Before vacation season ends, experience wonders close to home

August 12, 2014

140731Maker'sMark0168This art glass installation in the ceiling of a barrel warehouse is the newest visitor attraction at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Marion County. Below, Ward Hall in Georgetown is a Greek Revival masterpiece. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

There’s a chill in the air this week. Schools are back in session. Fall is beginning to arrive.

But if you want to stretch vacation season a little longer, here’s an idea: Find time to visit some Central Kentucky wonders. You know, the places tourists come from around the world to see but locals often forget about.

Here are a few suggestions. For more details on many of them, go to Visitlex.com, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website.

Horses. This may be the horse capital of the world, but when did you last see one? Spend a day at the Kentucky Horse Park (Kyhorsepark.com) or visit a Thoroughbred farm. Several farms welcome visitors who schedule in advance. Or you can do like out-of-towners do and book a horse farm bus tour.

Keeneland Race Course is the best place to see Thoroughbreds in action. The park-like grounds are open year-around. The yearling sales are Sept. 8-21. The fall racing meet is Oct. 3-25. More information: Keeneland.com.

Bourbon. More than 90 percent of this globally popular whiskey is made within a short drive of Lexington. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is becoming a major tourist draw. My favorite distilleries to visit include Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Wild Turkey and Four Roses near Lawrenceburg, Maker’s Mark near Lebanon and Woodford Reserve near Versailles. More information: Kybourbontrail.com.

Country roads. Some of my favorite places to enjoy Central Kentucky’s beauty are the country roads that connect the region like a vast spider’s web. These are perfect for scenic drives. I like to go by bicycle, but it takes experience to know which roads are safe and comfortable for cycling. The Bluegrass Cycling Club has well-managed group rides each week. Check the calendar: Bgcycling.net.

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.comArchitecture and history. This was a rich agricultural region before the Civil War, and remnants of that era can be seen in Central Kentucky’s grand mansions. Architectural styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival.

Many historic homes are still private residences, but some of the best are open for tours. Among them: Ward Hall in Georgetown, White Hall in Madison County and these in Lexington: Waveland, the Hunt-Morgan House, the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Other must-sees: Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County and the Old Capitol in Frankfort.

Nature. Perhaps the least-known attractions in Central Kentucky are natural areas, but they can be spectacularly beautiful. I especially love the Palisades region of the Kentucky River, which stretches from Boonesboro to Frankfort.

Lexington’s Raven Run park is the most-visited natural area in the Palisades region. Others include Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve (lowerhowardscreek.org), Floracliff Nature Sanctuary (Floracliff.org) and Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary, all of which have more-limited public access.

Julian Campbell, a botanist and authority on native Kentucky plants, has begun leading monthly hikes to promote awareness and conservation of natural areas. More information: Bluegrasswoodland.com or email campmeet@gmail.com.

But you don’t have to go hiking in the woods to see Central Kentucky’s oldest and most magnificent natural specimens.

A unique feature of the Bluegrass landscape is huge burr and chinkapin oak, blue ash and kingnut hickory trees, some of which are thought to be 300-500 years old. Tom Kimmerer, a forest scientist, has launched a non-profit organization to study how to better care for these “venerable” trees, as he calls them. More information: Venerabletrees.org.

Because Lexington has literally grown up around these old trees, they can be found in some strange places.

Recent brush-trimming has highlighted a magnificent burr oak that Kimmerer is conserving for Ball Homes beside a new subdivision at Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike. In the 1990s, a parking structure for medical offices was built around another huge oak tree, near the corner of Harrodsburg and Mason Headley roads.

Other notable examples can be found in front of an Avis car rental office on South Broadway; on the lawns of Sullivan University and the mansion at Griffin Gate; and scattered among new buildings along Sir Barton Way in Hamburg.

Here’s an idea: as you drive around on your weekly errands, start an ancient tree scavenger hunt! Anything to make the lazy days of summer last a little longer.

140807Gainesway0018This burr oak tree on Gainesway Farm is likely several hundred years old. 


Winter’s last gasp reinforces the joy of springtime in Kentucky

April 15, 2014

Mahan-KeenelandA horse is exercised at Keeneland after Tuesday’s snow. Photo by Mark Mahan. Below, snow melts off a tulip at Mathews Garden at the University of Kentucky. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

 

We should have known this winter would not give up easily. But I just smiled when I woke up Tuesday to that little last gasp of a snow storm.

I smiled because I had already seen, felt and smelled the warm promise of spring. I had a sunburn from the weekend. And I knew that there is no better place to enjoy springtime than in Kentucky.

Two Saturdays ago, I saw the new season arrive on the tiny blooms of Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot and rare snow trillium. The rugged creeks that feed into the Kentucky River Palisades harbor a unique array of spring wildflowers, both common and endangered.

Wildflower hikes are offered by such places as the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary, the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve and the Salato Wildlife Education Center. But opportunities are limited, and the flowers are fleeting.

More common wildflowers can be enjoyed on lawns whose owners eschew toxic chemicals. My yard is awash in purple violets. The grassy median that divides my street has patches of white spring beauties. The grounds at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, have been so covered with spring beauties that it looked as if the snow had arrived there early.

TulipThe lilac bushes beside my front porch have made it a fragrant place to relax on warm evenings and watch my neighbors dust off their bicycles and take a spin.

Last weekend was a perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with some of my cycling friends. Sunshine and perfect temperatures made it feel like late May, although our out-of-shape bodies kept reminding us that it was only early April.

We rode a 35-mile loop Saturday past manicured horse farms in Fayette, Scott and Bourbon counties, then enjoyed a late lunch at Windy Corner Market, where a steady line of customers stretched out the door for hours.

Sunday’s ride was more ambitious: 50-something hilly miles from our Lexington homes to Berea. A few steep climbs and a constant headwind showed who had and who had not kept in shape over the winter. I had not. As we crossed the Kentucky River on the Valley View Ferry, a crew member serenaded us with his guitar. Birds took over the musical duties as we pedaled along Tate’s Creek on the other side, admiring redbud trees in full bloom.

