Lexington family and friends do good during ‘volunteer vacations’

March 18, 2014

130319Heitz-India0006Mike Heitz, left, and his wife, Janette, second from left, pose at Mother Clarac Matriculation School in Kumbakonam, India, where they worked with friends last month. Others, from left, are Sister Gladys; Sister Rosaria, the school’s founder, and Dan Lee from Singapore, a member of their volunteer group, which they call Fix-it Friends. Photo provided


Janette and Mike Heitz of Lexington love to travel, and they keep finding new ways to combine it with two of their other passions: bicycling and volunteer service.

The Heitzes organize bike trips to Europe with friends, and they have bicycled on their own in such far-flung places as Laos and Egypt. In 2006, Mike and their son, Cory, biked 7,435 miles down the length of Africa. The next year, Janette and their daughter, Jordan, biked 4,500 miles from Paris, France, to Dakar, Senegal.

A couple of weeks ago, the Heitzes returned from a different kind of trip. They, their daughter and more than a dozen friends from across this country, England and Singapore met in Kumbakonam, India. The group spent a week building basketball and tennis courts, painting a block wall and improving a computer lab at the Mother Clarac Matriculation School, run by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Mary.

This was the 13th such trip the Heitzes have taken in as many years.

“I don’t like to call it a mission trip,” Janette said. “I call it a volunteer vacation, because it’s not religion-based. We are just a group of people who have a little extra money and a little extra time and we like to travel. So each year we pick a third-world country and we all meet there.”

Mike started the tradition by participating in a Habitat for Humanity home-building trip to Ghana in 1999. He liked it so much, Janette joined him the next year.

“He thought he would ease me in,” she said, so they did a Habitat build in New Zealand. “I loved it. So the next year we jumped in the deep end and went to Mongolia.”

After that, the couple did annual Habitat builds in South Africa, Mexico, Costa Rica, Romania, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Then they decided to find their own projects along with friends they had met through Habitat and bicycling. Their group, which calls itself Fix-It Friends, includes a variety of faiths — Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Quaker and atheists.

The first Fix-It Friends trip was to Egypt. Then they went to Laos and Argentina, where they also worked with the Sisters of Charity. That led them to their recent trip to southwest India.

“We think education is the key to a better life,” Mike said. So, in addition to basic facility improvements, the group likes to provide computers to schools and orphanages where they work that have electricity. In addition to fixing old computers at Mother Clarac School and setting up a wifi network, the friends are buying 20 rugged $100 tablet computers for the school.

The Heitzes said they enjoy interacting with local people where they work. One day in India, while making the hour-long walk back to their hotel from the school, they came upon a wedding in progress.

“They saw us as some sign of good luck,” Janette said. “Here we were in our work clothes, I had paint splattered all over me, and they invited us in and took photos with us.”

The Heitzes arrived early to see some of India’s sights, including Gandhi’s tomb and the Taj Mahal. Then, after their week of volunteer work, they biked 30-40 kilometers a day for six days in the Kerela state of southeast India.

“It is the flattest part of India, and beautiful,” Janette said, but riding was tricky because “traffic laws are regarded as only a suggestion.”

The couple met at West Virginia University, where he was the basketball team’s first 7-footer (1968-72). Heitz’s younger brother, Tom, played for Kentucky (1979-84).

Mike is an investment banker who specializes in taking companies public. When the IPO market slowed five years ago, he also started a company that buys environmentally distressed industrial properties, restores and re-sells them. Their children work in his companies. Jordan Hurd and her mother also write a popular lifestyle blog, The Two Seasons (The2seasons.com).

Next year, the Fix-It Friends plan to meet in Colombia.

“To me, the important part of this is that we’re promoting goodwill,” Janette said. “People in these places don’t always have the most positive attitude about Americans. But my hope is that in the future when they think of Americans they will think of us and they will think of love. It’s like my little answer to world peace.”

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Lexmark engineer builds custom bicycle frames in his spare time

February 3, 2014


Alex Meade checks angles to precisely fit two steel tubes for a bicycle frame he is building for a customer. A lifelong rider, Meade, 55, started building frames in 1999. Photos by Tom Eblen


If you want a cheap bicycle, go to a discount store.

