Words and images by Ben Samples
Two heads may be better than one, but are two wheels better than four?
The Jacksonvilians of VeloBrew would certainly say “yes.” Across the city, cyclists have been trading their steering wheels for handlebars as they pedal their way to a healthy and adventurous lifestyle.
With no shortage of roads, paths and trails, Jacksonville is an ideal city for a cyclist community. One such community, VeloBrew, has taken full advantage of this diverse terrain and has been connecting cyclists across the city for years. As the president of VeloBrew, Scott Reeves seeks to serve the cycling community of Jacksonville in any way possible.
“Even if we’re not for you, we can point you in the right direction,” Reeves said. “And that’s what we’ve always been about … helping people find their place in cycling.”
While bicycling can certainly be enjoyed solo, having a fellow cyclist to ride alongside as you sweat and struggle can prove to be a huge encouragement according to local cyclist, Luke Sorenson.
“You really just need to get plugged into the cycling community,” Sorenson said. “Because it is fun by yourself … but at the same time, I think you’re missing a big part of it if you don’t get plugged in.”
VeloBrew exists for that exact purpose — plugging people into a group that aims to hone skills and build endurance. By creating a community for cyclists to connect with, the members of VeloBrew seek to be a gathering place of encouragement for cyclists across the city.
And with group rides scheduled nearly every day, VeloBrew organizers intend to keep the cyclists of Jacksonville busy.
Since high school, Drew Miller has had a passion for biking. Now, about 20 years later, he continues to fuel that passion as vice president of VeloBrew.
“There are other clubs that do other things very well, but [when] we started out, [VeloBrew] was more of a social club,” Miller said. “It was just a group that got together for dinner after rides on Wednesdays and lunch after rides on Sundays.”
But VeloBrew has turned into far more than a simple social club.
VeloBrew has grown to about 80 cyclists and is open to individuals of any skill level — for free. Not only are all experience levels welcome, but also all ages; members of VeloBrew have recently begun to focus on younger riders.
Through their junior development program, the individuals of VeloBrew seek to encourage and challenge young athletes in all spheres of life: personal, intellectual, physical and spiritual. Young riders within the program are even required to participate in volunteer work so that they are giving back to the city that they ride through.
But for all of its heart, the cyclists of VeloBrew never neglect the competitive side of their sport. For those who have a taste for racing, coordinators at VeloBrew organize races throughout the year, and, once again, cyclists of all experience levels and ages are encouraged to participate.
This openness is what sets VeloBrew apart. It is a unique club within an even more unique city. Miller said that the thriving cycling community is part of what makes Jacksonville something special.
“The really the cool thing,” Miller said, “is [when] you go ride and, no matter where you’re at, you see groups go in the other direction, and another five minutes there’s another group going the other direction.”
With all of its terrains, roads, paths and beaches, Jacksonville is a breeding ground for passionate cyclists. By taking full advantage of this passion and combining it with people’s natural desire for community, VeloBrew has created a way for individuals across the city to connect over an activity that is extremely healthy.
For anyone interested in getting involved, it’s simple: simply show up! On VeloBrew’s website, velobrew.org, there is a schedule of upcoming rides, which are color-coded according to the average speed the riders are expected to maintain. Those interested in participating need only to select an appropriate ride; then, simply bring a bike, helmet, and spandex of choice.
There is no doubt, however, that riding down the street on two thin wheels and only a few metal bars can be intimidating – especially as vehicles zoom by you, creating a rush of air that you fear will tip you over. Much like anyone’s first time learning to ride as a child, there are still fears in climbing onto a bike. The fear of falling and embarrassment may still be present, and these fears may discourage anyone from riding regularly – especially in a group.
But VeloBrew seeks to ease these fears by creating a low-pressure environment where failures are seen as opportunities for growth and fears are faced through the encouragement of others.
“Everybody was new to the sport at one time,” Miller said, recalling his first exposure to the sport, decades ago. “Just get out there and do it.”