We stopped for lunch at Acres of Land winery, the road up to which required climbing acres of steep asphalt. We needed the rest before continuing on to Boone Tavern for a round of iced tea on the veranda.

Madison County showed a visiting friend from Atlanta a more rugged view of Bluegrass beauty than he had seen the day before. Sadly, though, many back roads were littered with plastic bottles and fast-food cups tossed from passing vehicles. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

While we were biking, many others were enjoying one of my favorite spring venues, Keeneland Race Course. Saturday’s weather made it no surprise that nearly 40,000 people attended the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, the second-largest crowd in history.

I haven’t been to the races yet this season, but I have been to Keeneland. When I can manage to pull myself out of bed an hour before daylight, I like to go out there, walk around the backside and watch exercise riders warm up that day’s competitors on the track. It is one of the best free shows in Lexington.

As the rising sun fully illuminates forsythia and dogwood, and as Keeneland’s equine athletes are being cooled off and groomed, I walk to the Track Kitchen for the sort of delicious breakfast cardiologists disapprove of.

As I finish writing this, the last remnants of the snow have melted off my front yard. The budding leaves on my tulip poplar and the giant sycamore across the street look twice as big as they were yesterday. It will be at least six months before they turn color and fall, big as dinner plates.

So long, winter. Don’t be in any hurry to come back.

 


Here’s my $5 million idea for the mayor; what’s yours?

July 29, 2012

You have until Wednesday to send Mayor Jim Gray your bold idea for improving Lexington.

Gray will choose one idea to submit next month to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, which will give $5 million to the winning city and four $1 million prizes to runners-up to help turn their ideas into reality.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation wants “a bold idea that can make government work better, solve a serious problem or improve city life.” The idea should be tailored to Lexington, but also be replicable in other cities. It also needs an action plan that can achieve measurable results.

So far, citizens have submitted dozens of ideas through the city’s website, by mail and in “town hall” forums that Gray has conducted via telephone and social media.

So what’s my bold idea for the mayor? Set a goal to make Lexington the nation’s healthiest city through better nutrition and more exercise. The action plan would focus on developing our budding local food economy and making it easier for Lexingtonians to be physically active as part of their daily routines.

This project is perfect for Lexington, because the city has both huge health problems and the basic tools needed to solve them.

Think about it: Long before Men’s Health magazine named Lexington as America’s most sedentary city last year, Kentucky was a national chart-topper for unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, you name it.

On the other hand, Lexington has some of America’s richest soil, and it can grow food as well as horses. There is a lot of farmland, plus other good opportunities for healthy food production, from the indoor aquaponics farm now being built in a former urban bread bakery to suburban backyard gardens.

Lexington already has many smart, creative people working on these issues. They include university researchers, health educators, farmers, food entrepreneurs and non-profit community organizations such as Seedleaf and Food Chain.

As for exercise, Urban County Council members Jay McChord and Doug Martin, architect Van Meter Pettit and many others have become influential promoters of trails, bicycle lanes and better pedestrian infrastructure to make it safer and easier to exercise.

Lexington’s size, educated population, culture, soils, climate and central location make this an ideal place to pioneer new approaches to improving Americans’ health. Think how much progress could be made if a well-publicized city health crusade attracted national attention and other foundation funding?

These are just some of the issues to be explored: How can typical American urban and suburban infrastructure be retrofitted to make it safer for walking and biking? How can locally grown produce and meat be made more affordable? How can local food production be leveraged to create new jobs?

City government’s main role would be to help create infrastructure — everything from bike lanes and pedestrian paths to garden plots on vacant city land and commercial kitchens to help people turn local food into value-added products. With the right infrastructure and support, Lexington’s academics, entrepreneurs, volunteers and non-profit organizations could develop strategies other cities could emulate.

Well, that’s my idea. What’s yours? Send it to the mayor by going to the city’s website (lexingtonky.gov) and filling out an online form. Or mail your idea to: Mayors Challenge, City Hall, 200 E. Main St., Lexington, KY 40507.

Dick Robinson’s Legacy

The last couple of times I saw well-known sports agent Dick Robinson, he was telling me about his dream of extending the popular Legacy Trail from the Kentucky Horse Park to Georgetown. Robinson, 71, was an avid cyclist. He died a year ago Monday as the result of a brain injury suffered in a cycling accident.

Robinson’s widow, Christie, and friends Leslie and Keith Flanders have continued working on the idea, enlisting the support of Scott County property owners and officials.

They have set up an account with the Blue Grass Community Foundation to take donations to fund a feasibility study and are in the process of hiring CDP Engineers of Lexington to conduct it. The six-month study will recommend route options and estimate costs of the three- or four-mile extension so organizers can apply for state, federal and foundation construction grants, Leslie Flanders said.

To raise awareness for the project, there will be a 15-mile ride on the Legacy Trail in Robinson’s memory Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the trailhead on Iron Works Pike across from the horse park campground. Everyone is invited to come out to ride, or just to honor Robinson’s legacy dream.


Get ready for Bike Lexington on Saturday

May 29, 2012

The long Memorial Day weekend is over and you’re back at work today — thinking about what to do next weekend.

Well, get your bicycle out of the garage Saturday morning and head downtown for the annual Bike Lexington Family Fun Ride, a roll around the city without having to worry about cars getting in your way.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Courthouse Plaza, and the ride begins promptly at 10 a.m. There will be a Kids’ Bike Safety Rodeo and children’s bike race from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. There also will be food vendors and a raffle for a free bike from Bike Lexington’s main sponsor, Pedal Power Bike Shop.

The Family Fun Ride route map is below. For more information, go to BikeLexington.com.


How to contact, donate to Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club

August 10, 2011

I have received several phone calls today from people wanting to donate to the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club, which I wrote about in today’s Herald-Leader. I should have included that information with the column.

Make checks payable to Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden c/o Blue Grass Community Foundation, 250 West Main St., Suite 1220, Lexington, Ky. 40507.  For more information, call (859) 225-3343. The group also has a Facebook page here.