If you want a well-made bicycle, go to a local bike shop.

If you want the bicycle of your dreams, go to Alex Meade.

Meade, a mechanical engineer at Lexmark, has developed a national reputation for his side business as a craftsman of custom-fitted, handmade bicycle frames. He makes about six bicycle frames a year in the shop behind his Ashland Park home. He also makes frame-building tools for other bike-makers around the world.

“I grew up on a bicycle,” said Meade, 55, a California native who spent his youth in coastal Massachusetts where summer tourist traffic made biking a family necessity because it was all but impossible to get anywhere by car.

Meade fell in love with road cycling after he moved to Lexington in 1989 to work for IBM, the predecessor of Lexmark.

“Kentucky is just such a wonderful place to ride,” he said. “We have thousands of miles of bike trails we call country roads.”

After moving here, Meade also took up the sport of randonneuring —long-distance group rides made within a specified length of time.

In 2007, he finished fourth among U.S. riders in the sport’s most famous event, Paris-Brest-Paris in France. He completed the 762-mile ride in 55 hours, 49 minutes and became one of only 39 Americans to earn membership in the Société de Charly Miller, which honors the first American to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 1901.

Meade started building bicycle frames about 15 years ago.

“It seemed like an obvious thing to do for a mechanical engineer interested in cycling,” said Meade, who has a master’s degree from Stanford University and a dozen patents.

140130AlexMeade-TE0023His first project was a commuter bike, which he still rides on the eight-mile, round-trip commute to Lexmark almost every workday, year-around. He made a few bikes for friends, then others started approaching him.

All of Meade’s bike frames are made of high-tech steel alloys, which are both strong and lightweight. Most tube sets are joined together by fancy steel lugs, the way all bikes used to be made. Lug construction is a slower, but more elegant construction method than tig welding.

One component that isn’t high-tech is the bicycle seat. Like many long-distance cyclists, Meade prefers Brooks saddles from England. The design has changed little since production began in 1882: a thick hunk of leather stretched across a steel frame, providing a subtle trampoline effect.

Meade said customers come to him because they can’t find what they want or need at a bike shop. Some are looking for a unique design or paint job. But most want a custom fit, either because they are very tall, short or have an unusually shaped body, or because they do randonneuring or long-distance touring.

Precise bicycle fit is the most important factor in biking comfort. Meade’s construction process begins with a three-hour fitting and measuring session in his workshop.

The key is getting the right proportions in the triangle of seat, handlebars and pedals. Based on those measurements and other customer requests — fenders? racks? tire width? — Meade designs the frame.

“The average bike takes one visit and about 400 emails to design,” he said with a laugh. “Everything’s got to be completely nailed down before we cut any tubes or buy any parts.”

Meade’s hand-building process takes anywhere from 35 to 60 hours, depending on the frame’s complexity. All bikes except those made of stainless steels need painting or powder-coating. Meade leaves that work to two local experts: painter Dean Eichorn and Armstrong Custom Powder Coating in Harrodsburg.

Meades’ prices vary depending on design and materials, but he said an average frame costs between $1,900 and $2,700, plus wheels, components and other parts. That’s in the neighborhood of many standard-sized road bikes made of carbon fibre, the most popular modern material for high-end road bike frames. More information: Alexmeade.com.

“I don’t make much money on this,” Meade said. “It’s a labor of love. It’s not a way to support a family.”


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Bike month brings lots of two-wheel news, events

May 2, 2012

May is National Bike Month, a good time to briefly note upcoming events and review recent progress toward making Central Kentucky a better place to ride bicycles for fun and transportation.

■ Bike Lexington, the city’s monthlong celebration, is sponsoring commuter classes and a commuter challenge. The family fun ride through town, which always attracts a couple thousand riders, is June 2. More information: BikeLexington.com.

■ Second Sunday’s third annual Blue Grass Airport event is June 10. Several thousand people always come out for a chance to ride, skate and walk on the auxiliary runway while it is closed to aircraft. More information: 2ndSundayKy.com.

