#FREEWHEELING
Horizon Cycling

February 7, 2020

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photography submitted by Horizon Cycling

CHARACTER TRAIT: Freewheeling

DEFINITION: Willing to experiment and take risks by going beyond the usual rules or accepted ways of doing things.

It just makes sense, this cycling culture in St. Joseph. It’s like the hum of a tire on a fresh spring morning.

It’s fitting that people in St. Joseph like a little adventure, a lot of river bluff scenery and plenty of fresh air. We are, after all, connected somehow to early explorers, Pony Express riders and hearty entrepreneurs.

And we like to enjoy this connection nearly any given weekend, in all types of weather, on the winding wooded switchbacks that surround St. Joseph parks. Or cruising on paved paths, pedaling alongside Missouri River bluffs and historic neighborhoods. Some of us like to clear our minds for work, riding City paths; others meet for a gravel ride along nearby rural roads in Missouri or Kansas.

Cycling in St. Joseph has become serious business, and seriously fun, since Horizon Cycling opened in 2012. For the team who works there, including general manager Blake Hoppe, cycling isn’t just a hobby. It’s a total way of life, and one that’s generously and openly shared with the entire community.

Hoppe, a St. Joseph native, walks the walk and talks the talk about local business and growing the St. Joseph cycling community. His vision, and that of his team, has grown the wooded trail system by miles, including frequent volunteer maintenance and trail repair outings. There’s a stunt path now that’s open to everyone, new urban bike lanes and signage that’s helping build an even friendlier biking community.

It’s easy to see Hoppe is enthusiastic about life on two tires, but his interest in getting others alongside him is just as genuine. “It seemed like there was a need for a true cycling shop in St. Joseph. People were driving to Kansas City before we opened for quality bikes and repair. We wanted to keep them local, and to see our own cycling community thrive,” says Hoppe. And boy, has it.

There are multiple new cyclists every year, as evidenced by social media groups, such as Joe Town MTB. Then there’s the uptick in both store traffic and the numbers that join up for group rides. They seem to share an interest in expanding biking, too, says Hoppe. “Many experienced and new riders work together for trail maintenance on the mountain biking paths that are tucked in to areas like Corby Pond and Krug Park. A lot of good things are happening. When we opened there were about 15 miles of trails, and now there’s 30 miles.”

St. Joseph: Up-And-Coming Cycling City

Who Can Learn to Cycle? Everyone

Hoppe says they see riders of all ages and experience levels at Horizon. “Our customers are toddlers just getting their first bike all the way up to seniors who want the electric hybrid bikes. It’s really fun to be here with education and accessories and to meet the community’s needs. And then the customers turn around, a lot of times, and help volunteer for trail projects around town, too.”

When it comes to cycling, in any town, there are myths that might hold people back from enjoying the hobby or sport. Some believe they can’t ride, due to age or health. Others are just getting into cycling for the first time, so there are a lot of questions about bikes, gear, trails and urban cycling. Some have been used to lesser-quality bargain bikes and need some time to explore options and benefits of a quality, lifelong bike.

Horizon Cycling works to appeal to all of these people.

Knowledge is the Real Super Power

“Really, we want to see more people get into bikes. Period. We believe everyone can ride a bike,” says Hoppe. “When people come and visit, and try bikes out, and ask questions, they learn that certain styles and brands make cycling 100 percent different and more enjoyable than any lesser brand of bike they’ve ever been on. And we are part of the education process the whole way, because this is a place to learn.”

Some of the learning involves general repair and maintenance on all types of bikes. Dozens of bikes line the rack in the shop at Horizon. The buzz of activity and the sounds of repair give the store even more authenticity and serve as a constant conversation point. In February, the team offers a maintenance open house event – which is the perfect opportunity for anyone to bring any bike in and learn to perform their own basic maintenance and repairs. (Horizon even supplies the tools, and of course, the know-how). In keeping with the spirit of growing the cycling community, it’s free and open to anyone.

“Everything we do as far as events is to boost the cycling community,” says Hoppe, just before heading over to help a customer and engage in conversation.

Riders Wanted: No Experience Necessary (You don’t have to be wiry, either)

Like the early advertising posters for St. Joseph’s Pony Express, boosting the local bike community takes many creative forms. In December, there’s the Christmas Light Ride. Cyclists decorate themselves and their bikes with holiday lights and decorations, and travel as a group along the paved parkway trails, eventually arriving at St. Joseph’s famous Holiday Park at Krug Park. In late summer or early fall, there’s a scavenger hunt ride where teams of two get a list of riddles to solve that involve local businesses or landmarks, sharing photos along the way. (Getting the riddle correct means winning a prize.) Nearly every Tuesday evening throughout the year, a mountain bike group meets at Corby Pond, with a warm welcome to riders of all ages and skill levels. There are group gatherings for gravel rides, with gentle Midwestern landscapes in the surrounding rural areas. Horizon also plans to host a gravel riding clinic soon, as part of their effort to help build awareness of this fun and diverse way to ride.

“Our events and rides don’t mean you have to have a fancy bike or be super fit,” says Hoppe. “Cycling is for everybody.”

Hoppe’s energy hits a new level when he talks about how St. Joseph has grown its infrastructure. “People don’t realize how many great options we have here now for cycling,” he says. “There are new routes, and the community culture toward biking continues to expand, from new city trails to signage and participation. Really, we’re at the tip of the iceberg.” It’s likely that Horizon, with a team who rides almost every day of the year, is the waterpower behind this proverbial iceberg – and another area of growth is daily cycling commuters. “We really want to be the go-to resource about commuting to work by bike, or using biking as a daily transportation method,” says Hoppe. “At first, it seemed more challenging to bike to work. Now, you see it more often and there are paths and roads that connect all sides of town. It’s completely doable.”

As he travels for cycling events around the Midwest, Hoppe takes note of thriving biking communities, taking ideas and perspectives back home to St. Joseph. “There’s no reason we can’t have the same resources as major Midwestern biking cities,” says Hoppe. “In some ways, we may even have better opportunities to begin with than they did.” Because – you guessed it – “cycling is for everybody.”

We can all tip our bike helmets to that.

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