Bike club for kids honors Isaac Murphy’s legacy

August 9, 2011

Writer Frank X Walker was bothered last summer when he attended opening-day festivities for the Legacy Trail and saw only a few other people of color.

“I got to thinking about what I could do to change that,” said Walker, 50, who has ridden a bicycle since he was a child in Danville. Walker’s 73-year-old father is an avid cyclist, and his son rides a bike to classes at the University of Kentucky.

Walker had recently published Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, a book of poems based on the life of the great 19th-century black jockey. Murphy’s home in Lexington’s East End neighborhood stood where the trail will begin when it is completed. That gave Walker an idea that many others in Lexington were quick to embrace.

They created the Isaac Murphy Bicycle Club, which organized classes this summer for children in the East End, teaching them bicycle skills, safety and rules of the road with donated second-hand bicycles.

The children also learned about the history of their neighborhood, where more than a century ago, Murphy and other black jockeys and trainers at the old Kentucky Association track helped make Lexington the horse capital of the world.

On Aug. 20, about 25 kids who attended at least two of the three classes this summer will be given new bicycles, helmets, locks, safety lights and water bottles at the YMCA on Loudon Avenue. Then they will all take a ride on the Legacy Trail.

“I remember as a kid how exhilarating it was to ride my first new bicycle,” Walker said. “I want other kids to feel that, too.”

The kids will be encouraged to continue participating in rides and other club activities — and to get their friends and families riding bikes, too. “This might be a way to get people in this part of town walking and riding the Legacy Trail,” Walker said.

The club has received money and volunteer support from many Lexington organizations, including the Urban County Council, the city’s Partners for Youth program, the Bluegrass Cycling Club, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, Dick’s Sporting Goods, the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop, the Police Activities League, the William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, Seedleaf and the East Seventh Street Center.

“We’ve been collaborating with as many parties as we can find,” Walker said, adding that the club could still use more donations and sponsorships.

The Blue Grass Community Foundation’s Steve Austin, who earlier worked with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Legacy Project, which helped the city build the trail, said, “I want the kids of the East End, like kids anywhere in the city, to feel like it’s their trail, too.”

When I attended a club training session last week, Dave Overton of the Bluegrass Cycling Club was teaching bicycle skills to a couple dozen kids, ages 6 to 14. Afterward, volunteers served them lunch, including a cake decorated with the club’s logo: a jockey riding a bicycle.

“It’s fun to just be able to go out and have fun and do what you like doing,” said Zion Alaboudi, 10, who can’t wait to get his new bike.

The club plans more sessions of classes, and members are considering ways kids could earn bicycles through good school attendance and academic performance. And the East End was a good place to start, but Walker wants the club to eventually have chapters in other neighborhoods citywide.

His larger goal is to get more people of all ages and races on bicycles and walking to improve their health and get to know their community better. Walker, an associate professor of English at UK, has been leading weekly rides for other faculty members on the Legacy Trail. And he is trying to get 100 families to ride bicycles in the annual Roots & Heritage Festival parade, Sept. 10 in the East End.

“This is how you grow it,” Walker said. “You start with kids this age.”

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1 year, 416 miles of Lexington streets, many lessons

August 2, 2011

On a rare warm day in February 2010, Steve Austin began a bicycle ride from his home in Ashland Park. He is almost finished with it.

Austin didn’t set out intending to ride all 416 miles of Lexington streets inside New Circle Road. But the more he rode that afternoon, the more he thought it wouldn’t be that hard.

“Finding the time and the right weather was my biggest challenge,” said Austin, a vice president at Blue Grass Community Foundation.

Austin rode mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but occasionally during heavy weekday traffic, always starting from his home. With a yellow highlighter, he marked off each street on a well-folded city map, but he didn’t keep track of his total miles ridden. He has only a few streets left to go.

“I was really doing an experiment to see if Lexington is a bikeable city,” he said. “The answer is yes. We tell ourselves it’s not because of traffic, but inside New Circle Road is really compact, although it’s more hilly than it looks from a car.”

Austin, who was trained as a landscape architect and land-use lawyer and has spent much of his career as a city planner, said that viewing Lexington from the seat of a bicycle has given him a new perspective.

For one thing, he was impressed by how courteous drivers were to him. And he was struck by how nice Lexington’s older suburban neighborhoods are — even the less-affluent ones. “But we missed a lot of opportunities as we grew from the core by not building greenways along the creeks to connect them,” he said.

“You can live in a great suburb and still have to drive to everything,” he said. “Retro-fitting the urban fabric to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly is going to be one of our challenges over the next few decades” as gasoline prices rise and the population ages.

But that won’t be as difficult, or expensive, as it might sound. Austin discovered that New Circle Road is no more than a 30-minute bike ride from anywhere inside it, and the city is filled with lots of streets going the same direction.

“You can ride almost anywhere without getting on a busy road — a Nicholasville Road, a Richmond Road,” he said, adding that Liberty, Mason Headley and Parkers Mill roads can be just as treacherous.

Austin said small things could make a big difference, such as signs marking good bike routes and cut-throughs at key points — a bridge over the creek behind Lafayette High School, for example, or a pathway behind Picadome Golf Course — that would allow cyclists to avoid busy roads.

“Those are incremental costs compared to the benefits we would get for the city,” he said.

Such small improvements could encourage more bicycle commuters. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey found that only about 1 percent of Lexington’s 143,000 commuters bike to work. “What would it take to get to 10 percent?” Austin wondered.

Austin now bikes to his downtown office several days a week, and he rides around his neighborhood some evenings with his son, who recently got a bicycle for his 9th birthday. Austin, who also has taken up jogging, said he has lost more than 20 pounds and is trying for more.

Austin said his journey also helped him notice things about Lexington that have nothing to do with biking — for example, how some of Lexington’s nicest neighborhoods are only a stone’s throw from some of its most dilapidated. “Yet we’ve kind of compart mentalized things,” he said. “We have mental blinders.”

