Monday, November 16, 2009

Norfolk Sans High Tide

Recently, I participated in an email exchange about living as a cyclist in Norfolk, VA.  A guy from Boston is looking to move to Ghent, and Jeff Lawson, Chris Dinsmore and I wrote lengthy expostions about our overall favorable impressions about riding here.  Funny that the issue of hurricanes and nor'easters did not come up as we emailed a week ago.  Now that the "November Nor'easter" has reaquianted us with how very close to sea level we live, the following may need some revision. (Photos were taken this week as the tides slowly receeded after the storm.)

Here are the combined email comments Jeff, Chris and I made. Chris wrote about 60% of it, Jeff and I each 20%.  I thought it worth publishing since I have read few comprehensive personal accounts like these:

Ghent and the west side of Norfolk in general is a very pleasant place to live. There are a lot of good restaurants, a diverse population and a growing, but admittedly midlevel university. It’s a lot like any turn-of-the-century early suburb with a varied housing stock and eclectic mix of restaurants and shops.

You easily can roll out of your drive and ride as long as you wish. I’ve done solo 90-milers south into Chesapeake or Virginia Beach. The traffic levels in Norfolk are largely dependent on timing and the roads you choose. Knowing where and when to ride is key to riding around here. But, for every crowded thoroughfare, there’s a nearby neighborhood road that can help you bypass most of it. The drivers here are a mixed bag. My scariest encounters have come out in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake when I’ve been riding on rural roads without much shoulder. The rare driver will buzz you. In town, every now and then, someone will pass to close or yell at you. We get the occasional "get on the sidewalk" screamers, and I would say the tolerance is lower here than in metropolitan areas that are more progressive. I felt generally more accepted on the roads, for example, when I spent a few months in Chicago. For the most part, I feel safe riding in the city.

From Ghent, there are easily five or so different routes in Norfolk alone that allow you to roll up 20-25 miles. Connecting them you can push that out to 40 or so miles. It’s also easy to ride south in Chesapeake along one of two routes—one some consider a little sketchy because of 55mph traffic on short stretch with no shoulder and a cheese grater for a draw bridge—for 40-mile and up rides. Both routes south take you through some blighted neighborhoods and projects, but I’ve never had a problem. I also sometimes ride east from Norfolk to our team/club ride in Virginia Beach, which turns into a 70- to 90-mile ride. There are only a couple safe routes east in my opinion. I also used to ride often from Portsmouth, which is a five-minute drive through the Midtown Tunnel in Ghent, out into Suffolk. The riding to the west can range from 25 miles to as long as you wish. You could even skip the drive through the tunnel by riding downtown and taking the Elizabeth River ferry to Portsmouth. There’s also a fair bit of great riding just up the road in and around Williamsburg. That’s where we go if we want to climb hills, though I’ve also got a little urban loop I do that takes in three bridges in Norfolk.

There are two good bike shops in Ghent: East Coast Bicycles and Conte’s Norfolk. The former is a Trek store, but doesn’t have a real corporate feel; the latter carries Giants, Specialized and others. Both have good mechanics. We have 2 evening group rides from East Coast and Conte’s year round—road bikes in the warm, light months, and mountain/ cross bikes during the dark months (urban assault style). There are much larger group rides in the suburbs—Virginia Beach and Chesapeake specifically. Many riders who live in Norfolk drive to those group rides on weekends. The drive to VB is easy on weekends and worth it since the strongest, best riders in the area frequent the suburb rides. There are also two Saturday options in Ghent from the two bikeshops.

There’s also a great running store in Ghent called Running Etc. As far as pools for year-round swimming, you could join the YMCA or go to one of the city pools. There also is a private summer swim club in West Ghent that’s fairly easy to join. The Chesapeake Bay is used by a lot of people to train for the swimming part of triathlons and it can usually be used as early as March by normal people using a thin wet suit, although we have a number of SEALS on our team who swim year round. By May, the Bay can often be swum without anything extra and it stays in the 80s into Sept. before falling to only the 70s in October. A plus is your age—we have lots of retired military here and so fit guys in their 50's are all over the place. We have 3 or 4 guys on our team in their 50's who race a few events a year, and one guy in his early 60's who is bad to the bone.

We average about 7" of snow per year but there are many years where we get nothing more than flurries. I would say in the last 9 years as a cyclist I have only missed training outdoors because of the snow about 9 days. If you like to ride early in the morning there will be a couple of dozen days where the temperatures is colder than freezing, but it is usually only by a few degrees and rarely under the mid 20s. We only have a few times per year when the daily high fails to exceed 30-35 degrees, so cold readings rarely cause much of a problem. The summers can be hot and humid but our average high in the summer is still only 87, although we have about 10-15 days per year where it is 95 or more.

READ Wes Cheney's recent article about riding in Norfolk.  Complete with safe roads map.


Anonymous said...

was just chatting on FB last night with the guy that suggested I move to HR some 8years ago, I moved here, he did not. he wondered if I was soar about his not coming (we both applied to odu grad school) told him no, that over all HR is not to bad a place to live. (we could use better mexican food but thats a different blog), I would say the roads -in norfolk- are below average for ridding, but you dont have to go to far to get to the good stuff and the club/team scene hear makes up for that a good bit.

Chris W.

Liz Schleeper said...

Chris, yes, I agree that the riding community here makes the difference. When people leave here that is what they say they miss.

Anonymous said...

Liz, I had no idea you published that. Cool.