■ The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s 35th annual Horsey Hundred tour is May 26 and 27. Saturday ride options include routes of 26, 35, 53, 75 and 100 miles. Sunday options are 35, 50 and 75 miles. All rides begin at Georgetown College.

The rides are supported with rest stops and “sag wagons” to pick up riders who need help. About 2,000 cyclists will come from across the nation to ride through our beautiful countryside. For more information, go to BGcycling.org.

■ Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop reopened Friday in a much larger space at the new Bread Box development at West Sixth and Jefferson streets. The shop started in late 2010 behind Al’s Bar on North Limestone and Sixth Street.

The non-profit shop “recycles” donated bikes for sale to low-income people. “Our goal is to provide reliable basic transportation at a price anyone can afford,” said Shane Tedder, one of the shop’s volunteer organizers.

Broke Spoke also provides a place where anyone may borrow tools to work on a bicycle in return for an hourly fee or shop membership.

The shop now has a 2,500-square-foot space, thanks to the Bread Box’s developers and an $11,000 grant from the Paula Nye Memorial Foundation, which the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission administers from the fee that motorists pay for “Share the Road” license plates. Other financial backers included the Bluegrass Cycling Club and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt.

Broke Spoke is open 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The Bread Box, a former commercial bakery, also is home to West Sixth Brewing and several artist studios.

Broke Spoke’s new space opens onto the proposed extension of the Legacy Trail, from the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue to East Third Street and Midland Avenue. For more information, go to Thebrokespoke.org.

The Bread Box is next to Coolavin Park, whose former tennis courts have become the site of Lexington’s burgeoning bike polo leagues. Last weekend, the park hosted Ladies Army IV, an all-female bike polo tournament that attracted 40 teams with more than 200 athletes from the United States and from five European and Asian countries. Who knew?

■ An important piece of bicycle infrastructure just opened with little fanfare at the double-diamond interchange at Harrodsburg and New Circle roads.

The original design called for a sidewalk. But Urban County Councilman Doug Martin said he was able to work with Bob Nunley and others at District 7 of the state Transportation Cabinet to put a paved bike path on both sides.

That short path might not seem like much to motorists, but it solves a huge problem for cyclists. Crossing New Circle Road can be a major problem on a bicycle, and more solutions like this are needed.

Martin hopes this connection and others along the Harrodsburg Road corridor will allow the Legacy Trail to connect eventually with the new bike path along U.S. 68, providing a safe way to ride all the way from the Kentucky Horse Park to Wilmore, he said.

Meanwhile, Lexington recently installed bicycle detection devices at several intersections where lights often wouldn’t change without a car present. Also, an updated bike-route map of the city will be published in May.

■ Bluegrass Bike Partners is a new regional effort started in Midway to identify and market businesses and organizations that welcome cyclists. More information: Midwayrenaissance.org.

■ Pedal the Planet Bike Shop has become the state’s second organization, after the University of Kentucky, to be certified as a “silver” bike-friendly business by the League of American Bicyclists. The designation recognizes companies and institutions that provide certain ways and incentives for employees to bike to work.

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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Taking a bicycle ride (almost) across Kentucky

October 14, 2009

Our plan was to ride Kentucky from top to bottom, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Storms on Friday forced organizers of the Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky to cancel the first day’s journey — 60 miles from the Ohio River at Carrollton to Frankfort.

A few brave souls did it anyway. “We came to ride, so we rode,” said John O’Cull, a Vanceburg dentist. He and three buddies arrived in Frankfort soaking wet.

The other 65 of us started Saturday morning from the Grand Theatre in downtown Frankfort. The annual ride began in 2004 to raise money for the Grand’s restoration. This year, it became part of Gov. Steve Beshear’s “adventure tourism” initiative.

We spent Saturday night at a church camp near Campbellsville, where a truck had ferried our luggage. We left from there Sunday morning and finished the ride by dipping our wheels in Dale Hollow Lake on the Tennessee line.

Saturday’s ride was 90 miles or so; Sunday’s was 70 or so. I say “or so” because some of us missed a couple of the orange Gs that had been spray-painted on the road to mark turns, so we unintentionally enjoyed a few extra miles of Kentucky scenery.

We avoided big highways whenever possible. Many roads we traveled barely rated mention on a map.

