There's no doubt about it: Charlotte is a car town. Just drive down Independence Boulevard and look at the number of car dealerships lining the road. But if you pay close attention, you'll see a growing number of adventurous souls who get around without the aid of an auto: the bikers.
Just like you have your sports car drivers and your hybrid drivers, you have your motorcyclists and your bicyclists. Though the wheels are the same, they couldn't be more different.
So, what's it like to putter around the Q.C. on two wheels? And how do motorists treat them? Two bikers -- one with a motorcycle and one with a bicycle -- tell what it's like to be real-life "road warriors."
Queen City Diva: At the end of every winter -- for the last 11 years -- Glynda Carmicheal, founder of the all-female motorcycle group Queen City Divas, looks for the weather in Charlotte to warm up so that she can dump her car and hop on her Yamaha YZF 600. And when she finds a nice piece of open road, like a three-lane street or a highway, it's on from there.
Aside from the freedom and pleasure Carmicheal gets from riding, she also saves a ton of money on gas. And she rarely has trouble finding a parking spot. But even though she enjoys zipping around the city, she doesn't think many motorists feel the same way.
"You would be surprised at how many people [in cars] try to challenge or have a road race when they see someone on a motorcycle," she says. "I guess it's based on what people know or see about motorcycles. They see people going fast or racing or doing stunts. What they don't know is that there are a lot of us who are very conscious and over-protective of ourselves and cautious when we ride -- especially women.
"You have to be careful all the time," she adds. "You have to react a lot faster when you're on a motorcycle." That rings incredibly true, says Carmicheal, when it comes to several area roads.
"Parts of [Interstate] 77 are pretty dangerous. Woodlawn is very bad because it has lots of potholes," she says. "It's very hard to maneuver over a pothole ... you can do a lot of damage to your bike. We have smaller tires and hitting a pothole, even at 25 or 35 miles an hour, can really tear your bike apart."
Bicycle Veteran: Neal Boyd, president of the sports marketing company Charlotte Sports Cycling, has been traveling around the city on a bicycle for 18 years, racing and riding for fun.
"You have to be smart when you ride," says Boyd. "That means, you have to find roads that are low-volume, low-traffic." Just because you drive down a road to get around, he says, doesn't mean that road is necessarily the best one to bike on.
Boyd says over the years, he's encountered two types of cyclists: the "commuters" and the "weekend riders" who go to the outskirts of town and ride for miles and miles. Boyd does both himself. He even hops on his bike to go to the grocery store and run errands.
So, when he's riding in town, he thinks outside the box to get where he wants to go. "If you traditionally drive down Harris Boulevard, you might find a neighborhood street or a greenway that might parallel that road to get you to that same location," he says.
And while Charlotte has a reputation for being unsafe for cyclists, Boyd says he can count on one hand the number of times he's had problems with drivers. Most of the time, when he rolls up next to a car and the windows are down, the driver and passenger usually give him a friendly wave.
"When you ride on urban roads in the city, with low volume and low traffic, you can keep up with the traffic. You can ride at a pace where you're not holding traffic up, and you're staying with them," he says. "On another note, I'm a very courteous cyclist. If you have respect for the motorists, for the most part, motorists have respect for you."