Austin also noticed University of Kentucky flags on homes in almost every neighborhood. “It sounds kind of cliché, but UK athletics is the unifier, the common reference,” he said. It made him wonder: How powerful would it be if every Lexington child could attend a basketball game in Rupp Arena, if only once?

“I think it’s important for us to get to know our city better,” he said. “And you just don’t get it from the windshield of a car.”


The secret to exercise is finding something you enjoy

July 20, 2011

I have a framed photograph of my 35-year-old self covering the 1994 Winter Olympics. I am wearing a colorful Norwegian sweater. But what I always notice first is my chubby face. For the first time in my life, I was getting fat.

My doctor called me on it a few months later. “You need more exercise,” he said bluntly. “Ride a bike. That’s what I do.”

I was never much of an athlete. I hiked as a Boy Scout. I marched with the Lafayette High School band. But after college and marriage, about the only exercise I got was chasing after my two young daughters.

So I bought a road bike, helmet and padded shorts, and started riding around my Atlanta neighborhood. The more I rode, the better I liked it.

I began riding on weekends with the father of one of my daughter’s friends. Soon, I had the stamina and courage to accompany him on long rides. I was comforted that he was an emergency room doctor.

Within a year, I had ridden 2,000 miles. I was 35 pounds lighter, I felt great and friends kept telling me how much healthier I looked. Most of all, I was constantly looking forward to my next ride.

Since moving home to Lexington in 1998, I have continued to ride at least 2,000 miles a year. Now almost 53, I have yet to weigh as much as I did at 35, despite my love for barbecue and bourbon balls.

Men’s Health magazine recently ranked Lexington as the nation’s most sedentary city. That might or might not be true, but studies have shown that most Kentuckians don’t get enough exercise. Doubt the studies? Look around you. Or look in the mirror.

Here is what I have learned from my fitness adventure: Exercise works only if you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t keep doing it. So find an activity you enjoy.

There is something magical for me about the biomechanical harmony of riding a bicycle. I love going places under my own power. It is a lot like hiking, except the scenery changes faster.

Climbing a big hill on a bicycle is challenging. The reward is the rush you get from flying down the other side. All you hear is wind and the whir of your back wheel’s sprocket; it sounds like a fly reel when a big trout is pulling out the line.

Cycling is best when you ride with other people. You can have some wonderful conversations while pedaling along at 15 or 20 mph, once you learn to pause and resume talking with the noise of wind and traffic.

Several people I ride with in rural Central Kentucky have become close friends. We have shared a lot with one another. It only makes sense; we have had so many miles to talk.

But this might be what I like best about cycling: Each ride is like a mini-vacation in one of the world’s most beautiful places.

I see nuances in the rural Bluegrass landscape on a bicycle that I never notice from a car. Were I not cycling, I would have had no reason to discover  the dozens of lightly traveled country lanes I now know so well. I often ride past beautiful antebellum homes, abandoned distilleries, caves, creeks and waterfalls that most people around here don’t even know exist.

Tuesday morning’s ride was typical. A friend and I met soon after dawn on the edge of Lexington. The sun shone through plank fences, creating beautiful shadow patterns on the road. We sped by horses grazing in fields and saw a young colt being taken for a walk. Birds danced across meadows filled with wildflowers. Squirrels gathered walnuts around stone fences.

We stopped at Windy Corner Market for coffee and a country ham biscuit. I enjoyed those Kentucky Proud calories all the more because I knew they would be long gone by the time we finished our fast, 28-mile ride and parted for our weekday routines.

Cycling has made me healthier and happier. It isn’t just exercise. It’s fun.


Lexington scooter, bike sales rise along with gas prices

May 30, 2011

Scooters have always been fun, but with gas prices hovering around $4 per gallon, they’re also looking practical.

“I love it,” said Lesme Romero, owner of Lexington Pasta, who bought an Italian-made Vespa scooter last November to deliver pasta from his shop on North Limestone to restaurants and markets around town.

Romero drives his Vespa almost daily, but has filled the tank only twice, because it gets about 90 miles to the gallon. Downtown parking is easy, he said, and the bright red-and-white scooter is good advertising.

“People see us and say, ‘There’s the pasta guys!'” he said. “I take it to the farmers market and Thursday Night Live, and everybody wants to stop by and see the Vespa.”

Vespa of Lexington has sold nearly 200 scooters since it opened in November 2009 at 198 Moore Drive, said owners Whit Hiler and Michael Wright. The company sells Vespa, Piaggio, Genuine and Sym scooters and services most brands.

While many people buy scooters for fun, an increasing number commute on them, Hiler said. Scooters have been especially popular with people who work at the University of Kentucky (campus parking is easier) and among families that want to go from two automobiles to one.

Scooter prices start at about $2,100 and go to about $9,000, depending on brand, model and engine size, Hiler said. Gas mileage (regular unleaded) ranges from about 50 mpg to nearly 100 mpg. Top speeds range from about 35 mph for small-engine models, such as the one Romero bought, to 90 mph.

A motorcycle license is required to drive all but the scooters with the smallest engines, which still require a driver’s license or learner’s permit. Helmets are strongly recommended.

The most popular scooters the shop sells are Vespas — Italian for “wasp.” The Italian company Piaggio, which made aircraft during World War II, began making Vespas in 1946 to satisfy Europe’s need for cheap transportation. The Vespas steel body, which has become a design classic, fully encloses the drivetrain, and there is a covered ledge for the driver’s feet.

There was a Vespa dealer on New Circle Road until 1981, when the company withdrew from the U.S. market for two decades. Other Vespa dealers in the region now are in Louisville, Elizabethtown and Cincinnati.

“Lexington has been a good market for scootering,” said Hiler, adding that his shop ranked third in sales among Vespa’s 42 dealers in the Great Lakes region in 2010.

Local enthusiasts last year formed the Circle 4 Scooter club, which has a Facebook page and sponsors rallies and other events. “Scooters can save you a lot of money, but they’re also fun — that’s the biggest benefit,” Hiler said. “We call ourselves fun dealers.”

