Twenty years ago, finding a group of cyclists sharing the roads with passing cars was a rarity. Now, rarely is there a day that goes by that doesn’t see a band of cyclists hugging the white line as traffic goes by.
For many, the question of why cycling has grown so large in the United States remains a mystery.
When local cycling enthusiast Andrea Etheridge was asked what she thought was responsible for the sport’s sky-rocketing popularity, she found it difficult to place her finger on just one reason.
“I see cycling as a growing sport for several reasons,” Etheridge said. “Cycling is something you can easily do alone, but it is also a great group sport where you can build friendships. I started cycling a little over two years ago to broaden my fitness level and build strength for running. I had a hip injury from my last marathon, and cycling was all I could do. I had no idea how much I would love it,”
“I don’t even know how to gauge it. It’s huge,” said Cherokee county resident Debby Shippee on how popular cycling has become. “This past year, we were able to have a charity ride for the American Heart Association. A few years ago, we wouldn’t have had enough people to do it.”
Unlike numerous other sports in which being a member of a proper age range is almost required to excel, cycling is a sport that is made for everyone.
“It is high cardio with low impact on joints, so all ages can enjoy,” said Shawn Fouts, a county resident who has been cycling for 20 years. “I’ve seen people between the ages 10 and 75 cycling.”
For Shippee, it has provided an avenue for her to spend time with her family.
“I started cycling so that I could spend time with my daughter,” she said. “It is a great sport you can share with family members. It’s a great family sport.”
For Etheridge, cycling goes beyond just the physical benefits.
“The mental benefits are immense,” she said. “It clears your mind and gets you focused on what really matters. Cycling has become a big part of my life. It is a great way to see the beautiful countryside, and no matter what kind of day you have, cycling always makes your day better.”
“It’s a lifestyle, in a word,” Fouts said. “When I do it, I’m happy. When I don’t, I’m grumpy. It’s a part of my day.”
Another benefit of the sport is how easily accessible it is to beginners.
“There are so many bike clubs that help beginners, for both mountain- and road-biking,” Shippee said. “Anyone can give it a try.”
Etheridge and Fouts lead their own rides from the Free-Flite bike shop in Canton, are they are quick to invite others to join. Fouts leads a mountain bike ride from the shop’s parking lot at 6 p.m. on Sundays, while Etheridge leads a road ride at the same time Tuesdays.