July 18, 2014

Commemorative bike trip to New York launches in Rock Hill

A Rock Hill native will launch his 700-mile bike journey to New York from the Giordana Velodrome on Saturday. The trip will recreate his great-grandfather’s “ambassador tour” to the World’s Fair in 1939.

Of all the excuses people have thought up to wiggle out of jury duty, Jay White may have given a North Charleston judge an honest excuse this month that he hadn’t heard before.

Three days before his scheduled jury duty, White will launch from Rock Hill on a 700-mile bike trip to recreate his great-grandfather’s 1939 “ambassador tour” which promoted the city at the World’s Fair in Flushing, N.Y.

On July 22 – the day White was summoned for jury duty – he says he’ll probably be somewhere in North Carolina riding his one-speed bicycle named “Old Betsy II.”

White says he thinks he’s taken care of the jury duty summons: he wrote a letter to the court to ask that his jury duty be postponed. He also asked the judge to follow his “75th Year, Still One Gear” trip by checking out his Facebook page and website.

On Saturday, White will kick off the 10-day trip at the Giordana Velodrome at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center at Riverwalk. From there, he’ll retrace nearly exactly James Spratt White II’s original ride on “Old Betsy” – the first – a 1936 Columbia Manufacturing Inc. one-speed cruiser.

White can’t ride his bicycle on the interstate so he’ll be using county and state roads and thoroughfares to pedal across six states.

He’s planned 15 main stops between Rock Hill and Flushing. On the journey, White said he’ll meet small town mayors, politicians, journalists and community members interested in his trip which promotes that “Rock Hill is a good town.”

The point of the tour, he said, is to tell people about what the city of Rock Hill can offer to visitors, residents and businesses. Many of his conversations will likely be about the city’s recreational offerings, especially competitive cycling venues such as the velodrome and the under-construction Novant Health BMX Supercross Track.

USA Cycling, the organizing body for upcoming BMX and past velodrome track events in Rock Hill, is one of the sponsors for White’s bike trip. The group is helping White map his ride and find cyclists along the way who will join him on some stretches between South Carolina and New York.

While he already knows many of the places he’ll stop to sleep and eat, he said this week that “you can only plan so much.” On “Old Betsy II,” White will be at the mercy of the weather during his trip. He predicts he can ride about 80 miles a day but he’s allowed for nearly five extra days for unexpected changes.

He’ll have a support vehicle nearby during the trip and someone helping him update the bike tour’s website and social media accounts. Similar to his great-grandfather who wrote letters back home on the 1939 trip, White will be updating followers on Facebook and Twitter.

The support car will carry spare bicycle parts, first-aid supplies, food and water.

He has planned for stops in five states: seven stops in North Carolina, two in Virginia, three in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania. His final stop is Flushing, N.Y., where he’ll visit the World’s Fair site before returning south on an Amtrak train.

White hopes local cyclists will join him on Saturday, he said, on the first two hours of his trip. From the velodrome, he’ll ride to Fort Mill where he plans to stop for breakfast and visit with other riders at the Hardee’s on Tom Hall Street.

From Fort Mill, White and his followers will bike to the North Carolina-South Carolina border for a quick stop before heading to Matthews, N.C. From Rock Hill to Matthews will take about two hours, he said.

For those wishing to ride the initial stretch, White said an RV will be available to shuttle people and their bikes back to Rock Hill, whether they ride to Fort Mill, the state line or Matthews. As a bonus, he said, Bloody Mary drinks and sweet tea will be available.

Also on Saturday, an exhibit called “Riding Through Rock Hill” will open at the historic White Home at East White Street and Elizabeth Lane. James Spratt White II’s 1939 bike ride will be featured in the exhibit.

The White Home museum was the homestead of Ann Hutchinson White, the woman considered by some historians to be the “Mother of Rock Hill.” She was James Spratt White II’s grandmother.

The nonprofit group Historic Rock Hill hosted a sold-out reception for White on Friday night at the White Home to celebrate his trip.

This week, White said he’s excited for the Rock Hill send-off and the commemorative bike ride that he’s been training for for nearly six months.

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