You can ask any avid bicycle rider, “What is it that makes riding a bicycle enjoyable?” And a cyclist will tell you it is relaxing, exciting and stress relieving.
One of the best aspects of the activity is you can do it almost anywhere, anytime and with anyone. It’s also a great activity in the time of COVID-19.
Wheeling is quickly becoming one of the top-rated cities for bicycle enhancement, as it was recently awarded the Bronze Award for being a bicycle friendly community by The League of American Bicyclists.
BIKE TRAIL HEAVEN
Jesse Mestrovic, director of parks and recreation for the City of Wheeling, firmly believes that cycling is one of the absolute best ways to take in all that Wheeling has to offer and is a great way to meet fellow neighbors.
“I love biking. It is one of my most favorite outdoor activities that is surprisingly diverse,” said Mestrovic.
“I love to explore Wheeling’s neighborhoods and check out the architecture of our heritage. … Wheeling is an excellent place for cyclists, and [it’s] growing every year.”
The City of Wheeling offers over 13 miles of paved trails, and there are two local bicycle organizations, according to Mestrovic.
In addition to bicycle groups, such as Bike Wheeling and Ohio Valley Trail Partners there is also a family-owned cyclist shop for locals to frequent, Wheelcraft Bicycle in Elm Grove.
Mestrovic has also reported an influx of trail usage since the beginning of 2020 when the coronavirus stunned the world.
“Trail usage and social distancing friendly outdoor recreation has definitely seen a spike in activity,” said Mestrovic.
“It is great seeing all the people on the trail.”
According to Mestrovic, most of Wheeling’s neighborhoods are flat, and many of them are adjacent to the Wheeling Heritage Trail, which enhances community connectivity.
Wheeling has added three bicycle maintenance stands, which are located at Heritage Port, Elm Grove and Warwood School.
Bike Share had also been implemented into the Wheeling community, but has been suspended because of COVID-19 due to its high touch points, according to Mestrovic.
City officials do plan to expand on the program in the upcoming year — with hopes that a vaccine will be created.
CYCLING, THEN AND NOW
Wheeling has presented a strong cycling presence since the early 1880s and possibly even earlier than that.
In 1884, the Road Race and Hill Climbing competition was held in Wheeling with competitors venturing from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Brownsville, Washington, Greensboro, Waynesburg, Barnesville and many other cities to compete for a $20 gold medal, according to newspaper files located at the Ohio County Public Library.
Lance Armstrong visited Wheeling around 1994 for a cycling event that was popular during its time. Just five years before he won his first of many Tour De France medals, Armstrong competed in the Kmart Classic Bike Race, an annual event held in West Virginia.
Though these past events are no more, in the 1990s, the former railroad tracks throughout the area were transformed into the trail ways we have now, thanks in large part to former Wheeling Mayor Jack Lipphardt, who served the city from 1992 to 2000.
Wheeling boasts more of a communal aspect of bike riding, including children’s and adult clubs and groups that meet weekly for group bicycle outings.
Mestrovic does however believe the cycling community will only grow bigger and better over time, as there are bicycle groups in Wheeling and the annual Faith in Action Triathlon.
“Our goal is to grow our cycling culture in Wheeling by starting and engaging our youth,” said Mestrovic.
“Our youth will eventually be the leaders in the community that will lead to support bicycle friendliness and infrastructure in the future.”
A COMMUNITY IN BICYCLES
While Mestrovic encourages the younger generation to go out and take advantage of the local trails, Joseph Zombek II actively encourages his 4-year-old son, Joseph “Joey” Zombek III, to do just that.
You can find this born-and-raised Wheeling resident riding his bicycle all over the city at least four times a week.
Zombek has been riding bicycles for 15 years, and it is his main form of physical activity and favorite way to enjoy the outdoors with his son.
“It makes me feel good to be out and riding around,” said Zombek. “I like the workout aspect of it. I enjoy the nice weather and even riding without a shirt on because it just feels so good and feels so adventurous.”
Zombek primarily rides his bicycle in the Heritage Port area when he is with his son, but he likes to venture out into multiple neighborhoods when he is alone or with friends.
“I do BMX (bicycle motocross) and mountain biking. You can go anywhere around town really to BMX,” said Zombek. “Mountain biking you have a lot more options though, and I do use the bike trail for a leisurely relaxed ride, but if I want to peddle my butt off, I go to Oglebay.”
While Zombek knows not everyone is as comfortable as he is riding a bicycle, he encourages everyone to take the proper steps to riding a bicycle so they can fully enjoy the experience.
“Figure out what type of bike suits you and speak with an expert or a friend and get sized for one,” said Zombek.
“Definitely give it a shot because you will fall in love with it, especially on a nice day. There’s nothing better than that.”
PILLARS OF A BICYCLE COMMUNITY
One of the most active bicycle groups in Wheeling is comprised of more than just a few tires and pedals.
If you are ever near one of the many local trails in Wheeling, you may hear someone hollering, “Can you keep up, old-timer?”
“Playful competitiveness” is what Bob Strasser calls it.
Strasser has been a cyclist since 2015 and consistently rides with the Wheeling Wheelers, though they often don’t refer to themselves as such.
“We’re just a bunch of guys, and we all meet together to have a great time,” said Strasser. “In our group, we can have someone who is 38 up to someone who is 73, and I’m chasing the 73-year-old as best I can.”
Strasser says there is a mutual respect among cyclists, which is a large reason why the sport is so enjoyable and great for anyone who just wants to have fun and find camaraderie.
“It’s a wonderful experience with different generations. No matter how many miles you cover in however much time, we all end up at the same place eventually,” said Strasser.
While Strasser wishes he had learned about the sport years ago, he hasn’t forgotten the first time he used his first real road bike.
“My first bike was the biggest, heaviest bike you’ve ever seen, and I was trying to do this 15-mile race on this heavy bike,” said Strasser. “Once I got on that (proper) road bike, it just flew, and I knew immediately that on that bike, I was in a different world.”
Fellow Wheeling Wheelers member, Barry Allen, also rides with a group called The Brew Crew and has been cycling for five years in Wheeling. He believes the best part about cycling are the relationships.
“Honestly, the friendship and the people in Wheeling is the best part,” said Allen. “The camaraderie is great, and we get competitive and poke fun at each other and just ride together on a beautiful day. It is a special group.”
Allen believes dark times have revealed just how much of a bond there is among his fellow cyclists.
“About a year ago, Andy Barger’s mother passed away, and everyone in our bike group was at the funeral,” said Allen. “That told me that it was a special group. If you need help, someone’s going to come and help you. The Wheeling community and the guys I ride with are just … it’s hard to explain, but they are just great.”
Allen deeply appreciates the efforts the City of Wheeling is making to create a more cycling-accessible community, and he knows it wasn’t a recent effort.
“Jack Lipphardt had the foresight to see that these old rails needed to be changed and could be changed into a trail system that would benefit Wheeling, and I think that was the start of this cycling phenomenon in Wheeling,” said Allen.
While Allen knows the city has much to offer, he knows there’s even more to come.
“I like this area because it provides many opportunities,” said Allen. “There are lots and lots of people benefiting from these trails, and the different options really open up a wide range of possibilities for cycling in the area and enjoy some light-hearted competition.”
While the bicycle community in Wheeling has many plans for the future, it is rapidly growing despite the worldwide pandemic.
No matter your age, no matter your skill level, there is a spot open for everyone on the trail, wherever it may lead you.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.