After a childhood as what she describes as a “clumsy rider,” Sylvia Crum got back in the bicycle saddle as an adult and new mother. She quickly discovered the pleasure and ease of using bikes for both solo and family transportation. In her role as Executive Director of Revolutions Bicycle CoOp, Sylvia spreads this awareness and enthusiasm in her recently adopted but much-beloved community in Memphis. The nonprofit organization sells refurbished bikes and memberships to its shared workshop to fund education and outreach programs for riders of all ages and skill levels, creating a cycle of exploration. Meet this week’s bike-friendly FACE of Memphis, Sylvia Crum!
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Oklahoma City, OK, and my parents moved around a bunch when I was a kid. I claim Kansas City, MO, because that’s where I went to high school, but my parents moved away from there when I went to college. Home is wherever my parents are, really.
What brought you to Memphis?
We had been in Africa, and we were coming back and my husband wanted to make a career change, so he did an alternate certification program to be a public school teacher, and Memphis was where he was able to do that. He teaches 5th-grade math at Idlewild Elementary, and he loves it.
You arrived in Memphis at a tipping point in its bike culture. How have you seen the biking landscape change over the last six years?
I’m seeing more and more people out on bicycles — and all kinds of different people. I think that what’s really going to get Memphians riding is when each Memphian can see someone who looks like them riding.
I’ve also seen more connections happening. You can put together a route that feels comfortable to you between quieter city streets and bike lanes. And then when your confidence is up more, maybe there’s an area that doesn’t have either of those choices but you know how to be on the road.
What are the most important things for new road riders to know?
Knowing how to be confident in the street and knowing that you are a vehicle in the street just like the cars and trucks that you’re riding along with. If you feel nervous, come and ride with one friend or go on a group ride with us where you can see a route that maybe you could use to get to work. It’s a much less stressful ride if you will think, “I’m not in my car; I’m going to go this other way now.”
What recommendations do you give people trying to start family riding?
The biggest advice I would give is that there are ways to do it. There are bicycle trailers and trail-along bikes and cargo bikes, which is what we really feature here at Revolutions. If you’re thinking how could I try doing that? there are people who are really excited to think through that with you here.
Bike repair seems intimidating to a lot of people who may be interested in riding regularly. How do you make that accessible to the everyday bicyclist?
What I really love about working on a bicycle is that it isn’t rocket science. It’s a simple machine; you learn how to use simple tools and you can learn how to work on a bicycle. The bicycle itself hasn’t changed that much in over 100 years.
We offer two classes with membership: How to Fix a Flat and Basic Bike Assessment. We feel that both of those classes offer a nice, easy entry point where it’s more of a discussion group, and you can see it’s not that intimidating to be in our workshop.
What challenges do you see that are specific to women when it comes to being more proficient bike riders?
The hair and clothes, especially if you’re trying to get to work , being able to deal with all of those things. There’s just such a small box, often, of what a bicyclist looks like and what they need to wear.
It’s fun for me to get to chat with other women and find out what they’re doing. Our Women’s Bike Chat Ride meets every third Sunday at 2 p.m. at Revolutions, and we take an easy ride around town. We usually stop for a coffee or a beer. We really just want women to have a chance to come together. It provides a community and chance to ask questions and find answers.
Bicycling is affordable compared to car ownership but can still be out of reach for many Memphians. How is Revolutions working to expand the accessibility of bicycling in Memphis?
As the educational partner for Explore Bike Share, we have a chance to get out in the community and help people see how they could use bike share bikes to get around town. With that membership model, that’s an option. We recognize that by owning your own bicycle, there are maintenance costs, but membership at Revolutions provides a way to do that work yourself and keep the labor cost lower. Part of our refurbishing bicycles has been an effort to have a high-quality bicycle for a decent price while people are trying it out to see if it’s going to work in their lives. Once you know how to do basic maintenance on a bike, you can keep it running for pretty low cost.
Where are your favorite places to take visitors to Memphis?
We get them on bicycles and ride around Cooper-Young and through Midtown and get to Downtown. I love that now with Big River Crossing you can get out over the middle of the water and look back at the city — I feel like it’s the best view of Memphis. I love that you can do that whole thing via bicycle, and it’s so fun to show visitors how our city connects and do it by bike.
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What is your best advice?
Be able to hear that there are ways to use a bicycle to get around and move through town. I’m still hearing that, even after riding for several years, that I could still have an issue of my own and have a friend in my community be able to solve it. People can think through with me any kind of issue I’m dealing with.
What are three things, aside from faith, family and friends, that you can’t live without?
My bicycle I ride by myself, my cargo bike and my bike pannier – the bag that hangs on my bike rack – because I want it to be easy to hop on my bike and having the right bag that fits on my bike makes it so easy to get on my way.
Visit Revolutions’ website to become a member, see upcoming classes and events, or join the upcoming Tour de Brewer on Sept. 22, which will take riders on a tour of four Memphis breweries while raising funds for a bike safety program planned for fourth graders at local public schools.
Thank you, Sylvia, for your positive influence in our beloved city and to Mary Kate Steele for these beautiful photos!
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