I know myself well enough at this point in my life that I can recognize that with any new hobby, my heart goes all in. 

Cycling, the second time around

This isn’t my first try on a bike, but I’ve learned a little since then. 

I tried to get into cycling years ago, and I just never found that place where I felt safe. I had a road bike, and it always felt so lightweight that I constantly feared getting blown over by a car. I did ok on group rides with my brother and Scott, but I never felt good riding alone. 

I did exactly one triathlon – it was fun, but I didn’t like all the practice rides where the roads were not blocked off. 

After a right hook incident while using a bike lane in the suburbs of Ballantyne, I was done. I did everything right and it was a perfectly wide road with bike lanes and no blind turns or hills, and I still almost got taken out by a driver not paying attention. I saw them coming out of my peripheral, making a right turn which would have meant turning into me, so I turned right with the car and avoided a collision. I counted myself lucky. I’m not sure the driver ever even noticed what happened. 

After that, I sold my road bike and decided I really just needed a cruiser-style ride. A few years went by, and I didn’t think about cycling too much at all, until my neighbor decided to show me his fancy new toy. 

It was a cruiser-style Electra, and I was in love. 

I’d never heard of the brand but I just knew if I had a bike like that, I would take it everywhere with me. 

He let me borrow it one day and we rode on the greenway from our neighborhood to Freedom Park and back, about 15 miles. It felt safe. It felt comfortable. I had to have one of my own.

I drove all my friends nuts with questions about bike seat colors and streamers or no streamers (of course, the answer is always yes to streamers). 

The bikes aren’t expensive (relatively speaking), but our budget is tight right now (RIP willow oak tree, that’s another story). So I spent hours on Craigslist looking for the perfect Electra. After riding a few, I decided I needed a Townie; either 8 or 21 speed would do. 

Pam Murray, famous in the Charlotte cycling community (say that 3 times fast), told me about her bike library and I could ride with her until I was able to afford my own bike. She even let me borrow her husband’s Townie. I rode 3 weeks in a row with the Sunday Slow Riders and we went all over the city. Common Market, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, VBGB. We took sunset pictures and rang bike bell greetings to pedestrians waving at us from porches. 

Finally, I found a former rental Townie on sale at Bike Line of Charlotte. It’s 8 speeds, purple and it matches my yoga mat. Fenders, baskets and streamers are still on my wish list (for now), but I have wheels. All mine. 

Life on two wheels

Henna by Henna Charlotte

I ride to yoga and dinner and ice cream and to buy dog food (one small bag at a time!) I ride on the Rail Trail. I ride to Amelie’s. I ride to my neighbor’s houses and on the greenways. My friends and I are starting a girl bike gang and the requirement will be heart-shaped sunglasses (guys can maybe come too, if they wear the glasses). 

I smile like crazy when I’m on my bike. I wave at other cyclists like we’ve known each other for years (I get equal parts waves back and weird looks). I’ve learned how low my ponytail has to go to get my helmet on (it’s the opposite of how high it has to go to not interfere with shavasana in yoga). 

We meet on Sundays at the B-Cycle stations (24 stations available, and other bike sharing choices are showing up by the minute) so my friends that don’t have bikes can rent them, and we ride to coffee then brunch then breweries or shopping or  whatever else we feel like. 

Life feels spontaneous when I’m out of the car. The first day I had my bike, my neighbor asked me for cold medicine and I was never so happy to have an errand to run.

Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a construction worker while he held the stop sign up for one-way traffic. I got tickled when he radioed ahead to his colleague: “the first car is actually a pedestrian/bike.” He told me then the Rail Trail in NoDa will be done in a month or two. I’m as excited about that as I am the light rail itself coming to the neighborhood. 

Go ahead, NoDa, be an island for as long as you need. Me and my bike, we got this.