A cheaper ride

Lexington bicycle shops also are seeing sales rise along with gas prices.

“We’ve had a pretty strong season so far this year with gas prices doing what they’re doing,” said Billy Yates, owner of Pedal Power Bike Shop at South Upper and Maxwell streets. “Even if people commute (by bicycle) just one or two times a week, they’re starting to see a savings when they fill up at the pump.”

Pedal Power is selling more practical bikes than in recent years — hybrid models with upright seating, fenders, racks, baskets and bags. “It’s a very viable means of transportation for many people,” he said.

That is because statistics show many automobile trips are within a mile or two of someone’s home, said Wendy Trimble, owner of Pedal the Planet bike shop, 3450 Richmond Road.

“Our sales are at an all-time high,” Trimble said. “We attribute some of it to commuting and recreation, but a lot is health and fitness issues. Bicycling is a great, low-impact way to lose weight, and it’s fun.”

You will see more bicycles on Lexington streets Monday than on any other day of the year. The annual Bike Lexington festival is expected to draw several thousand people to activities at Courthouse Plaza and a car-free family fun ride around town. More information is at BikeLexington.com.

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This is the weekend to get out your bicycle

May 26, 2011

Keep your fingers crossed, but it looks as if the weather will cooperate for Central Kentucky’s big bicycle weekend. Events are planned for cyclists of every kind, from kids and newbies to spandex-clad regulars:

Friday-Sunday: The Bluegrass Cycling Club hosts its 33rd annual Horsey Hundred tour of rural Central Kentucky. The event begins Friday afternoon with registration at Georgetown College and a pre-ride party at Royal Springs Park in Georgetown. On Saturday, there will be rides of 26, 36, 50, 76 and 102 miles to choose from. On Sunday, the rides are 34, 50 or 70 miles. There will be lunch and plenty of rest stops both days, plus a party in Midway on Saturday evening. For more information and registration, go to www.bgcycling.org.

Saturday: The Bike Bash takes place at Cheapside Park in downtown Lexington from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. There will be music by the Matt Duncan Band, “slow” bike races and a stunt show by professional mountain bike rider Mike Steidley.

Monday: Several thousand cyclists will converge on Courthouse Plaza in downtown Lexington for the annual Bike Lexington events. This free day of fun, sponsored by Pedal Power Bike Shop, includes a car-free, 10-mile family fun ride through Lexington that starts at noon. Other activities include a bike safety rodeo for kids at 10 a.m., bike races all afternoon, vendors and more. For more information: www.bikelexington.com.


Debra’s next Social $timulus: Gearing up for good

May 5, 2011

If, like me, you’re a fan of Debra Hensley and her always-fun-and-interesting “Social $timulus” events, mark your calendar for Friday, July 8, from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The insurance agent and former Urban County Council member will be highlighting the North Limestone neighborhood, which has seen a strong revival in just the past couple of years. The featured non-profit organization for this event will be Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, which I wrote about in this column.

Like all Debra’s previous events, I’m sure it will be a great way to meet new people and learn new things about Lexington. Here is a column I wrote about the idea behind Debra’s project. And here is her first “movie trailer” for this event, “Gearing up for good”:


More reasons to ride bikes when weather breaks

February 9, 2011

It is Monday afternoon as I write this, and outside my office window, Lexington looks like a giant snow globe. Fat flakes are pounding the icy pavement, and all I can think about is how much I want it to warm up so I can ride my bike again.

Spring will come eventually. When it does, Lexington will be an even better place for bicycling, thanks to many people’s hard work.

The Fayette County Public Schools was awarded a $20,775 grant last month from the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission to expand its bike-safety program. The money came from voluntary fees paid by people buying “Share the Road” license plates.

Last year, many of the school system’s physical education teachers were trained by certified instructors from the League of American Bicyclists. The next phase of the program includes purchasing 70 more bikes and helmets to teach all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders how to safely ride a bike.

City officials recently finished “complete streets” guidelines for adding bike lanes, whenever possible, to new and renovated streets and roads, said Kenzie Gleason, Lexington’s bike/pedestrian coordinator.

Lexington has 25 miles of bike lanes, including recent additions to South Limestone, Vine Street, Polo Club Boulevard, Todds Road and the Newtown Pike extension. An additional 15 miles have been funded. Those bike lanes will be added as part of improvements to Maxwell Street and Clays Mill Road this year, and to Southland Drive next year.

Lexington also now has 22 miles of bike/walking trails, including the new Legacy Trail. Six more miles of trails have been funded and are in development. Twenty more miles are being studied or designed but are not funded.

The Legacy Trail’s initial eight-mile section, from the YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Kentucky Horse Park, has been popular since it opened in September. When it has been too icy or snowy for bikes, friends tell me they have seen people cross-country skiing there.

An extension of the trail from the YMCA to the proposed Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue has been delayed until completion of an archaeological survey. Organizers always knew the great 19th-century African-American jockey’s home was near the garden; now they think he might have lived on that very spot.

Two couples from Scott County — Dick and Christie Robinson and Keith and Leslie Flanders — are soliciting support to extend the Legacy Trail from the Horse Park to the Cincinnati Bengals’ training center in Georgetown. The distance is less than most people might think: about three miles. But it would make this the Bluegrass’s first multicounty trail.

Bluegrass Tomorrow also is pushing the idea of a regional trail system. Chairman Blaine Early said the non-profit “smart growth” group hopes to facilitate plans among its 18 counties to build new trails and connect with those that exist elsewhere, including Lexington and Versailles.

Meanwhile, The Fayette Alliance has asked Vice Mayor Linda Gorton to appoint a Bike Trails Task Force to bring stakeholders together to figure out how to design and finance recreational trails throughout Fayette County.

An extensive trail system could be “an extraordinary economic development, quality-of-life, tourism and transportation tool for our city and state,” said Knox van Nagell, director of the land-use advocacy group.

“I’m super-excited about this,” said Gorton, who expects to appoint the task force by the end of February.

