published Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Bike clubs offer great exercise in Chattanooga area

Chattanooga Bicycle Club member John Meek, second from right, leads a beginners ride with Stephanie Evans, Donna Bhatnagar and Shannon Mobley, from left. The club stages a weekly small group ride for people who are new to cycling or are returning to the sport, led by a club member.
Chattanooga Bicycle Club member John Meek, second from right, leads a beginners ride with Stephanie Evans, Donna Bhatnagar and Shannon Mobley, from left. The club stages a weekly small group ride for people who are new to cycling or are returning to the sport, led by a club member.
Photo by John Rawlston.

GET STARTED

The Chattanooga Bicycle Club sponsors weekly Beginners Rides for novices.

When: 6 p.m. most Mondays, including May 14.

Where: Starting in the lot across from 180 Hamm Road.

Online: www.chattbike.com.

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A small group of cyclists gathers near Moccasin Bend, and while veteran riders talk and joke before heading out, leader John Meek goes over safety tips with a new member of the beginners ride.

Bicycling in the city is more popular than ever, and local biking clubs are hard at work trying to attract new fans of the sport.

Chattanooga's reputation as a biking hub was giving a boost with the recent announcement that the USA Pro Cycling Championships will be held here for the next three years.

"Don't insult it by calling it exercise; it's just fun," said rider Donna Bhatnagar before heading out with Meek's group.

For his part, the ride leader said that since he started riding with the Chattanooga Bicycle Club beginners group three years ago, he's lost 150 pounds.

"I knew that if I didn't find something besides going to the gym I wouldn't keep with it," he said.

The riders agree that riding in groups is fun and encourages them to push one another. Bicyclist Shannon Mobley called the Chattanooga biking community "extremely friendly and always helpful," and she and Bhatnagar noted that single riders will often fall in with groups of strangers for companionship.

For scheduled group rides, amateur bicyclists can turn to CBC, which organizes several road rides a week, or the Southern Off Road Biking Association of Chattanooga, which brings mountain bikers together.

SORBA has also hosted two training clinics for new mountain bike riders so far this year and hopes to introduce more in the fall, according to president Aaron Smith.

"We just ask them, 'what bothers you?'" he said of training.

Then, whether the response is logs, rocks or riding downhill, more experienced riders help rookies face their fears. Even when riders are physically capable of handling rougher trails, it's often their inhibitions that hold them back, he explained.

Mark Fasczewski, a USA Cycling coach and official as well as a certified personal trainer, agreed that mental blocks can hold riders back. He noted that the job of a coach includes equal parts physiology and psychology. He said there are two types of riders who hire him as a coach: those who need to improve their health and those who want to compete.

He finds himself asking the same question over and over to his competitive clients, "Do you want to get better, or do you just like the idea of getting better?"

But those who commit the time to training can expect to see improved cardiovascular health and lean musculature. And unlike running, "It's not going to hammer your joints," Fasczewski said.

For experienced riders who want to try their hand at competition, Chattanooga is also the home of Scenic City Velo, an organization which holds races and boasts several sponsored teams.

For area bicyclists, the problem is never finding something to do, but trying to decide which events to participate in.

"There are all these organizations, and you'd think they compete, but it's very symbiotic," said SCV Vice President Mark McOmie.

"Chattanooga has become a hotbed of cycling," Smith said, "You try to find a date where you don't conflict."

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