Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with OrthoCarolina
From Charlotte’s brewery rides to bike shops and training meet-ups, you can find a cycling group to ride with just about any day of the week. The city’s burgeoning road cycling scene has gotten a huge boost recently from local advocacy groups like Sustain Charlotte and the city’s wildly popular bikeshare programs promoting the health and environmental benefits of biking. City leaders and transportation planners are working hard to expand dedicated bike lanes and greenways, with Open Streets 704 and Biketoberfest bringing the community out to enjoy the benefits of cycling.
All this momentum is great news for Charlotte road cyclists. There are more routes to choose from, and streets are safer than ever. Take an easy ride along a greenway or tackle some distance on scenic, rural roads. Take your pick from our run-down of the Queen City’s top road cycling rides.
Short-Distance & Social Rides
One of the best places to start out biking in Charlotte is in the artsy South End district. The 4.5-mile Rail Trail follows the light rail to downtown, hitting 7th Street Public Market, Lincoln’s Haberdashery, Futo Buta Ramen House, and craft breweries like Wooden Robot, Sycamore, and Brewers at 4001 Yancey. Extend your ride another 3.5 miles on North Davidson Street for more shops, restaurants, and breweries in NoDa.
The 1.5-mile greenway loop along the shores of Lake Norman in Jetton Park is great in any season, with a thick tree canopy for shade, constant lake views, and plenty of picnic tables and benches. Keep the little ones happy with a stop at the park’s two playgrounds.
Cyclists training for races or looking to build distance head to the three-mile Booty Loop for its hills and straightaways. Start at Freedom Park and follow the groups of cyclists that congregate here throughout the day. On Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, when you wrap up your ride, you can pick up delicious local produce at the Kings Drive Farmers Market.
Combine greenway and road riding along the six-mile Little Sugar Creek Greenway on the east side of downtown. Watch for runners and pedestrians along the mostly level route from Park Road to the Central Piedmont Community College campus.
For more distance and speed, hit the pavement at the two-mile Huntersville Business Park loop and University City’s 7.5-mile Mallard Creek/Clark’s Creek Greenway. Both routes offer gently sloping hills and ample space to get in some serious training. Like Little Sugar Creek, you’ll have to navigate runners and pedestrians in both locations.
For serious road cyclists looking for distance rides, the rural roads outside downtown Charlotte are going to be your best bet. Start in Davidson and ride north into Mooresville, returning through River Run and along the town’s greenways for a 16-mile loop. The Spirited Cyclist organizes weekly, no-drop rides along this route. Another no-drop, 25-mile ride on the rural roads in Waxhaw starts and finishes at The Bike Depot in Waxhaw. On Gaston County’s 24-mile loop, you’ll climb 1,000 feet out and back over Spencer and Cramer Mountains. In Belmont, you can start and finish at South Main Cycles for a pint at the taproom next to the shop.
Build Your Cycling Community
Drop by any of the bike shops around town for expert advice, maintenance, repairs, and even more group ride options. NC Velo in Blakeney has demo days and skills workshops; Bike Source anchors the south end of Little Sugar Creek Greenway with a full line of bikes and accessories; the family-owned Bike Gallery in Dilworth is one of Charlotte first bike shops; and two Trek shops in Huntersville and Pineville carry hybrid bikes perfect for urban cycling on pavement, dirt, and gravel. Join popular weekly rides that end with a pint of craft beer at Triple C Brewing Co. and The Unknown Brewery. Moderately paced rides range from 10-17 miles and are open to any level of cyclist.
How to Get Started
If you’re new to road cycling, or ready to take your distance to the next level, drop by one of the aforementioned bike shops to get the necessary gear and have your bike checked. Regular tune-ups and fittings prevent you from breaking down in the middle of nowhere or dealing with injuries due to a poorly fitted bike.
Invest in road cycling-specific gear: a helmet, padded shorts, bike gloves, a jersey with side and rear pockets for on-the-go nutrition, a hydration system (backpack bladder or water bottles and cages attached to your bike frame); and protective eyewear. Consider buying clipless pedals and shoes to increase your power and even out the workload between your hamstrings and your glutes. Purchase a small repair kit and tire pump with pressure gauge for quick repairs, and attend a bike maintenance workshop, offered periodically at most bike shops, to learn basic maintenance and how to fix a flat.
Once you’re a road cycling regular, you may want to go for distances you never thought possible before. A relative newcomer to the gran fondo scene, Charlotte offers several long distance races worthy of your consideration. The Town of Davidson hosts Fondo Cycling Circuit USA’s 30-, 50-, and 75-mile routes through the rolling farmland of north Charlotte, and Ballantyne’s Tour de Cure raises money for diabetes research with cyclists riding 10-, 24-, 43-, and 63-mile routes in south Charlotte.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with OrthoCarolina.