Memphis Grows Up

Memphis Grows Up

Regular readers of RKP have likely seen me mention Memphis, Tennessee, from time to time. Memphis, a place of fertile soil, plentiful rain and enough heat to make a cake rise, is a great location against which to balance the realities of cycling in California. It’s a reality check to remind me of how flat most of America is. So why Memphis? It’s the city of my youth. My family moved there when I was two. I worked in my first bike shops there, attended undergraduate school there, played in bands there, and, yes, cut my cycling teeth there.

My standard joke about Memphis is that I didn’t have a reason to leave—I had at least four or five, not least of which was once getting hit in the head (and knocked off my bike) with a half-full 40 of malt liquor thrown from the window of a pickup. And in a twist of irony that perhaps only Thomas Hardy could appreciate, that I write about place, of the environment in which I live, makes me a Southern writer. Some god somewhere is slapping what passes for a god’s knee. Seriously, that’s like moving to the big city to write country music.

Many of the reasons I left had to do with the struggles the city has faced in its attempts to deal with issues of race and economic inequality, not to mention quality of life. These are big issues for the city and they have been for decades.

I often criticized the city for its penchant for plowing under anything that wasn’t fresh looking; they could abandon infrastructure nearly as fast as it was built. Little more than ten years after the city built the pyramid it ceased to be the hot location for sports events and concerts; it’s now a Bass Pro Shop. I’m not kidding even a little.

However, in the last ten years, the city has embraced a new ethos toward itself and its residents. I went back last year for a visit and wrote a feature for Bicycling Magazine about how the city is beginning to reinvent itself and the relationship bike and pedestrian infrastructure has helped drive urban renewal.

If you’re a reader of Bicycling, you may recall that only eight years ago they dubbed Memphis the worst city for cycling in the nation. The crazy part is it actually made a difference. What I especially love is how I was able to sell the story in spite of my editors’ very healthy skepticism (big shout out to Taylor Rojek).

I’ve known the River City for more than 50 years at this point and I believe I can say that it has never been a more vibrant place or more open to fresh ideas than it is today.

I hope you’ll pick a copy up and check out my features, plus some other pretty terrific features.

Also worth mentioning: Memphis is and always has been home to the best BBQ the universe has to offer.

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  1. Andrew

    I was there about a year ago (walking around in a shirt and a tie in 40 degree weather, while people in parkas stared at me like I was from the Moon), and I was generally pleasantly surprised. That island across the river seemed to be bike friendly, and big rivers are cool no matter what.

  2. Tominalbany

    You can tell a southern person because they feel the need to describe where to get the best barbecue ever… 🙂

    My little town of Albany, NY is putting in a bike lane here and there. And, of course, my non-biking friends are bemoaning the loss of driving space. It’s a small city for sure (<100k people) but, it'd be nice to see it hit the top 50 in BikeMag's survey before I die!

    1. Author

      I’ll give Central Texas some room to crow. It’s way better than some spots in the South … but not Memphis. 😉

    1. Author

      We should hook up for a ride next time I’m back. Wow, that sounded like I’m on Tinder. Er, I’m sure a bicycle ride together would be fun.

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