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Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State
In last year’s State of the City address, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman outlined his ambition to make Columbus “Bike City USA.” In this year’s address, the mayor reiterated that commitment, with references to past accomplishments and future plans for bicycle-friendly infrastructure. You can read the full text of the speech on NBC4i.com.
Ohio was once home to the factories that produced some of the most recognized names in bicycles: Murray, Huffy, and others. With the exception of a few small custom frame-builders, there aren’t that many bicycles being manufactured in these parts any more. However, the bicycle industry is thriving here in Ohio.
Ohio and other parts of the Midwest enjoy a position in geography that makes us not more than a couple day’s drive from every population center in the eastern United States. That makes Ohio a good choice as a base for warehousing and distributing products made elsewhere around the world. Many of the most well-known names in today’s bike industry take advantage of this by having distribution centers located in Ohio. These include Raleigh USA (in Pataskala), Bianchi USA, Seattle Bike Supply (in Reynoldsburg, distributors of the Redline, Torker, and Lapierre bike brands), and Specialized.
Specialized is based in Morgan Hill, California. They operate a warehouse serving the western US from Salt Lake City, Utah. In December of 2010, Specialized moved its eastern distribution center from Grove City to Groveport, Ohio (both on the outskirts of Columbus), in order to expand their warehouse space and implement other features to make their distribution process more efficient. The company held a grand opening and open house reception on February 11, 2011, and I was among those from the local bike industry and media who were invited to attend.
I drove to the Groveport facility past row after row of mostly featureless buildings, I presumed most of which were in the same business of storing and distributing products. The Specialized building was at the end of the drive on which they are located; fortunately, they had signs and flags posted outside to let everyone know that we were in the right place. I walked in and was greeted by some of the staff, one of whom handed me a bag of schwag, which contained a Specialized Riders Club jersey, a water bottle, a book commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Stumpjumper mountain bike, a sticker, and copies of the Specialized 2011 road and mountain bike catalogs. The bag itself was a re-usable grocery bag (in Specialized red, of course).
I was immediately able to join one of the tours of the warehouse, which was led for my small group of three by Jared, one of the warehouse staff. Jared walked us through the stacks of bicycles, clothing, components, and accessories that were stored in rows of shelving units at least three, sometimes more, rows high. Jared explained that about one-half of the available space is used for bicycles, about one-quarter for what they call “equipment” (anything not a bike), and about one-quarter is currently unused.
The bicycles arrive on one side of the building, and are also shipped to bike stores back out from that same side, using either FedEx Freight or FedEx Ground. The equipment arrives on the other side, and is shipped back out on that side using FedEx Ground. Here’s the equipment side, where orders going to bike shops are packed up and prepared to be shipped out:
The warehouse area was about 63 degrees, but Jared explained that was for our benefit; it’s usually kept colder to save energy. The overhead lighting is controlled by motion sensors, so that lights are only activated when needed in an area of activity. Another energy-saving measure is the use of large industrial ceiling fans, which help to keep the warm and cool air circulating, cutting down on the amount of re-heating that needs to be done to the air (or re-cooling in the summer).
I asked Jared about the employees’ bike commuting habits; he explained that there were quite a few that went to work by bike in the old Grove City location, but now many of them live further away, plus with the cold weather and snow this time of year, there were not many people riding their bikes in. The access road to the industrial park is not very bike-friendly either, with a 55mph speed limit and little to no shoulder, much less any bike lane or trail. Once they get more settled in the new location and the weather improves, they hope to take steps to more actively promote bike commuting. I did notice that they had showers in the restrooms.
Back in the reception area (the staff break room), I enjoyed some refreshments and talked to some of the other guests. I spoke to Lynette Carpiet, a journalist with Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the bike industry trade publication. She flew to Ohio just to cover this event; being based in southern California, she marveled at how anyone could think of riding in our winter weather!
I sidled up to a group of a few guys, and noticed that one of them was none other than Ned Overend, the mountain biking legend. I asked if it was okay to get a photo with him, and he obliged; he was quite friendly and down-to-earth. We chatted a bit, surprisingly not about his illustrious racing career, but about cycling advocacy. We said he was really impressed with all of the work various groups do all around the country to improve bike access and awareness.
The formal part of the event started after everyone had their chance to take the warehouse tour. Kim Peterson, Specialized’s National Director of Distribution, introduced Jesse Rogers, the manager of the Groveport distribution center in which we were sitting. Jesse is the oldest employee at Specialized, having run the Ohio distribution center from its various different locations since it was first established 29 years ago. He described how the process was run at the very beginning, and how it has evolved and become larger and yet more efficient over the years.
Other speakers included the eastern regional sales manager for Specialized, a representative from the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, a representative from the business development office of Groveport, and Ned Overend, who talked about how the feedback from professional racers sponsored by Specialized goes directly into the product design and development process. Finally, a drawing was held to give away a Specialized Roubaix road bike, and the winner was Matt Ford, an employee of one of the Bike Source stores.
For the final event, the group assembled outside the front door of the building for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Thank you to Specialized for their invitation to this event. You can see more photos in this slide show:Vodpod videos no longer available.
