The Clash of Cultures

Shift Frequent Shifters Club

One of the most interesting aspects of the growth of the bicycling culture in Central Arkansas takes place when it rubs up against the existing norm of our cities. The meeting is often expected to be very negative; yet, when it finally happens it often has a positive outcome. Events this past weekend in downtown Little Rock and the South Main Street (SOMA) area exemplify this result.

Heading South on Main.
Heading South on Main.

I was lucky enough to get back from other commitments in Northwest Arkansas in time to enjoy the activity in SOMA on Sunday. It is the second year for the Rock City Races, a series of bicycle criterium races covering two days. The event is presented by the Central Arkansas Velo club (CARVE). Saturday’s events happen downtown on some of the same streets people raced bikes on in the late 1800’s. At that time, the Arkansas Gazette listed results from these races and they were a major spectator sport in the early days of the city before the roads were totally consumed by automobile traffic. The other place early bicycle races were held was on a velodrome located in West Park. Central High School now sits where this venue once attracted citizens for weekend races. Not far from that historical location is where this past Sunday’s events took place on South Main Street.

Team Soundpony from Tulsa showed up.
Team Soundpony from Tulsa showed up.

This year the course started on South Main in front of Boulevard Bread Company and headed south turning west on 16th Street. This section provided the only climb of the course as racers climbed the 3 city blocks to Spring Street where they turned north. Only a block later they took another right turn onto 15th Street. Two blocks later they make the only left turn of the course heading north on Louisiana for two more blocks. Two quick right turns at 13th Street brought them back to Main and a three block sprint before starting the next lap.

Race start with the lead car provided by Little Rock Subaru.
Race start with the lead car provided by Little Rock Subaru.

Spectators lined Main Street and most of the turns throughout the course, cheering as the riders came through on each lap. The CARVE team did a great job of managing the intersections along the course, helping drivers and pedestrians get through the course without endangering the cyclists or spectators.

Heading up the hill.
Heading up the hill.

Throughout the day, the Bernice Garden Farmers Market was open along with restaurants, stores and other businesses along Main Street. This is where things seemed to work out well to create a unique experience. Between races, spectators got food at Boulevard Bread Company, The Root, a couple of food trucks like Southern Salt, South On Main, and Piro. They shopped the farmers market, The Green Corner Store (where I got some awesome Loblolly Ice Cream) and Moxy Mercantile Store. They even visited the Esse Purse Museum which hosted race registration. Local coffee roasters, Westrock, were on hand offering free coffee and Lost Forty Brewing brought a mobile stand to make some of their fine beers available.

Looking for space on the inside. Must be a mountain biker.
Looking for space on the inside. Must be a mountain biker.
Bike Racing in Arkansas is different.
Bike Racing in Arkansas is different.

The racing was great and the music from DJ Raquel was drifting up and down the street. Families were enjoying the unique sporting event along with all the local flavor that makes up SOMA. As I walked the course, I couldn’t help but notice the way the neighborhood is in the midst of revitalization with well-kept homes and apartment complexes as the area once again becomes a desirable place to live and work. I remember a time, not t00 long ago, when this part of town was riddled with high crime and crumbling infrastructure. The road diet that helped make the area more pedestrian friendly and attracted so many new businesses has transformed the area. The Rock City Crits was a perfect way to show it all off.

NWACC - Trail Tech
Kids Races.
Kids Races.
Women's Races.
Women’s Races.

Results for the Criteriums can be found on the USA Cycling Page.

We will have hundreds of photos posted on our Facebook Page later today.

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