The rain stopped early Saturday, but most of the weekend was cloudy, cold and breezy.

I never know how to dress when biking this time of year. I was burning up in a light fleece jacket as we climbed a big hill Sunday on Little Cake Road in Adair County, but I felt good a couple of miles later as we passed Bearwallow Cemetery. Then I was cold as we flew down a hill on Bull Run Lane.

Only two hills got me off my bike: One was Saturday, too soon after a delicious lunch of fried chicken, corn and apples that I wanted to keep. The other was a steep, milelong climb Sunday. I made it three-fourths of the way up, but I had to stop long enough to get my heart out of my throat so I could resume pedaling.

I enjoy the camaraderie of riding with old friends and making new ones. I also like the challenge of going from place to place under my own power. Bicycle touring is like hiking, only the scenery changes faster. By the end of a long ride, my legs are burning and my butt is getting numb, but I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.

Kentucky always seems more beautiful when viewed from a bicycle. There’s nothing between you and the passing landscape. The only noise is your own heavy breathing as you go uphill and the smooth spin of your freewheel as you go down.

After Sunday brunch at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, we saw a chapel designed by architect E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a piece of world-class modern architecture that you don’t expect to find in small-town Kentucky.

Most of the ride’s sights were more subtle, and 15 miles an hour was slow enough to study them.

Tire swings hung from front-yard trees, and wood stoves were getting back to work. There was a hint of smoke in the air, and long stacks of split logs waiting to be devoured.

Golden tobacco hung from barn rafters. Amish buggies sat parked in sheds. Pumpkins were arranged in yards, and Halloween ghosts made of white trash bags dangled from trees and porches.

Morning mist blanketed still-green pastures and fading fields of cornstalks. Red sumac and yellow walnut trees stood waiting for the rest of the forest to catch up.

Old farmers and children called out and waved. Dairy cows stood and stared. Dogs watched, too, or gave chase, depending on their age, temperament and how many cyclists they had already gone after.

Riding back roads makes you realize how much of this state is made up of small farms, modest rural homes and crossroads communities barely big enough to support a store or church.

As you roll quietly from one little town to the next, there’s so much to see. Then your burning legs remind you that there’s a hill coming up and, beyond it, another colorful piece in the patchwork that is Kentucky.

Back to work after a two-wheel vacation

June 29, 2009

Nothing refreshes you like a good vacation. Riding a bicycle more than 350 miles up, down and around the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia may not be everyone’s idea for a refreshing vacation, but it worked for me and the 2,000 others on the annual Bike Virginia tour.

This was my sixth Bike Virginia, a five-day tour that each June goes through a different part of the Old Dominion. I went with a group of about 20 friends from Central Kentucky, plus a couple of riding buddies from when I lived in Atlanta. One of our group referred to it as “summer camp for adults.” That’s a pretty good description.

While on the trip, we had dinner a couple of nights along the huge pedestrian mall that attracts hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of locals to downtown Charlottesville each night to eat, shop and visit with each other. It’s a great place, and a larger version of the idea proposed for Mill Street between Main and Short streets in downtown Lexington. I’ll be writing about what lessons Lexington can learn from Charlottesville’s experience in my column in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader.

Bicycle-racing friends have the Derby of a lifetime

May 4, 2009

Phil Needham didn’t make it to Churchill Downs to see the horse he bred and foaled pull a stunning upset in the Kentucky Derby.

He had his own race to win.

Mine That Bird became the second-biggest long shot ever to win the Derby, covering the 1¼ miles Saturday in a little more than two minutes and two seconds.

A few hours earlier, Needham, 67, rode his bicycle 123 miles in six hours to win his age group in the 18th annual Calvin’s Challenge road race, which drew 210 cyclists to Springfield, Ohio.

Had the Georgetown resident not wanted to be done in time to see the Derby on television, he would have entered the bicycle race’s main event, where he set the record for his age group two years ago by riding 225 miles in 12 hours.

Needham’s racing partner was Bena Halecky, 50, of Lexington, whose 123-mile performance won her age group. She was named the best overall female racer.

