Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition is about more than just riding bikes

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

Friday morning conversational rides have been a big hit so far, drawing more than a dozen area cyclists on some days.

In addition to connecting road and mountain bikers throughout the community, the cycling group lists education among its main goals. And not just to the single-finger waving driver who abhors the site of lycra shorts and shiny helmets on the highway next to him.

Group members have been known to stop other bicycle riders to give them on-the-spot lessons about obeying traffic laws and riding respectfully.

"We’re not only here to make things better for cyclists," said VVCC member Dennis Renner. "We’re here to make things better for motorists, too."

The Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition officially launched in mid-May after several Valley-wide rides and has since grown to about 65 members. The group is already diverse, featuring hardcore mountain bikers and casual road cyclists alike.

The youngest member right now is 13 years old and the oldest is 86, according to chairman Randy Victory, also a ranger at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. A few members don’t even ride bikes but believe in what the group stands for.

The coalition formed with several purposes but ultimately wants to "encourage and promote cycling and other forms of non-motorized transportation," according to its mission statement.

That means "being advocates for safety, improving and creating new and existing bike and pedestrian routes and lanes, and promoting educational opportunities and healthy lifestyle choices through the use of bicycles."

In short, the coalition doesn’t want to fight cars, Victory said, but to remind the community that cyclists do have a legal right to share the roads.

The group sponsors two weekly rides right now and plans to add another next month. The most popular has been the Friday morning "conversational" rides that start at the Cottonwood Kids Park at 7 a.m. and take various routes around Cottonwood and Clarkdale.

Riders are usually gone for about an hour, and leaders promise to leave no one behind. About a dozen or more have been participating in recent weeks, including a few on recumbents (bikes with seats in a more reclined position) and tandems (bikes built for two).

Victory offers what he calls the "Death March" on Saturday mornings beginning at 7 a.m. These rides are for the serious mountain biker who wants to tackle the grind of Mingus Mountain on knobby tires.

Starting Oct. 5, the club will offer Sunday morning mountain bike rides in the Village of Oak Creek. These will start at Absolute Bikes at 9 a.m.

"It’s in the building stages right now," said member Al Abbott, who found the VVCC shortly after moving here from Indiana a couple of months ago. "Our Friday rides are just the starter. Some of these people will start hooking up with other people to ride on their own."

The group’s Web site at www.vvcc.us has more information.

On the educational front, coalition members believe one of their biggest jobs is teaching other cyclists. Victory often hands out a flyer entitled "Why Bicycle Riders Should Not Ride on the Wrong Side of the Road" to those he sees riding against traffic.

Victory and others say the biggest thing a cyclist can do to make "sharing the road" more appealing to motorists is by riding predictably. That means obeying traffic signals and staying single file when in groups.

"You have the same rights as a car, but you also have the same responsibilities," Victory said. "You wouldn’t ride your car on the sidewalk, so you shouldn’t ride your bike on the sidewalk. You’re not going to be driving down the passing lane on 89A.

"If there’s a doubt, see yourself behind the driver’s seat."

Off-road riders also have a responsibility to yield to horses and hikers. They should remember to stay on designated trails – there are plenty in the Verde Valley and Sedona – and avoid skidding.

"Skidding is not cool," Victory said. "It puts nice, nasty ruts in the trail, plus it’s not safe. You want free-rolling wheels."

The VVCC plans to offer its services to local schools and clubs wanting to teach things like bike safety and proper helmet use. Some members also are serving as lobbyists to encourage building or improving bike lanes around the Valley.

They are starting in Cottonwood with the hope that well used corridors like Fir, 12th and 6th streets, Cornville Road and Mingus Avenue can be made safer for cyclists. They’d especially like to see bike lanes added around roads that lead to schools, or at least wider lanes (16 feet) to accommodate both bikes and cars easily.

"We can do this inexpensively," Victory said. "There is some federal money that can come back to the community."

The coalition looks to Tucson as one model. The League of American Cyclists has named Tucson a bicycle friendly city because of steps it took to create bike routes and promote two-wheeling overall.

"We’d like to see Cottonwood get that distinction," Victory said.

The Verde Valley already seems to be getting some of the message the VVCC is espousing. Victory says he’s seen a 60 percent decrease in the number of cyclists riding against traffic. Others have noticed less harassing behavior coming from drivers.

"On a positive note, I find the drivers here pretty reasonable," Abbott said.

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