But one thing Lexington won’t see soon is another public bike-sharing program downtown. Last year, the city received a $175,000 federal grant that officials hoped to use for an automatic kiosk system to replace the Yellow Bike program that was launched in 2008 but was abandoned last year.

“The more we learned about bike-sharing systems, it was obvious that that amount of money was not going to cover the equipment and ongoing operations,” Gleason said. More study is needed to develop a plan to make such a program pay for itself after creation.

Instead, Gleason said, the grant will be used to install sensors to detect cyclists and trigger traffic signals at key intersections around town. That would be helpful because most current sensors were designed for big motor vehicles and don’t notice a bicycle. Cyclists gripe about that almost as much as they do about snow and ice.


Broke Spoke hopes to put old bikes to new use

November 10, 2010

Shane Tedder, left to right, Brad Flowers and Tim Buckingham are among those starting the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. Photo by Tom Eblen

Lexington has four good bicycle shops. They have expert mechanics and sell a wide selection of new bikes, specialty clothing and accessories.

The Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop won’t be much like them.

That is because the volunteers starting Broke Spoke hope to focus on a different slice of Lexington’s growing cycling community: “The people often referred to as ‘invisible cyclists,'” said Brad Flowers, one of the organizers.

Many of these cyclists are not like those of us who ride for fun and fitness. We can afford to buy what we want — or drive a car when it serves our transportation needs better than a bicycle.

Broke Spoke’s primary mission will be to get used bicycles — like the ones gathering dust in your garage — into the hands of poor people, kids and others who could use them for basic transportation, exercise and fun.

Used bikes and parts will be sold at low cost, or in return for work at the shop, which is in a room behind Al’s Sidecar at East Sixth Street and North Limestone.

The shop opens this weekend to begin taking donations of used bicycles and spare parts. Musicians Ben Sollee, who often tours by bicycle, and Justin Lewis will perform a benefit concert at 8 p.m. Saturday next door at Al’s Bar to raise cash to help cover the shop’s startup costs.

Broke Spoke’s opening also coincides with the Midwest Open Bike Polo Tournament, which will bring 48 teams from across the region to Coolavin Park. That confluence of events says a lot about how Broke Spoke came about — and what organizers hope it will become. It is neither a business nor a charity, but a place for community engagement around bicycles.

Broke Spoke will make tools and space available at nominal cost for people who want to work on their own bikes. A network of amateur mechanics will provide instruction. The shop hopes to become a hub for people interested in local cycling advocacy. And it will provide consignment space for those who make bicycle-related crafts.

“We want this to be a social space,” organizer Shane Tedder said. “A place where all of the great things about cycling would be celebrated.”

Many bigger cities have community bicycle shops. The idea for this one began five years ago, when Tedder started the Wildcat Wheels loaner bike program at the University of Kentucky.

“We were doing a lot of the wrenching out of my living room, and it developed a community bike shop feel,” he said. “We thought (a shop) would be a good idea, but we didn’t have the time or money.”

After several false starts, things started coming together a few months ago. Les Miller, an owner of Al’s Bar and Al’s Sidecar, and Stella’s restaurant on Jefferson Street, offered to make the Sidecar’s back room available under flexible rent terms. He also offered Al’s Bar for monthly benefit events.

Nick Such, a young technology entrepreneur, donated money he made from selling “I Bike KY” T-shirts to help buy shop tools. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, which uses profits from its annual Horsey Hundred tour for bicycle-related causes, also is providing support.

Organizers hope that Broke Spoke eventually will be self-sustaining, with regular hours beyond the initial 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.

“We know that there’s a strong market for used bikes that is competitive with the cheap bikes sold at big-box stores but not the new, good bikes sold at the bike shops,” Tedder said.

Lexington’s bicycle shops have always been community-minded. One example is the Shifting Gears program at Pedal Power Bike Shop, which Flowers started when he worked there. It takes donated bikes, repairs them and gives them to legal immigrants resettled by Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

“The last thing we want to do is be competition for local bike shops,” organizer Tim Buckingham said. In fact, Broke Spoke hopes to boost the shops’ sales through sales of new parts and stronger community interest in cycling.

“The degree this will be successful,” Flowers said, “will be the degree to which we can make it really fun, useful and inclusive.”


Lexington men follow dream to the Tour de France

August 8, 2010

Bill Gorton’s legs were burning, his lungs were aching and his heart was pounding. He knew he was pushing his 56-year-old body to the limit — and he couldn’t have been happier.

That’s because the Lexington lawyer was realizing a dream of riding a bicycle up the Col du Galibier, L’Alpe d’Huez and other famous mountain passes through the French Alps. These steep roads have long vexed Tour de France racers — and attracted amateur cyclists, like Gorton, who are determined to show that they can climb them, too.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” said Gorton, who practices environmental law at Stites & Harbison. “As you get older, you realize that if you’re going to do some things you have always wanted to do, you just have to do them.”

The century-old Tour de France is more than the world’s most famous bicycle race: It is a three-week rolling carnival around France. More than a million people line the routes to camp, party and cheer on the competitors. Many bring bicycles to ride the routes before or after each day’s stage of the race.

Several hundred spectators do what Gorton did: They pay several thousand dollars to a tour operator who will organize rides for them, book hotel rooms along the Tour de France route and provide logistical support.

Gorton rode beside Le Tour for five days last month with 25 other cyclists from the United States and Canada, ranging in age from 20-something to 70. They paid about $3,500 to a Nebraska-based tour company, Velo Echappe. Traveling with Gorton was his friend Joe Chappell, who is on the University of Kentucky’s plant and soil sciences faculty.

Some rides were on that day’s race route, a few hours before the racers barreled through. Others were on nearby climbs that are famous from past Tours. Each day after their ride, the cyclists would join tens of thousands of fans to watch the race’s daily finish and enjoy the party atmosphere.

