Athens entrepreneurs celebrate life through biking
By Katie Foglia, CG Lifestyles & People
Across the world, bikes have become a dominant part of culture. For many, learning how to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage, and the old cliché, “you never forget how to ride a bike,” has become a euphemism for revisiting past experiences. Now, biking has become more than just a cultural statement: it is an eco-friendly way of life.
Whether for recreational or functional purposes, the benefits of riding a bike can be expressed in many ways. Biking can improve environmental and personal health, reduces traffic jamming and has economic rewards, among incentives. In Athens, people have recognized its importance.
Athens resident David West bought his first cycling bike when he was 13, and competed in his first race at age 41. He has since competed in races in Athens and Nelsonville. “Biking gives you the freedom of being a kid again,” West said. “For me, it’s like being at church.”
But not all Athens residents have been as keen about biking as West. In fact, many were scared to trade in the security of their cars for a more open form of transportation. But with the creation of the HockHocking Adena Bikeway, more people have begun embracing the cyclist lifestyle.
“Before the bike path came to Athens, people were afraid to ride,” said Maxine Rantane, owner of Cycle Path Bicycles. “They didn’t think it was safe. Now, not just rich college kids ride bikes, families are biking together.”
Cycle Path Bicycles has been at its current location, 104 W. Union St., since 1983. They sell new and used bikes, bike baskets, bike locks, bike seats, bike apparel, bike literature, bike helmets, gloves – basically any cycling accessory imaginable. Their bike specialists also perform maintenance and offer a variety of different service packages.
“We do free estimates for people too,” Rantane said. “Sometimes the cost of repairs is more then the bike itself, but if the bike has sentimental value, sometimes people chose to make the repairs.”
Rantane is involved in bike advocacy efforts locally as well as nationally. She knows that riders form deep bonds with their bikes, and offers test rides to possible customers.
“You don’t know what a bike feels like until you ride it. If you give us your ID, you can take one of the bikes for a ride,” she said.
Cycle Path Bicycles offers maintenance on everything from Wal-Mart bikes to antiques that have been sitting in someone’s barn for 40 years. But Rantane and her crew aren’t the only people in Athens who are passionate about cycling.
For Eric Cornwell, biking started off as a hobby. While he was at college in New Mexico, he got into the mountain bike scene. After a semester and a half, he decided to come back to Athens. Here, Cornwell began volunteering and building bikes at the Athens Bike Co-operative. Now, the co-op is split into two groups: ShadeTree Bike Works and Cornwell’s solo endeavor, UpCycle Bike Garage.
“Bikes can be just as practical and efficient for distance and comfort as cars,” Cornwell said. “I’ve taken long trips and carried a tent, cooking supplies, a sleeping bag and everything else on my bike.”
Cornwell spoke passionately about self-sufficient bike touring, which requires the rider to carry virtually everything needed on their bike. This weighs the bike – and biker – down, but it is by far the cheapest, most exciting and challenging type of cycling possible.
A real-life bike connoisseur, Cornwell has ridden from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and has made trips from Louisville to Athens, cutting through Cincinnati. He described the ride from Pittsburgh to D.C. as “very pretty and very smooth.”
UpCycle has been very successful so far. “There are so many college students here, so of course there is a good bike market,” Cornwell said. He built his own pedicabs and started a business called Bikes Bring It, which has gained him some notoriety among Athens residents.
It is easy to see that Cornwell is passionate about what he does. At his garage on 18 Euclid Dr. he reclaims, reconfigures and reanimates bikes. He has also been involved with other aspects of Athens cycling culture, such as bike polo.
Cornwell also designs and builds many different types of bikes, including hybrid models like “freak bikes,” a bike-lawnmower combination. He hopes to one day build a bike RV.
Rantane and Cornwell both have high hopes for the future of bicycles. “There are lots of ways to push the envelope,” Cornwell said. “I think OU should have a bike program and a bike rental shop. People need greater access to bikes.”
For more information on biking opportunities nearby, snag a copy of the 2012 Ohio Bicycle Events Calendar from Rantane’s shop or view the online schedule.