Bike Barn serves thousands with fun and fitness

Sisters Alexis (from left), Trinity and Keana Taylor of Martinsville ride Bike Barn bicycles on the Dick & Willie Passage recently.

July 20, 2015

The Bike Barn is combining fun and fitness on the Dick & Willie Passage.

Since it opened several years ago at the Doyle Street trail head, the Bike Barn has loaned bicycles to thousands of people for exercise and recreational use on the trail.

However, this season, riders aren’t taking full advantage of the barn. So far, a total of 860 registered riders traveling 5,000 miles have been recorded at the Bike Barn. That is about half the 1,528 individual riders recorded through June last year, according to Brad Kinkema, CEO/executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA.

“I still look at 800 individual people and it is still a good number. I’m pleased so many people are utilizing it,” he said. “I just think the weather (reduced the numbers) and maybe the novelty is wearing off. We’re getting more regular users” than one-time riders.

Gloria Stephens, program director for the YMCA, observed that rainy weather in April forced the Bike Barn to close on weekdays. In contrast, she said the barn was open nearly every day in April 2014.

“We can’t compete with Mother Nature,” Stephens said.

Kinkema said the barn’s numbers are down for the past two years, which is verified by a January 2014 report to The Harvest Foundation on use for 2013.

The report stated that 2013 saw 2,425 people take 3,691 rides that covered 19,832 miles on the Dick & Willie Passage. Demographic information gathered from riders shows that 44 percent were male and 66 percent female. Ages of Bike Barn program users started at under 1 year and went as high as 79 years old. Thirty-five percent of riders were between the ages of 19 and 30.

The YMCA will review the Bike Barn’s numbers and options after this season, Kinkema said.

“I definitely think there will be opportunities if the trail is extended to the (Smith River) sports complex to do something really cool,” he said, such as possibly having an auxiliary Bike Barn site at the complex or even move it there.

However, he noted that its current location off Doyle Street allows some people to walk to it. Also, it could be as much as two years before the trail extension could be finished.

Other options Kinkema mentioned were partnering more with the Henry County Bike Club, allowing the use of the bikes for more than a day or, in what he called a “pipe dream,” getting some road bikes, especially for youth, to encourage them to ride as a sport.

“The numbers are half what they were last year at this time, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find many places that serve 800 people over a three-month period. It’s a great asset” and helping its users stay healthy, he said.

People of all ages, mostly from the local area but also Rocky Mount, Danville and beyond, get the loaner bikes at the Bike Barn and cycle on the trail, according to Lindsey Edwards, on-site manager of the Bike Barn.

Stephens added that some out-of-town people visit Fairy Stone State Park and other local sites, find the Dick & Willie on websites and check out the trail and bikes. 

Recreation and fitness are the main reasons people use the barn’s bikes, which are offered without charge, Stephens and Edwards said. Stephens added that some people use the bikes to cross-train on the Dick & Willie and the Uptown Connector Trail and Silver Bells trail that connect to it.

There are five or six regular riders who come a couple of times a week, Edwards said.

The Taylor sisters of Martinsville were typical riders on a recent weekday afternoon. Keana and Trinity Taylor accompanied their sister Alexis and her 1-year-old son Micah on a ride on the Dick & Willie. They had used the barn’s bikes last year, but this was their first outing this summer, they said.

“He likes riding in the” buggy pulled by Alexis on her bike from the barn, Alexis said as Micah’s safety belt was fastened on the covered carriage.

“We have fun and time with family” while on the trail, Keana Taylor said. She and her sisters added that they also cycle for exercise.

The Bike Barn has 30 new bikes of varying sizes, including some with and without training wheels for younger riders. Adults can chose between 7- and 21-speed comfort bikes, and a three-wheeler for adults has been added thanks to a grant from the Women in Philanthropy Grant managed by the Martinsville Area Community Foundation. 

There also is a tandem bike, which requires a short skills test because of the hills on the Dick & Willie, Stephens said.

The barn sold its mountain bikes this year because they were too costly to repair, she added.

Riders under the age of 18 must be accompanied by their parent or legal guardian while riding a bicycle from the barn. Helmets, which are provided by the barn; closed toe shoes; and a photo ID are required. 

            The Bike Barn is closed when it rains, the temperature is below 60 degrees and when there is a heat advisory. Riders must keep the bikes on the Dick & Willie and connecting trails, Stephens said.

The Bike Barn is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays.

It also can be reserved, for a fee, for special groups or events, such as church youth groups and MHC After 3, Stephens said. It also works with the local bike club, which offers off-trail rides, taught by a bike club member, on the third Saturday of each month.

The Bike Barn grew out of the Bike Walk America and Safe Routes to School local programs, according to Cari Zimmer, who joined Activate in February 2010. Those programs were conducted locally by Jeannie Frisco, then-program director of Activate, which now is under the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA.

Zimmer said she started opening the barn at consistent, convenient hours and rules, and she also rebranded the Activate program, which helped generate interest in the bicycling program, she added. Also, children’s bikes were added.

When Zimmer started with the program, 12 people were registered users of the bikes, she said. The first year after her changes, more than 1,300 different riders were registered as using the bikes. 

At that point, Zimmer said she calculated it cost about $20,000 to operate the program for a year. So the Miles in Martinsville program was started to raise funds for the Bike Barn and also the Doctor’s Orders program through the YMCA. 

A Harvest Foundation grant also helped fund the programs. It will expire at the end of this year, and Kinkema has said the Miles in Martinsville runs, Bike Barn and Doctor’s Orders programs will continue thanks to funds raised by the runs.

“I won’t say it doesn’t hurt (to lose the Harvest funds) but we want to keep everything we can,” he said. “We want to keep it (the Bike Barn) open” and do not want to shrink its hours.

“We’re working on absorbing it into operations” as well as other grants, he added.

The Bike Barn is listed on the Virginia Is For Lovers website and has become a tourist destination, Zimmer said, noting that riders from New Zealand, China, Mexico, Kurdistan, Ireland and other countries have used the bikes.

            Zimmer, who left Activate in September 2014 and now operates paid and volunteer landscaping services, attributes the Bike Barn’s success to the fact that it provides recreation and fitness opportunities at no cost. A demographic study showed that at one point 40 percent of the barn’s users came from households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 and 22 percent had a household income between $15,001 and $30,000. Also, the report showed, 56 percent were white, 35 percent black, 3 percent Latino and 6 percent other ethnicities.

“It’s really fitting a niche for families” that might not have been able to afford a vacation or their own bicycles, she said.

Zimmer has her own bike, but she rides on the Dick & Willie for exercise and recreation.

“It frees your mind. I just enjoy it,” she said.

For more information on the Bike Barn, call the YMCA at 632-6427.


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