photo courtesy of Emmett McNair
Meet Emmett McNair. In fact, you may have already ridden bikes with him investigating the Gulch in Downtown Atlanta or finding the Flint River headwaters or learning about civil rights and social justice landmarks (which he feels a responsibility to learn and share whenever he has the opportunity as he is aware of his position of white male privilege). Doing bike tours is not his job — that’s at Delta Airlines, where he is the logistics director who makes sure all the airplane spare parts are present and accounted for. It’s his passion.
I’ve been following Emmett on social media for years and his photos are among my very favorite. He’s constantly finding something new (which is often something old and historic) and interesting while out riding his bike. I know so many of the places he photographs (and have, in fact, posted some photos of the same places) but he seems to continually present a fresh perspective. See for yourself —you can follow Emmett on Instagram here.
I finally had the opportunity to interview Emmett, and I chose to spotlight him here because he is a good reminder that there is joy in bike riding and it’s easy to invite others along on the journey. He is always giving impromptu tours to his friends, and he arranges the more formal ones every so often when the time feels right. He even started a bike club a few years ago at Delta for people of all ages and abilities.
“I ride to connect with my environment, and to help other people do that, too.” Emmett told me. “I believe that if we connect with where we live and work, then we will care more about it as well.”
Emmett is not involved with bike advocacy groups or city halls. He just rides, and shares, and sometimes the folks who do that are the ones who make people new to bike riding feel the most welcome of all.
I asked him if he’s always ridden because he’s got that whole free-range vibe going on, but was surprised to hear that he did not ride a bike as a kid.
“I grew up in suburban Fayette County between two state highways,” he said, presenting a reality that many kids still face where bike riding where they live is just not a safe or viable option.
“So how did this all happen?” I asked.
Emmett replied, “About twelve years ago, I realized my metabolism was slowing. What I was doing to stay heathy wasn’t really working anymore. So I needed to get some exercise to stay in shape, and I decided to start riding a bike. I was so surprised how much I could discover about history just by riding around, and I fell in love with it.”
Emmett’s current historic obsession while riding his bike is exploring the leftover tracks, markers, and other detritus from the City of Atlanta’s original streetcar system. Emmett is even thinking of offering a tour. Sign me up.
In the meantime, Emmett is trying to change his own family’s future history. He now lives somewhere bike friendly, and is making sure his son grows up riding a bike.
See the rest of the “Meet” series to date here.