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Downtown Bike Jaunt and Willie Wonka Provide For Very “Sweet Ride”

Cyclists head out for a ride throughout downtown Roanoke before watching the movie “Willie Wonka.”

by Gene Marrano

RIDE Solutions has been doing its part in the last few years to promote alternative transportation options, as a way to make the quality of life and the environment better in the Roanoke Valley. Through its website and riding events it has encouraged people to take up bicycle riding as one viable alternative.

But what to do when the weather turns cold and people long to return to the comfort and warmth of their automobiles? For starters, offer cold weather riders a sweet from Chocolatepaper, the confectionary haven on Market Street downtown. That’s what ambassador River Laker has been doing this winter; the Carless Brit has been stopping bikers in the street, asking for comments about riding in the winter and why they do it. In return he offers them a voucher good for a treat at Chocolatepaper.

RIDE Solutions called it the “Sweet Ride.” It celebrated the effort by offering hot chocolate at Chocolatepaper last Sunday, along with a 20-minute bike ride through the streets on a cold, crisp day and a free showing of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the Shadowbox Cinema on Kirk Avenue. “We wanted to just step back and say [bicycling] is fun,” said RIDE Solutions program director Jeremy Holmes, “just like eating a chocolate bar.”

“You just have to give yourself permission to do it,” said Michael Meiser about riding in cold weather. “The hardest part is [just] stepping out the door and doing it.”  Chris Robitalle told Laker that “as long as I have my music, I’m good,” even in the cold weather. Working with Laker was a natural: “he’s out there every day on his bike and is not afraid to go up to people,” said Holmes.

“If I saw someone riding around during this past month or two when its been cold…I’d holler out to them to stop,” said Laker. All but a few agreed to a quick interview and a photo, which wound up on He then explained Sweet Ride and offered a voucher for Chocolatepaper.  Laker sees more bikers on Roanoke roads overall, even in cold weather. Riding in the winter is all about mind over matter: “once you’re out there, its all right.”

Capturing the stories of people who ride bikes every day, primarily for transportation, was another reason to offer the Sweet Ride incentive.  “They’re out there doing this all the time,” said Holmes of an initiative not geared toward the “Lycra clad,” crowd.

“Bicyclists are every day people,” noted Holmes, who sees evidence that more people are riding bikes on a regular basis in Roanoke. More businesses are interested in the “bicycle friendly” designation and the bike racks offered by Ride Solutions, which also encourages carpooling and mass transit options.

“We’re very eager to get more [racks] out,” said Holmes, who also recognizes the City of Roanoke for installing additional racks as well. “That’s another piece of evidence that people need them.” Holmes estimates that 20 RIDE Solutions racks have been installed in the downtown area and at venues as far away as the Mojo Café on Brambleton Avenue and Lord Botetourt High School.

“People tend to put their bikes away when it gets cold,” said Holmes. We were trying to encourage people to still ride in the winter.” We just wanted to come at it kind of light and fun [with Sweet Ride] and recognize the folks that are doing it.”  He anticipates that something like Sweet Ride will return next winter in some fashion, rewarding cyclists who ignore the cold weather to keep riding on two wheels.

See more comments from cold weather bikers, plus route maps, etc. at

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