“I went up to Louisville last Monday to see the horse work and meet the new owners and trainer, and I was very pleased with what I saw,” Needham said. “But the chances, you know, were very remote, 50-1. So because we had trained and planned for this race, we went to Ohio.”

It wasn’t the first time Needham has been wrong about Mine That Bird.

The Birdstone colt was athletic and strong. Needham’s wife, Judy, thought the yearling was promising. But Needham and his business partners decided to sell him.

“When the partners agreed to sell, we had the right to buy, but we let him go,” Needham said. “He brought $9,500, which was next to nothing. People spend millions trying to create a Derby horse.”

Needham had better instincts about Mine That Bird’s mother.

When Needham and Bill Betz ended their thoroughbred partnership last year, they decided to sell the mare Mining My Own at auction. But when the bids started coming in, Needham thought they were too low. He jumped in and ended up buying her for $8,000.

Needham and Halecky had been friends for years. Halecky, a Procter & Gamble executive, had urged him to buy P&G stock. “He said, ‘If I’m going to invest in your business, you need to invest in mine,” Halecky said. So she kicked in $4,000 for half interest in the mare.

As Needham and Halecky raced Saturday, the Derby was on their minds. They considered it an omen that their race was called Calvin’s Challenge and Mine That Bird was being ridden by jockey Calvin Borel.

“And then we kept seeing birds in front of us on the road and I kept yelling to Bena, ‘Mine That Bird!'” Needham said.

After their race, Needham and Halecky headed back to Lexington, stopping at a sports bar near Cincinnati to eat dinner and watch the Derby. The place was noisy, and the big-screen TV was hard to see. So it took them a few moments to realize that the impossible had happened.

“Finally, Phil looked at me and said, ‘We just won the Kentucky Derby!'” Halecky said. Soon their cell phones were ringing as friends called the congratulate them.

Several of their Bluegrass Cycling Club friends, who gathered to watch the Derby at Keeneland, bet and won big on the horse. But Halecky had put only a $2 bet on him. Needham didn’t bet anything, although his wife, who had always known better, put down $100 to win.

“It was one of the best Saturdays that anyone could ever have,” Needham said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Since ending his partnership with Betz, Needham has formed Needham Thoroughbreds, with interest in about 15 horses, including Mining My Own.

Needham had planned to focus more on his cycling.

He took up the sport a decade ago and has been riding competitively for seven years. He was sixth in his age group in the 24-mile time trial at the 2007 masters nationals. A first-place finish in last year’s Bluegrass State Games made him eligible to compete this August at the Senior Games in San Francisco, where he plans to enter the time trial and the road race.

“My goal is to be number one in my age group in the country,” he said.

But his 40-year career in thoroughbreds seems to have gotten a second wind.

The $8,000 mare he and Halecky own could now be worth millions if they sell her — or even sell part ownership in her — and perhaps even more in the long run if they keep her and breed her well.

Mine That Bird was the mare’s first foal. She also has a 2-year-old in training and a foal by her side, and she is pregnant with another. At age 8, Mining My Own could have 15 more years of productive life ahead, Needham said.

“Bena wants to continue to own her and have the fun; my wife wants to continue to own her and have the fun,” he said. “My best business sense tells me to keep at least 25 percent. I have to review that with my partner. I have to let the dust settle a little.”

As the dust was beginning to settle Monday afternoon, and it was beginning to rain, Halecky and Needham met near Georgetown for a bike ride through the countryside. They said they planned to ride 20-something miles, maybe more. After all, they had a lot to talk about.

UK proposal, and other two-wheel news

April 9, 2009

Many people at the University of Kentucky were surprised — and not especially pleased — when officials Tuesday announced a new $15 fee and registration program for bicycles parked on campus.

With student tuition rising and employee pay stagnant — not to mention all of those millions going to the new basketball coach — it seems like an odd time to be adding another fee, even if it is a small, one-time assessment that wouldn’t take effect until 2010.

Besides, if you’re wanting to encourage bicycling as an alternative form of transportation, is it a good idea to start charging for it?

After a couple of articles in the Kentucky Kernel student newspaper, officials might be reconsidering the fee. But the rest of the program seems like a good idea, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s another sign that UK is taking bicycles seriously.

