In 2014, the League of American Bicyclists ranked Alabama as one of the most biker-unfriendly states in the country, but Bruce Herbitter, an active member of the Montgomery Bicycle Club, believes that his state is actually one of the best places to ride a road bike.
“Statistically, we are a pretty safe place for bikers, and central Alabama is a beautiful place to ride,” he said. “We’ve got gentle hills through farmland, and when the fields are green and the sky is blue, it’s breathtaking. It’s even more so in the spring; there’s so much color.”
And thanks to the work of the Montgomery Bicycle Club, it’s about to get even better. “We’re working to make Alabama a more cycle-friendly state,” Bruce said.
Two years ago, the club was instrumental in getting Montgomery to pass its three-feet safe pass law, and now, in collaboration with the Alabama Bike Coalition, the club is working to get a bill through the Alabama Legislature that would require motorists pass bikers on the roadways with a minimum of five feet between them. The bill has already made it through the Senate, and it looks like it will make it into law.
It’s an important victory. “Having that at a statewide level would make cycling so much safer,” said Robert Traphan, the club’s current treasurer.
Bruce echoed Robert. “I’m a believer that bicycles belong on the roads, and where they are in traffic lanes, we need the passing rule,” he said.
According to Bruce, making cycling more visible is another way to make it safer, and promoting cycling is another one of the club’s goals. “When folks are more used to seeing cyclers, they are more accepting of them and will be more aware and then, be more careful,” Bruce said.
Bruce and the club are also encouraging the Alabama Department of Transportation to do a better job of providing wider shoulders without rumble strips on Alabama roadways so bikers can be outside the traffic lane. “We also need more signs that announce to drivers that cyclists are in the area,” he said.
But while advocacy of this kind is a key part of the Bicycle Club’s mission, it’s not the only one. The club, which currently has more than 120 members, also works to get more folks involved in road biking with events and planned rides.
“We have lots of events, including beginner family friendly rides that we hope will get more people interested in trying cycling,” Bruce said.
One of its recent rides drew 350 participants, including folks from all over the country. On February 21, the club organized a ride along the 52-mile route that Civil Rights marchers used when they walked from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
One local cyclist, Carrie Banks, participated and described it as “surreal.” “The Selma-to-Montgomery ride was a humbling and amazing experience for me, humbling because this year is the 50 th anniversary of the march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and that historical aspect was incredible,” she said. “The bike club did such an amazing job putting it together.”
Hundreds of riders of all ages and backgrounds from 25 states created a diverse group that added to the event’s appeal. “It was really unique,” Banks said. “The first 40 miles felt like climbing uphill, and the headwind was so strong, it made our bike spokes sing. But every time I thought I might have to get off and push, I thought, ‘Those marchers didn’t have any support; they kept going,’ and that would push me up the hill.”
Bruce agreed with Banks, and stressed that the ride had a deeper purpose. “During the Selma ride, we had such a diversity of people from every race, different cultural and political backgrounds, but we were all fellow cyclists and that united us,” he said.
And according to Bruce, biking in general can have a similar positive effect. “To me, cycling is a very effective tool to bridge all kinds of divides. If we can be that way on bikes, we can be that way off bikes too,” he said.
Many of the club’s other planned group rides are in the Pintlala and Pike Road areas, both right outside of Montgomery's city limits, and around Prattville, a small city 12 miles north of Montgomery. Banks shared why she loves biking in and around Montgomery. “The beauty of being a cyclist here is that the terrain and topography are ever changing, but they’re usually fairly flat, so you can ride for a few hours and get a great workout but also take in and enjoy your surroundings,” she said.
Bruce pointed to a few other favorites. “There’s hardly anywhere I don’t like to ride around here, but the rural areas are really special. Tram Road in Elmore County is really picturesque with a few nice climbs to get your heart rate up. Smiley Ferry Road in South Montgomery County is another."
And the Montgomery area draws more than local cyclists. “It’s so nice down here, there’s a Canadian cycling group that keeps a house in the area and comes down to ride,” Bruce said. “These are serious cyclists that come down here to train because it's just so pretty.”