About half-way through the ride I figured out how cold it really was. It was sunny and probably about 45 degrees but the driving wind made it feel like it was 30. I hadn't been on a bike in months, but had decided this was the day to pick up a hobby I had dropped long ago. Not only was I inadequately dressed — an understatement — but out of shape too, and painfully so. However, the food, hot shower and night's rest that followed were the best I'd had in a long time. Maybe I had made a good decision after all.
Every Sunday at 1 p.m., members of the Arkansas Bicycle Club and Bicycling Advocacy of Central Arkansas gather at the end of River Mountain Road near the Arkansas River and set out on a 35-mile ride. It's laid-back but fast, challenging but fun. Riders of all levels are invited to come and if you fall behind someone will always be there waiting for you.
The ABC ride is just one of many you can join any given week. It's part of a biking infrastructure that has grown up around Pulaski County over the years. Central Arkansas's reputation as a bike-friendly culture has grown with it but there are still some improvements to be made. For every cyclist that says Little Rock is a bike-friendly town, there's another who says the city doesn't have enough bike lanes, signs or cool-headed drivers on the road. And while almost all can agree that the Arkansas River Trail has been a boon to not only bikers, but joggers, walkers and skaters too, critical parts of the trail remain unfinished.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn't have believed it but we're a biking destination now,” says David Holsted, who is organizing the 6th annual Tour de Rock bike race that takes place in June. “People come here from out of town and they know to bring their bike, and that reputation is going to continue to grow.”
Part of the draw is the soaring Big Dam Bridge pedestrian and bike path over the Arkansas River, which connects the North Little Rock and Little Rock portions of the River Trail. But the River Trail's planned 14-mile loop is incomplete, and a group called Close the Loop, a task force created by BACA, is pushing for completion of the trail.
North Little Rock's portion of the trail is ideal — bikers share only a tiny portion of the 7-mile route with automobiles. The rest is dedicated to bikers and hikers, a wide asphalt path that takes a scenic route along the river and includes a side loop through woods near the Big Dam Bridge. But less than half of the Little Rock trail is on a dedicated path and when it emerges from Rebsamen Park Road to climb to downtown Little Rock, it requires bikers to share the four-lane Cantrell Road and take some complicated turns on city streets to find their way to Riverfront Park. To cross the river again, bikers have to share the road with traffic on the Broadway Bridge or use the Junction Bridge, which requires an elevator ride.
Holstead says completing the trail — which would include turning the Rock Island Railroad Bridge on the Clinton Library grounds into a pedestrian bridge, a long overdue project — would make the ride safer for younger and more inexperienced riders, and also bring business into the River Market.
“Experienced cyclists know how to handle riding in traffic, but that's difficult for young cyclists experiencing the trail for the first time. People would love to come down the trail and go to the River Market and buy a drink or eat down there but right now they can't do it. An experienced rider can handle it, but an 11- or 12-year-old? No way.”