BY Jules Norwood
The beach lifestyle centers on enjoying the outdoors and staying active. Beach residents enjoy riding the waves and running the Loop and visitors travel from near and far to share the experience.
Every day more people are also discovering the benefits of biking — from the sweet little lady who makes her way around Wrightsville Beach on her old Schwinn to the expert enthusiast who rides 20 miles at a time or more on a dedicated road bike — and local biking fans are working to ensure that the facilities are in place to allow bikers of all types to enjoy the sport right here on the Azalea Coast.
Wrightsville Beach itself is a great place to ride especially during the off-season or in the early morning when it’s not as busy.
“Riding at Wrightsville Beach is very pleasant if you pick the right time ” says resident Jim Mincher. “Early morning is the best. From the drawbridge you have 10 miles of riding until you get back to the bridge. I usually go to the south end then the north end and around the Loop.”
Mincher who has owned and operated a bike shop in Wilmington for more than 30 years says that the sport is a great way for families to spend time together. When his kids were little he would put them in a baby seat and ride the town touring each side street in turn.
“I would do one section one day and another section when I had a chance ” he says. “There are streets that you’d never go down in your car but you see it on your bike.”
One of Mincher’s employees recently took a cross-country trip with her 16-year-old daughter on a tandem bicycle. The pair flew to Oregon in June and cycled back to Wilmington.
“She got to spend time with her 16-year-old daughter and it’s an accomplishment they can share ” he said.
Steve Mangiacapra vice president of the Cape Fear Cyclists bicycle club says that more and more families are getting involved in the sport. The club started in 1976 now boasts almost 300 members.
The driving force behind the growth of the club (and of the sport) is exercise. Riding a bicycle provides a great cardiovascular workout without the wear and tear on the joints that running can cause.
“You read about obesity and heart disease and you see it every day ” Mincher says. “People are using bicycles as one way of staying fit.”
Cutting down on time spent in the car is another benefit biking can provide. Cape Fear Breeze a partnership between Wilmington and the N.C. Department of Transportation was formed to find ways to remove single-occupant vehicles from the road and provide transportation alternatives. In April the group organized a month-long Commuter Challenge to urge commuters to bike to work carpool or take the bus.
More than 300 people participated in the challenge logging the number of trips they were able to replace with an alternate means of transportation says coordinator Lawless Bean. All told the effort eliminated more than 3 400 trips.
The challenge was designed to last for a whole month so that people would have time to get into the habit of considering other ways to get to work.
“As people get into the habit they discover that there are a lot of other benefits as well ” Bean says. “They usually find that they experience a lot less stress. When people bicycle they tell me that they notice things they had never noticed before.”
Also commuting by bicycle saves gas — and money. Cape Fear Breeze’s Web site offers a commute calculator that computes the savings a person can generate by avoiding the drive to work.
“The cost of gas is becoming an issue for people especially at this time of year ” Bean says. “It goes up kind of precipitously in the spring as it gets closer to the summer driving season.”
Don’t think you have the time? Think again.
Mangiacapra who commutes from Snow’s Cut near Carolina Beach to his showroom on Gordon Road said the trip takes just under an hour on his bike — only 10 minutes more than it takes in the car while New Hanover County planning director Chris O’Keefe’s four-mile commute takes about five extra minutes by bike.
“It takes maybe five minutes longer on the bike but I’m also getting my exercise ” O’Keefe says.
Not sure about the route? Cape Fear Breeze can help with that too.
“When talking with employees a lot of them are interested in biking to work but they’re not sure of the best way to get there ” Bean says. “So we created a bicycle commuting map that shows which roads have multi-use paths shoulders and bike lanes. It shows which are residential roads thoroughfares and interstates and it also shows recreational routes.”
The idea is to create a network of bike routes that allows people to use their bikes for both transportation and recreation.
“We want to make facilities that can accommodate all kinds of users and their different needs ” O’Keefe says.
The county currently has about 40 miles of improved bike routes including both stand-alone trails and roads with bike lanes or wide shoulders. The River to the Sea route creates a continuous ride from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach and there is a plan in place to create a route connecting a variety of parks schools and museums.
“There’s a desire as the demographics of the area change to have facilities for active living and bike trails are one of the things that is often asked for ” O’Keefe says.
Within Cape Fear Cyclists a group of mountain bikers has an additional vision — a bike park with off-road trails and facilities for BMX biking a form of cycling that includes racing on earthen tracks and performing jumps and stunts using ramps and other obstacles.
The group approached the New Hanover County Parks Department and received the go-ahead to create such a facility on county-owned property on Blue Clay Road where a number of trails already exist. As the park is improved it will attract bikers from not only New Hanover County but from around the country.
“We’re aware of what sports can bring in revenue to this town ” Mangiacapra says. “We’ve seen it with surfing and we’re trying to do the same thing with biking. It’s on the upswing. With the bike park we’ll have more events adventure races and off-road activities. That’s going to bring a lot of people in. Right now everyone who does BMX goes to Raleigh because that’s where they have a park and have events. Now we can have events here and be another stop on the tour.”
New technology like Shimano’s automatic shifter has also helped push the growth of cycling among casual bikers. Shimano one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of bicycle parts is targeting people who remember liking to ride but haven’t done so in years by building a simple comfortable easy-to-ride bike.
“Comfort is really big ” Mincher says. “You have to be comfortable on a bike if you’re going to like to ride it.”
With the increase of both vehicle traffic and cyclists in the area safety is of the utmost importance. The number one rule is to wear a helmet.
Being safe also requires suitable equipment like shoes (not sandals) and gloves. Bicycle maintenance is essential as well.
“Check your tire pressure ” Mangiacapra says. “Every day that your bike sits you lose 5 to 10 pounds of pressure and low pressure can create blowouts which is dangerous. Check your chain lubrication. Check the tightness of your handlebars your pedals — anything that may loosen over time.”
Finally follow the rules of the road. Bicycles are subject to the same traffic laws as cars.
“Following the rules of the road is very important ” O’Keefe says. “Bikers should stay to the right side of the roadway and signal when they’re going to turn. People need to keep in mind that they are a part of traffic and that cars generally are going to be trying to pass them. Wear a helmet. Ride single file when riding with others and try to pick routes that are going to be safe.”
Whether it’s for fun family time or exercise on-road or off-road cycling offers something for everyone and the Azalea Coast is a great place to ride — all year ’round. So strap on a helmet check your gears and join the push to pedal.