Gorton said he was pleased with Velo Echappe, which he found through an advertisement in Bicycling magazine. There are many other tour operators with similar packages, some for less and many for more, depending on the quality of meals and accommodations provided. With a thorough Internet search, you can find dozens of companies offering Tour de France cycling vacations — and online reviews of what customers thought of them.

Once Gorton booked his tour, he faced months of preparation. “This was very intense,” he said. “If I hadn’t worked so hard to get in the best shape I could, I may not have survived it, much less enjoyed it.”

Gorton spent last winter in the gym, focusing on strength exercises and spinning on a stationary bicycle for two hours, three days a week. He teaches a weekly spinning class at the Beaumont YMCA. In good weather, Gorton logs about 2,500 miles a year riding country roads throughout Central Kentucky.

Gorton’s biggest training challenge was hill-climbing. Central Kentucky’s rolling landscape is filled with small hills, but there are only a few steep ones of more than a mile, along the Kentucky River.

Hill-climbing was the essential cycling skill for this trip: During the five days Gorton and Chappell rode through the Alps, they climbed more than 28,000 feet. Some hills were as long as 10 miles, with grades of 6 percent to 12 percent. “One morning, they pointed up to this little snowy spot on the mountain and said, ‘That’s where we’re going today,'” he said.

Although the climbs were tough, the descents could be terrifying: steep hills that went on for 20 miles or more. Gorton’s arms ached from long periods of gripping his bicycle’s brake levers. The narrow roads were filled with oncoming cars and dozens of other cyclists. There were long tunnels lit only by the headlights of oncoming cars reflecting off the walls. Guardrails along many steep descents were hardly up to American standards.

“If you had a misstep and went off the edge, you would be toast,” he said. “And when you would hear clanging, you had to be careful; you could come around a corner and find yourself in the middle of a herd of cows.”

Gorton loved the Tour de France’s festive international atmosphere. In one village after the day’s ride, Gorton said, he and Chappell noticed an especially attractive young Italian woman and her boyfriend. She seemed to be noticing them, too.

Finally, she walked over and said, “Are you from Lexington, Kentucky?” It turned out she had been a UK student and had worked at Pedal Power bike shop on Maxwell Street, where Gorton and Chappell are customers.

Gorton said this vacation gave him some insights that will be useful in a new role back home: He was recently elected chairman of the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission, which advises the state Transportation Cabinet on cycling issues.

“I didn’t see a fat kid the whole time I was there, and very few overweight people,” Gorton said. “Our urban geography since World War II has been so based on the automobile, but in Europe people walk a lot, they bike a lot.”

Gorton said that, with support from Mayor Jim Newberry and several Urban County Council members, Lexington is becoming much more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians. Still, Kentucky has a long way to go. “We’re going to find ourselves having to retrofit our infrastructure for what to Europeans seems like common sense — more walking and biking,” he said.

France’s Alpine scenery was impressive, but Gorton developed new appreciation for the country roads of the Bluegrass. “We ride in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said, noting that in France, he met a cyclist from Boston who was planning a biking trip to Lexington. “There is no reason we shouldn’t be a premier cycling destination.”

More than anything, though, Gorton’s Tour de France adventure was about proving to himself that he could do it. He could tackle the toughest bicycle climbs in the French Alps, even if he was a lot slower than those young Tour de France racers.

“You spend a lot of time by yourself on a trip like this, just pedaling, and a lot of things go through your head,” Gorton said, mentioning a lot of cycling-as-a-metaphor-for-life stuff. “But the bottom line is this: Whatever your dream is, pick a goal and go do it.”

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Second Sunday draws big crowd, despite heat

June 13, 2010

What’s a little heat and humidity when you have a chance to play on an airport runway?  That’s what more than 2,500 people seemed to think this afternoon when they came out to Second Sunday to bike, skate, walk and run down Blue Grass Airport’s nearly finished 4,000-foot runway.

Some, like me, rode out from home on their bikes. Most drove out, filling the main 1,200-spot parking lot. Others were sent to an overflow lot and were shuttled in on LexTran buses. There was plenty of water to drink and several interesting old planes from the Aviation Museum of Kentucky and airport emergency vehicles to see. Plus, you could watch planes take off and land on the airport’s main runway nearby.

(LexTran boss Rocky Burke was there on his bike. I also saw Urban County Councilman Jay McChord, one of the organizers of Second Sunday, and Council at-Large candidate Steve Kay.  Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson was there on a bike with his three grandchildren, one of whom he was pulling in a little trailer.)

It was a great family outing, and a fun way to get some exercise. That’s the whole point of Second Sunday.

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Cyclists of all ages take to streets for Bike Lexington

May 31, 2010

More than 2,500 people filled Courthouse Plaza downtown Monday for Bike Lexington, the culmination of a month of bicycle-related events and activities.  Bike Lexington included a 10-mile family fun ride, races, trick riding demonstrations, vendors and bike raffles by prime sponsor Pedal Power Bike Shop.

At Bike Lexington, officials announced the results of the Commuter Bike Challenge, a competition in which employees at local companies and organizations logged commuting miles to and from work. Nearly 500 rider participants logged a total of about 12,000 miles. The employers with the most miles included Bullhorn marketing, Awesome Inc., the University of Kentucky Libraries and UK Chemistry Department.

On Saturday and Sunday, nearly 2,000 cyclists from around the country were in the area to participate in the Bluegrass Cycling Club’s 33rd annual Horse Hundred ride through Scott, Fayette, Bourbon and Woodford Counties. That event was based at Georgetown College and included rides each day of between 26 and 102 miles.

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Presto the Piano Bike gets dressed up and ready

May 8, 2010

Dozens of people gathered in the parking lot at Third Street Stuff on North Limestone Street during Mayfest today to help artist Robert Morgan decorate Presto the People-Powered Piano Bike.

The contraption is the brainchild of Debra Hensley, a Lexington insurance agent and former Urban County Council member. She thought Presto — designed by Alex Meade and Shane Tedder, among others — would be a fun thing for community festivals and parades. The event was part of her Debra’s Social Stimulus effort to acquaint people throughout Lexington with each other and their community.

