Technology makes bicycling more fun

April 26, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Want a new bicycle route? People to ride with? What happens if your bike gets a flat? Look no further than your computer's keyboard or the keypad of your cell phone or GPS device.
Illustration by Chad Trovinger,

Technology and online social networking has made the already low-tech hobby of bicycling that much easier.

Want a new route? People to ride with? What happens if your bike gets a flat?

Look no further than your computer's keyboard or the keypad of your cell phone or GPS device.

"You can find that on our website," said Mike Mittel, owner of Hub City Sports, a bike shop in downtown Hagerstown.

Local bike shops are catering to the needs of bikers by offering more than products for sale on their websites. They are seeking to offer tips and provide forums. Beyond retail sales, electronic gadgets and social-networking forums are making it easier for cyclists from out of town to find routes and connect with others who share the same passion.

Before, beginner cyclists had to rely on word of mouth and a bit of trial and error to find running clubs and meetups.


"People need to have that information to have a good riding experience," said Mittel, who bikes three to five days a week, covering between 20 and 30 miles on a typical ride.

Micro-mini GPS devices are the most popular gadget at the moment and come so small they can fit on a cyclist's wrist, Mittel said.

People are also open-sourcing their favorites routes online.

A search for "Hagerstown MD" on popular, for example, turned up more than 1,000 user-generated routes in the Hagerstown area. Visitors to the site have the option of using Google Earth technology to watch video of the routes -- useful if you're unfamiliar with the area.

You can even reserve a bike online.

The website adopted a business model similar to discount online flight-booking sites. The website lets people reserve bikes from more than 250 bike shops in the United States and Canada.

"We're kind of like Travelocity for bikes," said the company's president and founder, George Gill, in a recent phone interview with The Herald-Mail. "And it's all in real time."

There's also road-side assistance for cyclists in the event of an accident, he said.

Gill, who averages 4,000 miles a year on his bike back home, said he got the idea for the business during a business trip to Dallas. He was getting frustrated with the process of trying to find a place to rent bikes -- which he said involved a slew of phone calls. He said somehow he made the connection between how his flight got booked and the need for a national online bike rental service.

"I wrote the business plan down on an American Airlines napkin," Gill said.

Today, he works from an office in the northern Chicago suburbs. There are a total of four people in the company.

Locally, Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Pedal & Paddle is part of's online network. Pedal & Paddle owner Eddie Sampson said he wouldn't have fathomed opening the bike shop three years ago without offering bike rentals.

He said the bike-rental business is lucrative in the Eastern Panhandle because of the number of out-of-state tourists looking for outdoor recreation.

"Right across the river, we've got the C&O Canal," Sampson said. "You don't have to worry about being hit by a car."

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is what remains of the 19th-century commercial transportation system that served the Potomac River Valley.

The 184.5-mile stretch of trail runs adjacent to three states and into Washington, D.C., as it hugs the banks of the Potomac River.

Like Pedal & Paddle, C&O Bicycle shop in Hancock attracts tourists hoping to bike along the canal. The shop is also near the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

But C&O Bicycle shop owner Dennis Hudson said the shop does its reservations by phone, person or e-mail. Hudson doesn't offer online booking.

"Online, you don't know who they are, their age, whether they want a nice cushioned ride or something for better performance or trail," said Hudson, who owns the shop with his wife, Judy Hudson.

Dennis Hudson said that he and his wife try to convey a person-to-person feel on their Web page, through personal blog entries and by offering local bike routes, links and other resources for bikers.

"If I can't talk to them, at least they'll know who I am," Hudson said.

Even with all the high-tech gadgets and online social media buzz, Mittel, owner of Hub City Sports bike shop in Hagerstown, said that the most useful -- and most popular -- tool a cyclist has doesn't involve URLs, tweets or turn-by-turn directions.

He's talking about old-fashioned, waterproof paper maps available for free at Hub City's shop.

"They're put together for cyclists by cyclists," Mittel said.

On the Web

o -- The website for C&O Bicycle Shop in Hancock

o -- Bike shop in downtown Hagerstown has tips and a classified section

o -- plan bike routes and view and rate other user-generated routes

o -- The website for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

o -- A statewide initiative encouraging Marylanders to travel by bike, by foot or carpool.

o -- A national online bike rental service

o -- The Web page for Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle in historic Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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