The plan would require bikes parked on campus to be registered and bear a sticker, beginning in July. The sticker would help with recovery of lost or stolen bikes and make it easier for bicycle owners to get insurance.

Money from the fee would be earmarked for upkeep of bicycle racks and, more importantly, bicycle education.

Whether or not the fee remains — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it scrapped — UK officials should press forward with the education piece. I see a lot of students riding bicycles around campus who don’t seem to know the rules of the road or some basic safety practices. It’s dangerous for the cyclists, and it just makes drivers angry.

Yellow bikes update

Yellow bikes will begin reappearing on Lexington streets later this month. It’s the third year for the program that provides free loaner bicycles for short trips around downtown.

But the program, which was started by private donors and administered by the Downtown Lexington Corp., could be much better next year.

The city will find out this fall whether it will get a $206,000 federal grant to provide high-tech bike racks and other support for the yellow bike program. The grant would need to be matched by $51,500 in local funding, probably private, in-kind contributions.

“If we get that support, we’ll be able to do a world-class shared bike program,” said Phil Holoubek, a downtown developer who helped start the yellow bike program.

That would include 12 to 15 solar-powered racks where bicycles could be borrowed with the swipe of a credit card and returned to another rack at the end of a ride. The racks would be concentrated downtown, around the UK and Transylvania University campuses and at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of the Legacy Trail, which is now under construction between downtown and the park, said Kenzie Gleason, the city’s bikeway/pedestrian coordinator.

The rack vendor would be chosen by competitive bidding. But one major player in the business is Bcycle (bicycle with no “i”), a three-company partnership that includes Louisville-based Humana. To see how its racks work, go to Bcycle’s Web site.

But this year, like last year, about 60 yellow bikes will be available for checkout from several downtown locations, mostly retailers, and must be returned to the same location, preferably on the same day. Yellow bikes will be out through October.

There’s a $10 one-time fee to join the program, and people who have signed up before don’t need to re-register.

Bike Lexington plans

The annual Bike Lexington event has been moved from the third Saturday in May to Memorial Day, May 25, to better coordinate with the Bluegrass Cycling Club’s annual Horsey Hundred ride that Saturday and Sunday.

The Horsey Hundred attracts nearly 2,000 cyclists — many of whom come from as far away as Florida and Michigan — to the countryside around Lexington, Georgetown and Versailles.

The event is based at Georgetown College, but Gleason said shuttle buses will bring riders into Lexington that Saturday evening for food and a live band at Cheapside. “Lexington wanted to bring them into town and show them a good time,” she said.

Bike Lexington on Monday will be at the Courthouse Plaza at Main Street and Limestone and will include a 10-mile family fun ride and other activities for cyclists, walkers and families.

More information on Bike Lexington will be available next week at www.bikelexington.com. For information about the Horsey Hundred, go to www.bgcycling.org.

In other bicycle news: Mayor Jim Newberry and the Mayor’s Bicycle Task Force will have a Community Bike Forum on Tuesday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m. at a location still to be determined. The public forum will include updates on various bicycle-related activities and organizations around town.

“We’re hoping people will come, find out what is happening in Lexington and tell us what they would like to see,” Gleason said.

Also, people interested in bicycle commuting can attend free seminars at the Courthouse Plaza on three Wednesday nights next month — May 6, 13 and 27 — from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The seminars, conducted by trainers certified by the League of American Bicyclists, will cover such commuting basics as how to change a flat tire, and choosing the right bike, clothing and route.

Seeing small-town America from a bicycle seat

September 19, 2008

Bill Fortune, my friend and cycling buddy, called one evening last fall with an announcement: “I’m going to ride across the country.”

Fortune, a veteran law professor at the University of Kentucky, is phasing into retirement, so he finally had the time to pedal coast-to-coast. At 68, he’s in better shape than most people 20 years younger. But he thought that if he was going to make the ride he had long dreamed about, he needed to do it now.

So, in mid-June, Fortune flew to Seattle and met up with two guides and 14 other cyclists, many of whom had retired after careers as a nurse, a banker, a helicopter pilot, a builder, a lumber executive and a physicist.

