Cycling and bike trails expand in popularity

Charles Cook is dressed and ready to depart his College Park home while it is still dark in the morning. But unlike many other business people, Cook is often not in a suit and tie; he is instead dressed in a “kit”—a shirt and tight, padded matching shorts in bold, fun patterns typically seen on avid cyclists — at times with a headlamp strapped to his forehead. Cook mounts his road bike several days a week to meet up with his pack of fellow cyclists for a 40-mile ride before work.

Cook is part of a fast-growing sport in College Park and beyond as cycling evolves as a favorite pastime — and exercise — luring young and old, families and couples, singles, and group riders.

“The cycling scene is growing here, from hard-core cyclists to beginners. It’s an ever-expanding, welcoming community to people of all levels,” Cook said. “It is popular because it’s a longer-term athletic pursuit than running, for instance, because it’s easier on your body. Anyone can do it.”

Charles Cook pedals through College Park on his way out west to the popular hill region.
Photo courtesy of Charles Cook

Today, more than in years past, the Orlando area is welcoming to cyclists with additional bike lanes, fewer cars honking at them, and greater respect for sharing lanes, according to Cook and other cyclists. Cook said: “This community is more open to cycling. Cars are acknowledging your presence on a bike. It’s a significant, positive change from the past. Cyclists are showing respect, too, like riding in single file. This is a great sport; you see things up close. You smell things. You feel the wind. It’s like an adult version of the joy you felt when you were on a bike as a kid.”

Two of the area’s premier bike shops are located in College Park on Edgewater Drive: David’s World Cycle started in College Park in 1989 and has 16 other locations, according to company founder David Sanborn. Orange Cycle, founded by husband and wife Howard Larlee and Deena Breed, has been in its current location since 1975.

These shops serve the wide range of cyclists’ needs — from bikes for kids to the racing variety, with a plethora of accessories available as well. Novices as well as veterans of the sport can find regularly scheduled group rides, charity rides, and other cycling information on the stores’ websites.

“Get on a bike, and you will be 10 percent happier,” said Breed. “In College Park, have fun, get on a bike, and ride around the neighborhoods. And then get on the trails —it’s safer, and you get your confidence up. You can use Google maps to see where all the trails are. We want to introduce everyone to the joy of cycling.”

Breed said the City of Orlando is “exceedingly encouraging” to cycling. “The solution to livability is not adding more car lanes. You have to have a way to get around, and alternate methods are needed like SunRail, pedicabs … The bike is a great alternative,” she said.

Larlee said safe places to ride are always on the minds of cyclists. About 35 years ago, Bicycling magazine placed Orlando on its cover as one of the nation’s worst cities for bicycles. Other rankings on pedestrian- and bike-friendliness have been critical in the past as well.

“That was a wake-up call for Orlando. Now, we’d be way up on the scale. The city is working toward the highest standard for bikes,” Larlee said. “Staying in motion is so important as we age, and cycling is a big part of that.”

Breed recently took her bike on SunRail to DeBary, where she did a 25-mile ride on a bike path north of Lake Monroe, rode SunRail back to the Florida Hospital stop, and then ate lunch at a local restaurant. “I have a lot of favorite rides. It’s great being with cyclists and being around people in a good mood!” she said with a laugh.

Popular trails include the Orlando Urban Trail and the West Orange Trail. New walking and biking trails are in the plans for The Packing District and the new city park being developed by Dr. Phillips Charities.

According to F.J. Flynn, Orlando’s deputy transportation director, “We envision the trails being constructed by Dr. Phillips Charities as part of The Packing District development to ultimately connect with the city’s network of trails. That is the long-term vision and the specifics of how they would connect will be developed in the future.”

The new park with new trails is great for College Park, according to Sanborn, who also said: “Anything our communities can do to make it safer and more accessible by bike or by foot is a wonderful thing. The City of Orlando and Central Florida have made huge progress. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the trails and pathways we have today. Our goal is to see more trips made by bicycle … to get people out of the house and away from their screens, to get outside, and do something active.”

For those who like to go “faster and further,” a description used for more advanced riders, the hills to the west of Orlando are a draw.

Cook and his group find “the Ferndale route” and its hills outside of Montverde in Lake County to be one of the biggest, most challenging climbs in Central Florida. Ferndale connects to the West Orange Trail, which is hugely popular with weekend warrior cyclists and families.

“Cycling is a great family thing,” Cook said. He and his wife, Amy, and their two boys, Chas and Owen, collectively own 30 bikes from kids’ bikes to mountain bikes to road and spin bikes to beach bikes to trainers called “rollers.”

“In the summer, you’ll see a group with people in their 50s and 60s to 15 years old. Like anything, there are so many cycling brands and something that covers anybody. You can be intimidated by what it’s like to be a novice. But there are cycling apps that show routes that have been done. GPS helps a great deal” for those wanting to start riding, he said.

“I’m very proud of Orlando for the expansion of bike lanes and trails. And I’m looking forward to seeing it more expanded,” Cook said.

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