The Harpeth Bike Club: Building a Cycling Community in Nashville

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Smack dab in the middle of the Volunteer State, Harpeth Bicycle Club includes nearly 500 members, holds scheduled bike rides four times each week for varying skill levels, puts on an annual fundraising ride attracting more than 1,000 bikers, offers free technique clinics, and a tandem-cycle program for blind children and adults—all run on the manpower of avid cyclist volunteers.

“I want to serve as many cyclists in Tennessee as I can,” says Robert Hendry, Club President. Indeed, Lynn Greer, owner of Gran Fondo Cycles in Nashville, calls Harpeth one of the two premier bike clubs in the state. “Lots of people don’t like to ride by themselves,” says Greer. “They don’t want to get lost, and they like the social aspect, a community to ride with.”

Members range in age from teenagers to somewhere north of 80. There are lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, techies, stay-at-home moms, and retirees. “We are very representative of everything that middle-Tennessee is,” says Sametta Glass, one of the club’s founders. What they have in common is a love of cycling and a willingness to help the bike community. “People in our organization tend to put forth that effort, whatever’s needed. When a call goes out—do you have an extra bike?—there will be 10 offers immediately.”

Al Wagner Photography

Saturday rides differ each week, usually up and down rolling hills in the countryside. It’s not unusual for 100 riders to show up. Members sign up to design the course, do a road test, find a store for a rest stop, and plan longer and shorter options. “It’s an art form,” says Hendry. “There have to be enough hills to make it interesting, but not so many to make it impossible.”

Al Wagner

From April to October, Tuesday rides begin at Healthways on Cool Springs Blvd. in Franklin and Thursday rides begin at Hunters Bend Elementary School in Franklin. The midweek rides start at 6pm and offer courses from 20 to 30 miles, always offering more than one route. Sundays bring the club’s venerable Pancake Ride, a 25-28 mile morning run from Hunters Bend Elementary School with a stop at the famous Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper’s Fork for pancakes and other provisions. More advanced riders add extra mileage, while others find the route grueling as is. It is club practice to have one of the better riders serve as designated sweeper for each course, making sure no one gets lost and helping if there is a breakdown.

In winter months, after-work rides during the week are too late for daylight, so the club rents the Nashville Speedway where members can ride under the lights. Advanced riders take their place in a fast paceline, while others ride at slower speeds in the outer lanes. Early in the evening tandem bikes come out, and strong, stable cyclists volunteer to captain the bike with a blind or visually impaired rider behind. Blind adults from Nashville and teens from Tennessee School for the Blind are assisted by club volunteers as they put on bike shoes and helmets and prepare for a spin. “I really love to see them enjoy something that we really enjoy,” says Patty Willman, coordinator of the adaptive athlete program for the club. “It’s so uplifting.”

Al Wagner

To raise funds for the adaptive athlete program and other club expenses, the club puts on the Harpeth River Ride, now in its 19th year. Today it is well known as one of the premier rides in the Southeast, and will take place this year on Saturday, June 20. More than 200 club volunteers participate in organizing the ride, driving SAG vehicles, manning rest stops, painting directional marks in the street, and registering riders. There are routes for everyone—22, 44, 62 and 100 miles—all beginning and ending at Nissan in Franklin. Nissan sponsors a special guest, one year it was former pro racer Levi Leipheimer and another Lance Armstrong. At the front of the pack, where most rides would place elite riders, the River Ride gives top status to adaptive athletes on tandems and hand-cycles.

The club also offers rides specifically for riders wanting a lot more or a lot less. Cycle-Lite takes riders on 12-mile rides at “conversationally-paced” speeds, stopping for coffee. On the other end of the spectrum, for those who consider a century ride a nice warm-up, HBC has an Ultra Cycling group. All members are welcome at free skills clinics, covering climbing and descending, paceline and cornering skills, and bicycle maintenance. Membership is $30, less than the cost of a bike jersey. Ride on.

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