In the region in which I live the small town I live in, Lewisville, NC, is a bit of a mecca for road cyclists. Several times a week you will see large groups of cyclists meet in downtown Lewisville and depart for long rides in several different directions. The good townspeople of Lewisville are split on their feelings about the cyclists – some welcome their presence and wonder how the town can make hay out of Lewisville’s reputation within the cycling community, while others find them a nuisance as they wait for an opportunity to pass the riders on Lewisville’s two-lane country roads – but they’ve been a presence for many years and in the ten years I’ve lived here I’ve always wondered how Lewisville came to be known as a cycling hot spot. Scott Sexton’s recent column in the Winston-Salem Journal reveals how it all got started:
(Gene) Gillam was born in Iowa and grew up in Greensboro before heading to The Citadel. He became a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Force and flew B-26 bombers.
Sixty-one times he flew missions over Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland and the Ardennes. He was shot down several times, and was rescued by French families and the French Resistance — the sorts of things that awe us today but were almost routine to men of his generation…
It was through his hobbies that a lot of people got to know Gillam. He was an avid runner and, later on, became something of a pioneer within the local cycling community. That’s where Ken Putnam, the owner of Ken’s Bike Shop, first met and got to know Gillam.
“He used to live out in Lewisville, on Grapevine (Road),” Putnam said. “A group of us would meet out at his house and just go ride. That’s why all the rides now start in Lewisville, because we’d leave from Gene’s house.”
Again, that might not seem like much more than a couple of guys out indulging a hobby — until you consider what has transpired since a handful of oddballs started heading west from Gillam’s house in Lewisville each weekend in the early 1970s.
The routes plotted out by that little group eventually got written down, named and taught turn-by-turn to new groups of riders as they discovered the sport. That small group grew by twos and threes, and turned into other groups of differing interests and abilities.
These days, hundreds of riders leave from Lewisville in any given week throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Anyone who lives in Lewisville, NC knows that our town is a pretty popular destination for cyclists. I'll often hear grumbling about the inconvenience of having to wait behind large packs of riders, aka pelotons, on some of the beautiful country roads that make the town such an inviting place to live and bike. I don't hear many complaints about individual riders, or groups of two or three, but that's because they're relatively easy to pass even on our two lane roads with no shoulders.
All that being said I've also seen some crazy decisions made by impatient drivers. Passing just before a blind curve, passing on a rise with oncoming traffic too close for comfort, passing too close to the actual cyclist, etc. Part of me understands the frustration – most of us aren't cyclists and thus don't understand the draw of riding on roads when you could just toddle on down to Salem Lake or Muddy Creek and ride on trails without inconveniencing drivers – and I especially feel the frustration myself when I'm running late for something and am stuck behind a bunch of cyclists. But you know what? We need to get over it.
Here's the deal: just because most of us aren't cyclists and don't understand the draw of riding on our roads, there are obviously people who love it and that's their right. And "right" is the correct word because unless the laws change cyclists have as much of a right to the road as drivers of cars and motorcycles. Sure they need to follow the rules just like we drivers do, and I'm sure that some of them roll through red lights or do rolling stops at stop signs, but I'm also pretty sure that the same percentage or more of drivers do the same thing, and I'm absolutely positive that almost every driver in Lewisville has pulled a (technically) illegal passing maneuver on a cyclist.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because I just read this article about a Winston-Salem cyclist killed in an accident in Greensboro, and although it sounds like there might have been mitigating circumstances (blinding sun) it still reminded me that I'm in constant fear of seeing this kind of story in Lewisville. Whether we see our visiting cyclists as a blessing or a curse we need to respect their right to the road, and do everything we can to make sure we all share the road safely.
On a related, but different note: I think a nice little entrepreneurial venture would be opening a temporary refreshment stand near Shallowford Square. (Think hotdog stand with healthy stuff instead of hotdogs, chips and sodas). The cyclists tend to park downtown and launch their rides from there so I'd imagine they'd be willing customers once they're rides are done. There are also lots of folks who walk and jog downtown these days so I'd imagine they'd be a good market too. That's assuming you can get a permit from the town to do it, but it might be worth a try.