I just came across Stanridge Speed Bicycles, a custom frame-builder based in Columbus, Ohio. I’m not sure how long he’s been in business, but he stuff looks like the real deal. He specializes in road, track, ‘cross, and commuter bikes, all in steel, of course. Check him out at: www.stanridgespeed.com
I rode the mountain bike trail at Mohican State Park today, which is always a good time. The 24-mile loop is arguably the best mountain biking in the state, and may someday qualify as an Epic Route by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
With the two friends I went along with, we were pretty evenly matched. You’re never completely evenly matched with anyone; one person is typically better at some skills compared to others, such as climbing, riding fast downhills, or through rock gardens and other obstacles, but in the end, it pretty much evened out. In keeping up with my friends in the sections where they were better than I, I re-discovered a basic principle about riding with somebody better than you.
The common wisdom is that if you ride with somebody faster than you, you’ll end up better for it, because you’ll push your own boundaries in order to keep up. This can apply to road cycling as well as mountain biking, and can be applied to many other activities as well.
But along the trail today, I discovered a few more subtle aspects of this notion. First off, when riding behind somebody, whether they are better than you or not, you get to kind of “cheat,” because you can see what lines they pick, how their bike and their body reacts, and what works and doesn’t work. You get a couple of seconds of “preview” of what you’re about to hit, and can adjust your strategy accordingly. If the person ahead is a better rider, chances are they’ll be more successful at clearing obstacles and tricky sections, and seeing this gives you aids in your internal visualization, and provides a fraction of a boost in your confidence, even if it’s on a trail that you’ve ridden dozens of times before. Both of these factors increase the chances that you’ll clear the tricky stuff yourself.
Around the 12-mile mark in the trail, it follows a paved park road for a bit as it crosses a covered bridge over the Mohican River. We didn’t know until we arrived there that the bridge is closed for construction, with the only access to the second half of the trail being by wading across the river (a dubious proposition at best), or a several-mile detour on a road around the outer edges of the park. We opted to follow the park road back the way we came, to pick up the trail again at the 8-mile mark.
The first 8 miles of the loop are sometimes called the “Original 8 Trail,” as this was the only complete trail several years ago, so riders would ride this out-and-back from the start. We had not ridden the Original 8 in the reverse direction for several years, ever since the whole 24-mile loop was completed. We were disappointed at first that we wouldn’t be doing the whole loop, but once we headed back on the Original 8 in reverse, our disappointment turned to delight. Riding a familiar trail in the opposite direction as usual is almost like riding a brand new trail. The flow is different, the scenery is different, and the challenges and rewards come to you in unexpected locations. It wasn’t long before all three of us were whooping for joy as we reveled in the swooping, flowing curves of the trail. The final reward came in the last 1.5 miles, which at the start you endure as an almost-continuous climb, but coming at the end was a thrilling, almost pedaling-free descent to the finish.
On that return ride, I had another revelation that I think enhanced my riding skills. On rough uphill sections, I found that I was able to more easily pick the best line up, because I remembered what the line was that I had previously ridden it downhill. Conversely, on rough descents, I found that I was usually taking a different line than what I had taken when it was uphill the first time through, leading me to believe that I was probably picking the wrong line the first time. The lesson for me here is that if you have a hard time climbing a rough section, practice riding it downhill to find the best line. When you’re riding downhill, you have gravity on your side, so you’re less likely to get hung up trying to pick your way and muscle through the rough bits, and you’ll more naturally just choose the shortest distance from point A to point B. Then, try to follow that same line when going uphill from point B to point A, and chances are, you’ll get it right.
In the end, we rode 23 miles of first-rate trail, only about a mile less than we would have ridden if we had been able to do the complete loop. The main parking area for the Mohican State Park mountain bike trail is just south of the town of Loudonville on Ohio State Route 3. The trail is clearly marked with signs all through the loop, so a map is really necessary to ride it, but you can download one here anyway.
On July 16, 2010, the Ohio Department of Transportation, along with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the cities of Hilliard and Pickerington, are holding a Safe Bike Education Training Tour. The first event of its kind, the objective of the ride is to educate and train public officials, engineers and planners on the proper design of different bicycle facilities.
More information can be found here on the ODOT web site.
Despite previous news of the economic downturn slowing progress on bike infrastructure, this article from the Columbus Dispatch highlights work being done on trail links in the Central Ohio region. Similarly, in Northeast Ohio, plans are in place to connect the Western Reserve Greenway and other trails near Ashtabula, Warren, and Youngstown to eventually complete the Great Ohio Lake To River Trail (see this article from the Vindicator for details).
A report from the Cincinnati Enquirer highlights the slow, yet hopeful signs of progress in completing various bike trail links around that city, while the Springfield News-Sun reports on the efforts to complete links to that city’s Simon Kenton Bike Path.
The mayor of Columbus, Ohio has pledged to create “Bike City USA” in the state’s capital, but the recession of the past several years have put much of these plans on hold. Many projects are “shovel ready,” but just lack funding. It seems that transportation officials, advocates, and the general public are taking a “wait and see” approach as to whether the latest uptick in the economy (real or perceived) will result in any change.
See this article in the Columbus Dispatch and this video report from NBC 4 for details and interviews.
In the annual State of the City address last night, Mayor Michael Coleman said he is determined to make Columbus “Bike City USA.” To help get there, the city will set aside $6 million from its capital budget to connect the Alum Creek Trail to the city’s bikeway system and build an additional 24 miles of bike paths and bike lanes on city streets.
More details from the speech can be found in this article from Columbus Business First.
Jessica Cuffman of the Marion Star reports that a rail-trail project in Marion County that has been stalled for 10 years is finally moving forward, with funding and a construction schedule. Full story…