Meet one of Plaza Midwood's bicycling dynamos

When you hear “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night … ” you probably think of the U.S. Postal Service. But if you found yourself around Plaza Midwood on one of this past winter’s cold and snowy Tuesday nights, you may well associate that phrase with something else: hardy bicyclists pedaling despite the weather.

Neighborhood resident Pamela Murray launched the series of Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Rides in 2011. An eager cyclist, she wanted to get more people more comfortable riding bikes in Charlotte, especially after dark. Murray leads by example. Last year she put 4,294 miles on her bike (and 7,034 on her car).  She even bought a bike trailer so she can haul most anything home on her bike. “I can get a week’s worth of groceries home easily,” she wrote in February email. “I even got my Christmas tree on it.”

More bicycling in Charlotte

In the spirit of night-time riding, which is part of her goal of promoting more environmentally sustainable lifestyles – she recently ditched the batteries on her bike lights and now generates her own power with a hub on a wheel built by Charlotte local David Spranger. (Read more about Spranger’s bicycle commutes in “They’d rather not drive, thank you.”)

Murray moved to Charlotte in the late 1980s to begin a banking career, but wasn’t until she taught her children to ride bikes in 2006 that her passion for cycling reignited. A few rides a week for leisure and exercise quickly turned into a daily commute to her uptown Bank of America job. Murray soon realized she could save well more than $100 a month in parking and fuel costs. Until her 2012 retirement, Murray was a daily commuter, and encouraged co-workers to use bike-commuter showers and lockers in their building.

Attendance at the rides is growing steadily, if somewhat unevenly due to weather. On 42 weekly rides in 2013, a total of 2,345 riders showed up. Six rides were rained out; for four of them Murray was the only one to show up. But at 15 miles a week, she estimates people have gained 35,175 miles of experience riding at night, and sometimes in the cold. “If I can get people riding in the dark and the cold and they have enough experience to get comfortable, maybe they’ll ride more often,” she said in an email.

Attendance shot up a year ago, after fellow-biker Ryan Stachurski started a Plaza-Midwood Tuesday Night Rides Facebook page. On warm evenings 60 or 70 riders show up at the Common Market in Plaza-Midwood for the 7:45 p.m. rides, which are usually 10 to 15 miles. Nights with less-than-desirable weather, like those two snowy Tuesdays in February, see an average of 15 to 20 riders. During last October’s Halloween “Boocycle” ride, 170 took part. The rides return around 10:30 p.m.

Murray has also pushed to win support from local business through a Bicycle Benefits program, a national program in which businesses reward people for their commitment to bicycling, and which helps promote the member businesses. She brought it to Charlotte in April 2013. The Tuesday night rides stop at one or more of the 80 participating Bicycle Benefits businesses. Riders who buy a $5 helmet sticker get discounts and rewards at participating businesses. Charlotte’s program is the country’s third largest. Murray hopes to add 40 more, to make Charlotte Bicycle Benefits the nation’s largest

Murray says more bikes on the road will help encourage more people to try riding. The Bicycle Benefits discounts and rewards also help people think about using their bikes for more than exercise and sport, she said. And she is encouraged by recent Charlotte DOT improvements to the roads for cyclists. (See “Charlotte quietly improves streets for cyclists.”)

Recently, PMTNR hosted a fundraiser to support construction of Charlotte’s second bike corral –  secure place where cyclists can lock up bikes and make minor repairs – at Birdsong Brewery. PMTNR built the first bike corral at EcoLicious in Plaza Midwood, with a grant from the neighborhood won from the U.S. Green Building Council. Murray and the Tuesday night riders plan to install more bike corrals at more spots beginning this summer.

Six additional maintenance stands were placed around Charlotte through a partnership with Trips for Kids-Charlotte, a local chapter of the national program designed to take at-risk 10- to 15-year-olds on mentored mountain bike rides.

 “It’s just great!” Murray says. “We are able to help show young people that bicycling is a fun part of a healthy lifestyle and a viable form of transportation for the rest of their life”.

This year, Murray, Stachurski, Marley Claridge and other cycling enthusiasts have organized Charlotte Spokes People, an umbrella group for PMTNR, Charlotte Bicycle Benefits and a number of other bike-centric activities including: Sunday Slow Ride, Charlotte BikeFest, and Cranksgiving, in which PMTNR riders collected more than 800 pounds of food for Second Harvest Food Bank and Food Not Bombs-Charlotte.

“It’s all about riding bikes and being sustainable,” Murray says. “We aren’t here to advocate for politics or infrastructure, but to encourage people to be a healthy, active part of their community through riding their bikes.”