Charlotte's Crank Mafia Gets People Cycling

No fence can contain "Leisure"
No fence can contain "Leisure"
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When Liam “Leisure” McCorkle returned to The States after a two-year post in the Czech Republic, he picked up his old passion of road riding. McCorkle and four friends—Pel Deal, Miguel Johnson, Scott Sanders, and Geoff Endlich—ditched their cars and rode everywhere. The group of cycling buddies jokingly called themselves the “Crank Mafia.” That was 2013.

Crank Mafia

Since those early days the Crank Mafia numbers have swelled to the hundreds with spur groups popping up in cities, and even countries, far outside their native Charlotte. And while McCorkle describes the CM as “A social club whose events center around the bike,” the group is evolving into a charity fundraising, biking advocacy force in the Queen City.

We talked to McCorkle about the biking movement in Charlotte and he shared the beta on some of the most fun social rides around town.

Do you really see a change in the biking community in Charlotte?

I’m from here; I was born here. I’ve left at times for school or jobs, and it is like night and day. If people could only see the evolution of this town when it comes to biking. I remember a time when there was, like, three people riding around Charlotte.

The Booty Loop was, more or less, the only place you could ride around a neighborhood without getting killed—and even that was dangerous. People need to go other places to know how good they have it here.

What’s the biggest step Charlotte can take for the infrastructure to keep up with participation?

Most people don’t see (the biking movement) on ground level. They may not see 100 riders on their way to work. People don’t like paying taxes for things they don’t think are useful. Metrics will help attract other money and will go a long way to show that people are using the (taxpayer) funded facilities.

In a couple weeks we’re launching the VeloTribe. It’s a non-profit geared toward getting the metrics of bike use. We need bike counters like Portland and Minneapolis. That’s one way they get on these lists like “The 50 Best Cities to Ride.” They have the metrics to measure why they’re great.

The metrics aren’t going to do it all by themselves, but it can create a tipping point.

How have you seen the metrics change?

We’re competing in National Bike Challenge. From May to October. We have 14 local teams and over 500 riders this year. That’s double from last year. This really encourages people to ride.

Also, Charlotte is second behind only Seattle right now in the Bike Benefits program and we’re probably going to catch them. That’s a program Pam Murray has been pushing. That’s a big deal. The Bike Benefits program shows that we (the biking community) are connecting to places and spending money.

Once we have the metrics, would you suggest Charlotte build more bike lanes?

It’s not that I’m against bike lanes—they encourage people to ride. But they’re not the catch-all solution. There are risks involved in bike lanes. What happens is, people park in the bike lane, which means you have to jut out into traffic. Lots of cyclists get hit by doors. And drivers don’t always stay in their lane. And bike lanes are extremely expensive.

Crank Mafia

So what’s the alternative?

We have adopted the strategy of “act like a car.” So what would be better is the “sharrow” to share the road. That’s a lot cheaper than a bike lane. It says that bikes should use the full lane and cars should pass. There’s a growing group of people who believe in vehicular riding. Laws in some states favor bicyclists to “take the lane.” Basically, a bicyclist is safer if they take the whole lane. Which means they don’t need a bike lane.

We also could use some PSA’s. When drivers see bikes in the middle of the road, they think they’re not supposed to be there, that they’re supposed to be against the curb. That’s actually very dangerous for the bicyclist and the car. There’s going to have to be some education. That can start at an early age. Some groups, like Trips for Kids, is doing that.

A typical "Sharrow"
A typical "Sharrow" Umberto Brayj - CC

How is the Crank Mafia getting involved in charity work?

Now there’s a team in the Booty Loop. More charity involvement coming up. Every Sunday, from 2-4, for every pint sold at Birdsong Brewery the team gets a dollar toward charity for 24 Hours of Booty. There will eventually be a Crankmafia.org site.

Want to join the fun? Here are 5 of the weekly rides the Crank Mafia is involved in. Just show up, ride, and become part of the Mafia!

1. Wafflepalooza

ANY kind of bike is welcome on social rides
ANY kind of bike is welcome on social rides Crank Mafia

Its name comes from the early days of this weekly event, when each ride would include a stop at Dolce Vita for $5 waffles. Now the route and destination varies, but the spirit is still the same. A very social ride for any bike and any level of rider, including, says McCorkle, people who haven’t been on a bike in 15 years. Wafflepalooza still incorporates a mid-ride brunch stop.

Ride begins each Sunday at 11 a.m. from QCB and lasts till about 2 p.m.

2. SCWNR

Based on the success of the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride , SCWNR (South Charlotte Wednesday Night Ride—pronounced Schwinner) looks to extend the bike culture into Charlotte’s southern expanses.

The group meets at Brixx Pizza in Foxcroft (a Bicycle benefits partner) at 8 p.m. every other Wednesday night and the ride begins soon after. The route varies but is typically less than 12 miles.

3. Lil’ Craig’s Tuesday Night Roll Around

While looking to increase social riding in other neighborhoods, the Crank Mafia connecting with the Common Market’s South End location. This ride starts at 8 p.m. with a goal of returning back to Common Market by 10 p.m. The route changes and usually incorporates the rail trail.

4. Double Deuce

Crank Mafia

Hosted by the Good Riders (one of the loosely affiliated Crank Mafia tribes), the name Double Deuce is both an indication of the ride’s length and an homage to the movie Roadhouse.

Originally designed as a training vehicle for the 24 Hours of Booty, this 22-mile ride is better suited for proper road bikes. Every Saturday morning at 10:30 the group heads out of the parking lot near Mojo Cycles in Mathews to take on the country roads southeast of Charlotte.

5. TUB

The T-Shirt/Urban/Brewery ride starts from QCB at 6:30 every Thursday. The group rides the Greenway to Birdsong Brewing and returns to QCB through Uptown, usually by 8 p.m.

Outside of the weekly events, you can find the Crank Mafia riding in parades and enjoying a burger and beer at their monthly social on the first Friday of each month at their home base—Queen City Bicycles.

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