Two bicycles pull the trailer holding an electric piano keyboard, which is powered by a battery charged by a third bike that trails behind. Dr. Seuss would be proud.

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Successful used bike sale benefits refugee program

September 1, 2009

A followup to my Friday column:

Pedal Power bike shop’s sale Saturday to benefit Shifting Gears didn’t last long. All 200 used bikes were sold well before noon.

“We were able to put money into an account to keep the program going and still write Kentucky Refugee Ministries a check for $3,000, which will provide for two households until self-sufficiency,” said Brad Flowers, who started Shifting Gears.

Shifting Gears provides restored, used bikes to newly arrived foreign refugees to give them some basic transportation. The bikes come from donations and trade-ins taken by Pedal Power.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries works with the U.S. State Department to resettle officially designated refugees who legally immigrate to Kentucky. It tries to provide them with furniture and other necessities until they can get settled and find work.

Response to Shifting Gears has been so strong that Pedal Power had many more bikes than it could restore, and it needed to clear out about 200 to free up space and raise money for spare parts.

Restoration labor is donated by Pedal Power employees and volunteers from the local cycling community. Last year, about 80 bikes were donated to refugees, with some children’s bikes going to The Nest, a social service agency on North Limestone.

The extra adult bikes were sold for $25, $50 or $75 each, and spare parts were sold for $1 each, “whether it was a wheel or a cable,” Flowers said.

“There was one guy that bought two bikes and 10 or so parts to fix up for people in his neighborhood who didn’t have bikes,” he said. “There were several international students from UK.”

A half-dozen volunteers from the bicycle group LexRides helped work the sale.

“As the number of (refugee) arrivals increases (from an average of 100 a year recently to about 200 a year currently) and as funding stays flat it is creative partnerships like this that will allow them to continue to provide basic services for these folks as they become oriented,” Flowers said.


Two updates and a cheap set of wheels

August 27, 2009

Today I have updates on two previous columns, plus a tip on how you can help a new neighbor while scoring a cheap set of wheels.

You may remember the story of Gordon Burnette of Lexington, a tool-and-die maker and amateur art sleuth.

After a neighbor died and her house was sold, Burnette noticed several old, beat-up paintings on the curb. One showing a mare and foal caught his eye. Written on the back was the mare’s name, the artist’s name and June 1882.

Gordon Burnette and Genevieve Baird Lacer with the Thomas J. Scott painting Burnette found on the curb. Photo by Tom Eblen

Impressed by the painting’s quality, Burnette had it restored. Then he began a quest to learn more about the mysterious Thomas J. Scott, one of the top equine artists of the 19th century. He also created a Web site (www.thomasjscott.com) in hopes of identifying other Scott paintings, many of which have been lost over time.

Since the column appeared in May, the Headley-Whitney Museum has agreed to host an exhibit next year of paintings by Scott and his more-famous teacher, Edward Troye. And Burnette has heard from several people with Scott paintings who had no idea what they had.

A Louisville woman bought one at an auction, where it was propping open the door.

The strangest call came from a Lexington woman with a painting almost identical to Burnette’s, only smaller.

“She was so thrilled because she had had this painting all these years and didn’t know who the horses were, who the artist was or where it came from,” Burnette said. He thinks it was the study for his painting, or a copy made for a subsequent owner of the horse.

Where had the painting been hanging all these years? About three blocks away.

Money for Tanzania

Like Burnette, Flaget Nally had no intention of embarking on a quest. But that’s what happened as she was ending a three-year stint as a Catholic lay missionary in Tanzania.

Flaget Nally

Flaget Nally

A group of nuns asked Nally to raise money for them to build an English-language boarding school for as many as 800 girls of all faiths in a part of Tanzania where girls rarely have a chance to be educated. The Bardstown native had no idea how to do that — or even if she could.

Nally formed Giant Steps for African Girls (www.educateafricangirls.org), which held a fund-raising walk in Lexington last April and other events around Kentucky. So far, it has raised more than $104,000. About $50,000 of that has come from the Lexington area.

A cheap set of wheels?

While writing about Bike Lexington in May, I mentioned Shifting Gears, a partnership between Pedal Power bicycle shop and Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a multi-denomination Christian group that works with the U.S. State Department to resettle legal refugees.

Shifting Gears takes good-quality bikes, which are either donated or taken in trade by Pedal Power, and fixes them up to give to refugees, many of whom have no other transportation. Shop employees and volunteers fix bikes; others are sold to raise money for parts.

The goal is 52 bikes a year. “We’ve been able to beat that every year,” said Brad Flowers, a partner in Bullhorn Marketing who started Shifting Gears in 2003 while working at Pedal Power.

Last year, more than 80 bikes were given away. In addition to adult bikes for refugees, children’s bikes are given to The Nest, a non-profit social service agency off North Limestone.

Pedal Power owner Billy Yates said community response has been so strong that he has far more donated bikes than Shifting Gears can fix. They’ve filled his shop’s attic, and some have to go.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Yates will be selling about 200 of the bikes for between $25 and $75 in the parking lot of his shop at Maxwell and Upper streets. There also will be bike parts for as little as a dollar each. All proceeds go to Shifting Gears and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

“This sale will raise money to allow us to continue fixing up some bikes and give us some space to get more organized and efficient,” Yates said.


Help choose the Legacy Trail’s logo

July 31, 2009

Organizers of the Legacy Trail, a 9-mile bike and walking path being developed from Lexington’s East End to the Kentucky Horse Park, are seeking your help in choosing a logo.

The public is being asked to vote among three logos. Register and cast your vote at www.mylegacytrail.com. Or you can text your chosen logo’s name (see chart below) to (859) 797-4900.

Those who register will be included in drawings for a $500 gift certificate from Pedal the Planet bike shop, a $250 gift certificate from John’s Run Walk Shop and a $100 gift certificate from J&H Outfitters.

Voting began yesterday evening at Thursday Night Live at Cheapside downtown and will continue through Aug. 13. The winning logo will be announced at Thursday Night Live on Aug. 20.