photo courtesy of Rita Thrasher
So a little girl who grew up under Interstate 75 in the shadow of a Kentucky Fried Chicken landmark known as the Big Chicken rode her Huffy Thunder Road bike to the Baskin Robbins ice cream shop and back. She always wanted to ride her bike to school, but it was not allowed for safety reasons.
Meet Rita Thrasher. Her aunt and uncles owned a motorcycle shop in Roswell, Georgia, and she and her sister (children of a single mom) and cousins spent their summer days there, riding bikes or little motorcycles in the woods. She knew of Kennesaw and Stone Mountains in Metro Atlanta, but not of the enormity of others just beyond her reach in the North Georgia Mountains. That would come later.
Fast forward to the 80s when Rita used the road bike she was encourage dto get because it was faster, but felt a familiar tug when she saw mountain biking shoes on her server at a joint named Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia.
But the mountains called. They always called.
Rita and her husband built a home, from scratch, themselves, bordering the National Forest in Gilmer County, Georgia. Their two daughters grew up there, one who has grown to love Atlanta and is active in social justice while finishing their Masters in Clinical Counseling at Georgia State University, and the other who fell in love with that vast starry sky so much that she’s majoring in Aeropace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology right now*.
The girls learned to ride bikes hours away on sandy beaches by the Atlantic Ocean, and on flat live-oak-dappled paths there and on the way to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket. While riding in those safe conditions, Rita wondered then what it would take for her mom to share that experience as well.
In the early 2000’s amidst other life changes, Rita made a decision. Metaphoric, perhaps. Inevitable, of course. She finally bought the mountain bike she always wanted. And that’s when the magic soared. That’s when Rita fell in love for life. With easy access to world-renowned mountain biking trails, she became an expert. But she still wanted her mom to ride.
A few years ago, it was late at night and Rita was searching the internet. She fell upon a PDF I created about how to start a seniors-on-trikes program**. She reached out to Officer Amanda Clay in the City of Alpharetta (whom you’ve met here and here), who had started an adult trike fleet right around then.
Shortly thereafter, she discovered two old adult tricycles at Georgia Tech’s Starter Bikes, a collaborative project between Georgia Tech’s Students Organizing for Sustainability and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition that is now its own student organization.
Some beekeepers from Woodstock, Georgia got one of them. She got the other. It had been used to bring a team mascot around. It was broken, but fixable. Like people, perhaps.
Rita’s mom rode the trike. Then, Rita made the trike available to others and would have five, six seniors at a time, all taking turns. Someone donated a trike they had. A son bought one in the name of his mom. Someone else sponsored another. The local bike shop, Cartecay Bike Shop, got involved. An organization named Stay Active Ellijay did a fundraiser.
The fleet is now six strong. Now known as the Silver Spokes Tricycle Share for Community Wellness, anyone can check out the trikes at the Appalachia Restaurant specialty gourmet shop. There’s an old farm across the street being converted into a park named Harrison Park where you can ride.
Rita’s mom, in her 80s, rides them often. Here she is!
And that would be the end of a great story, wouldn’t it? But it’s not!
That little girl who wanted that mountain bike, who finally got and rides that mountain bike, received a call from a man named Larry Alonso who wanted to start a mountain bike team.
Rita helped create it with him. They started with just a few kids, blending three from the local high school club with Larry’s children.
The Gilmer Cartecay Youth Mountain Bike Team now has about 30 youth members and is part of a 55-team league in the State of Georgia, with five sanctioned races a year. They have 22 parent coaches, some of whom are just beginning to learn to ride mountain bikes. Rita serves as the Assistant Coach.
I asked Rita how her psychology and special education experience helps her with her mountain bike coaching.
“It’s the other way around,” she replied. “Things from biking help me with my very challenging day job working with troubled youth. It gives me street credibility. It keeps me in the best cardio shape of my life. It shows me how to keep starting again after setbacks.”
Rita’s journey from under the interstate to up on the mountain was destiny.
“It was all very organic,” Rita explained. “I keep coming back to things I like, and they keep being bikes.”
* I met Rita and this younger daughter of hers on this Sustainability Tour a couple of years ago. although I had been already following her on social media
** See the You Go, Girl toolkit for that PDF, and other free resources
As Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, a League Cycling Instructor, a PeopleForBikes Ambassador, and the author of Traveling at the Speed of Bike (book and blog), I shine a light on people making it more welcoming to ride bikes and access public space close to home and around the world. Meet some below! If you’d like to put stories to work for your company, municipality, or organization, see here.
Meet Greg Masterson (Metro Atlanta Cycling Club)
Meet Marjon Manitius (Brookhaven Bike Alliance)
Meet Byron Rushing (Atlanta Regional Commission)
Meet Creighton Bryan (Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy)
Meet Betsy Eggers and Jack Honderd (Peachtree Creek Trail and Brookhaven Bike Aliance)
Jon’s Leap of Faith (Street Minister and Bike Saver Extraordinaire)
A Second(er) or Two about Why You’re Needed (City of Dunwoody)
Meet Matt (Painter of New Cycle Track by Mercedes Benz Stadium)
Meet Dr. Walter May (Reinhardt University)
Meet Alex Gee (World Bicycle Relief)
Meet Shawn Deangelo Walton (Everybody Eats ATL and WeCycle)
Meet Charlton Bivins (Clayton County Cycling Club)
Meet Emmett McNair (tour guide extraordinaire)
Meet Mike Flueckiger (Primary Mechanic at Global Spokes)
Thank You, Courtney (NYC’s Peoples’ Bike Mayor)
Meet Carden Wycoff (Wheelchair Warrior at 6 MPH)
Meet Jillian Banfield (Bicycle Mayor of Halifax, Canada)
Meet Arcy Canumay (Bicycle Mayor of Waterloo, Canada)
Meet Shelley Carr (Bicycle Mayor of London, Canada)
Meet Susan Stokhof (Bicycle Mayor of Victoria, Canada)
Meet Daniel Eppstein (Director of Operations at BYCS)
Meet Charise Stephens (Founder of the U Create Macon youth bike program)
Meet Andrea Learned (climate influence consultant)
Meet the Harding Family (empowered by ebikes)
Meet Bill Black (riding for fun and fitness)
Meet 31 Women Making the USA More Welcoming for Riding Bikes (the “You Go Girl!’ Series)
Meet 11 Bike Tour Guides (from the Bicycle Tours of Atlanta Team)