Long after the race has come and gone, Richmond’s thriving bike culture will still be there—sharin’ your roads, deliverin’ your dinner, gettin’ you fit.
Photo by Eli Christman.
In just over a week, Richmond will be packed with cycling fans of all stripes–albeit less tightly than we may have assumed. As fans flock to the city streets for the big event, Richmonders will get a closer look at the international cycling community (at least those with enough disposable income to travel), as well as a front row seat to witness apex cyclists doing their thing. But observant natives will notice something more impressive still after the races end and the streets are swept relatively clean; a thriving, diverse local bike culture that has been pedaling along for years.
Richmond’s bike ecosystem is as vast as it is varied. Trail bombers, gravel grinders, work-day commuters (with and without spandex), road racers, neighborhood rollers, long-haulers, polo nuts, cyclocrossers, path cruisers, DIYers; these are the folks that make Richmond’s bike scene so vibrant. Supporting these cycling subcultures is a collection of businesses and groups that have been creating momentum around bikes for a long time, from many different angles. And behind each of these groups, there is an individual story.
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Tim Mullins ended his first cycling race in a ditch with a broken clavicle. He grinned widely as he recounted the story, his fingers prodding at the place where screws are still holding his bones in place. Somewhere between waking with a compound fracture and panicking about his blood-soaked jersey, borrowed from a friend, Tim remembers thinking, “Man, this is so much fun.”
After recovering from that first injury and achieving some competitive success, Tim transitioned into working in business for a number of years. He married this business savvy to his passion for cycling in 2007 when he opened Carytown Bicycle Company. Tim sees the shop as something more than a place to purchase and maintain bikes, although they strive for excellence in those things; it is an investment in the culture of Richmond overall. Tim lights up when he describes his hopes about lifestyle culture; more biking, more healthy food1, more active communities. He is quick to dispel notions of bike snobbery, noting that the bulk of Carytown Bikes’ sales are not high-dollar, high-performance bikes: “The best bike is the bike that you ride every day,” he says as he hands me his phone. He has pulled up a picture of an older woman sitting in a recumbent trike. He is standing a few feet behind her, and they are both beaming.
When I ask Tim about the Big Bike Race™, he outlines his optimism about a great many things: the expansion of local biking infrastructure, Richmond’s opportunity to shine on a world stage, the economic stimulus of the event. He is most animated when he talks about the events themselves. He is excited to watch, and equally so to know that younger audiences will be there too: “Imagine kids looking at these million-dollar athletes flying by and seeing cycling as this cool thing; realizing it’s not just a bunch of dudes wearing spandex.”
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Alongside our local bike shops, other businesses are up to some pretty cool bike-related things: enter Quickness RVA2. Quickness is a courier service that delivers food from local restaurants all around the city via bike. Check out their website for more information about which restaurants are within range of your house or workplace.
StreetCar Café, located in the Northside, is also pulling together food and bikes–the business hopes to link a bike repair shop to its already operational restaurant. Their hope is to serve a community of commuters through repair clinics and community-use tools, focusing especially on those who commute by bike out of necessity1.
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Outside the realm of business, a number of community organizations are at work on the advocacy side of things. Bike Walk RVA, a Sports Backers program, has been around the city since 2012; since then, they have collaborated with the city to support new bicycle infrastructure, trained bike advocates and fostered bike culture through their Bike Walk RVA Academy, and helped with the planning of Chesterfield’s upcoming Bikeways & Trails Plan3.
RVA MORE is an all-volunteer player in the advocacy game, focused particularly on improving mountain biking in Greater Richmond. They have done a great deal of work on the trails around the James, and regularly organize group rides.
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Located in Scott’s Addition, Rag and Bones shares a great deal of ground with aforementioned organizations, but has situated itself squarely in a gap in bike culture; volunteer Phil Cunningham says that’s exactly the goal.
When I first meet Phil, he is hunched over a workbench, teaching a VCU student how to change an inner tube. I wait and observe him demonstrating, then watching as the student attempts on her own. She succeeds and he approves excitedly as he walks over to greet me. Phil tells me that he began frequenting Rag and Bones during his second year at VCU. After hearing about the local co-op, he brought his bike over to have some work done. Soon, he found himself not just getting his bike fixed, but learning how to do the work himself. “I guess I kept coming back at first because I kept messing up my bike,” Phil says with a smile, “Then I hung around because I enjoyed the sense of community I found there.” The co-op, which began in 2010, aims to provide equitable access to cycling. That means empowering others through the knowledge of bike maintenance, Phil says: “The main goal is to fill that gap, to create an inclusive space that particularly reaches marginalized groups.” The co-op currently has open hours–during which you can buy bikes, rent workspace and tools, and learn from volunteers–on Tuesdays from 5:00 to 9:00 PM and Sundays from 12:00 to 5:00 PM.
Phil isn’t all that excited about the competitive aspect of the Big Bike Race™; he explains that it’s mostly owing to ignorance of the sport. He is excited for what comes after the races, though:
“Better biking infrastructure, maybe economic development. I think that UCI is definitely a launching pad, the start of something.”
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It all begins next week. Check out our Big Bike Race™ Guide for all sorts of other coverage. And, of course, don’t forget to keep an eye on navigate.Richmond2015.com for road closures and more helpful information.
- Style has written more about the café and its vision. They also have curbside pickup. Wake up and smell the convenience. ↩
- The shop has partnered with Goatacado to create a restaurant space inside the Carytown location. The mac and cheese is unbelievable, in case you were wondering. ↩
- The RTD ran a great article about Quickness last year. It’s definitely worth the read if you’re interested in their process or local food or… just read it, OK? ↩
- Bike Walk RVA Academy is responsible for Richmond Bike Month, which is in turn responsible for the Ride of Shame: Donut Crawl. Tell me that doesn’t sound like fun. I dare you. ↩