Their trip was chronicled on a Web site whose name probably summed up the thoughts of many of their friends and relatives: www.crazyguyonabike.com.

After dipping their tires in Puget Sound, the riders set off across the northern United States and Canada toward Portland, Maine. Over the next nine weeks, Fortune said he learned a few things about himself and a lot about his fellow countrymen.

Fortune said he knew he was in for an adventure the first day when the group pedaled out of Seattle. The cyclists met a group of locals on bicycles headed to the summer solstice celebration in the counterculture neighborhood of Fremont. They were wearing body paint — and nothing else.

There were many strange and ordinary sights to come as the group pedaled more than 60 miles a day and spent nights in small-town motels, campgrounds and church basements. Bill called occasionally to update me on his progress, and I got more details from his wife, Beverly, a Herald-Leader colleague.

Of course, there was a lot of beautiful scenery: The peaks of the Cascades and Glacier National Park; the endless prairies of South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming; and the beautiful Erie Canal towns in New York state.

There were famous landmarks such as Mount Rushmore and the Little Bighorn battlefield, where Indian warriors’ graves now have marble stones noting that they died “while defending the Cheyenne way of life.”

But what impressed Fortune most were the places he never would have stopped to see, and the people he never would have met, had he been driving through in a car.

There was the couple in Waterville, Wash., who bought and renovated the abandoned Lutheran church where they had been married years before. Now it’s beautiful again, and the couple rents it as a wedding chapel.

There was the museum in Stanford, Mont., with a vast collection of salt and pepper shakers. Fortune now knows that Buffalo, Wyo., claims to have the world’s largest swimming pool, and Huron, S.D., the world’s largest statue of a pheasant.

There’s a section of the Berlin Wall standing in Rapid City, S.D. And in a museum in Manitowoc, Wis., there’s a replica of the biggest thing to ever hit town: a 20-pound chunk of the Russian satellite Sputnik. It landed in the middle of a Manitowoc street on Sept. 5, 1962.

“You see the country in a different way when you’re on a bicycle,” Fortune said. “If you made the trip in a car, you couldn’t see it as slowly and intensely as we saw it.”

Fortune marveled at the vast openness of the West as he passed abandoned houses and towns depopulated by a changing economy. Many people had lived in their small towns all their lives, but their children had left in search of jobs and a more exciting lifestyle. He saw human despair on Indian reservations, and noted there was at least one bar in every Western town, no matter how small, and gambling machines in every bar and gas station.

The cyclists agreed that the West ended and the Midwest began when they crossed the Missouri River in eastern South Dakota near the Minnesota line. Gradually, the empty country gave way to tidy farms and farmhouses and well-kept small towns.

The cyclists were invited to a church ice-cream social in one town, a rhubarb festival in another, and a county fair in rural Michigan. They attended Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn., a festival dedicated to a spherical Danish pancake.

The people Fortune met along the way were open, friendly and more broad-minded than he expected.

“They were interested in what you were doing, and they wanted you to be interested in what they were doing,” he said. “They wanted to talk about the history of their small town, and its prospects for the future, which often weren’t good. And they loved to tell you about something that you don’t know anything about.”

In South Dakota, Fortune ran into a crew of Kentucky men with R.J. Corman Railroad Group, busy laying track across the prairie. He met a couple from Africa who had traveled throughout the United States looking for a place to settle before they bought a small campground in Waterville, Minn.

He had a long conversation with a woman in Fond du Lac, Wis., about sturgeon spearing. “Her whole family was into sturgeon spearing,” he said. “It has to do with cutting a hole in the ice and standing over the hole with a spear and waiting for the sturgeon to swim under your hole.”

By the time Fortune had dipped his wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, his last few ounces of fat had turned to muscle.

A week before his journey ended, he called me from upstate New York so we could make plans for a Louisville-to-Bardstown ride the weekend after he returned home. Even after pedaling 4,100 miles to get a view of America from a small, hard bicycle seat, he was eager to ride more.

“I’ll bet you’re coming back with legs of steel,” I told him.

“I don’t know about that,” he replied. “But I sure have a butt of iron.”

And a new appreciation for small-town America and its people.