Cycling Through Scottsdale History

By Joan Fudala

Scottsdalians have been putting their mettle to the pedal since before our streets were paved. So it’s no real surprise—but a welcome accolade—that the League of American Bicyclists recognized Scottsdale as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Gold Level for 2011-2014.

RememberWhenConsider these bits of our bicycling history:

• During the 1920s and 1930s, bicycles shared Scottsdale’s dusty, unpaved streets with horses and ponies, particularly when children were heading to Scottsdale Grammar School. With little car traffic, one could ride his or her bike right down the middle of the street. In his memoir Road to Scottsdale, Albert J. “AJ” Lieber describes his thrill at receiving an Ivar Johnson tricycle for Christmas in 1938. From his home on West Main Street (now the Old Town Tortilla Factory), he could ride a few blocks east to hang out at Earl’s Market, Chew’s Market or Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop. AJ’s father helped him rig up two open-topped, two-wheeled dog carriers, which he’d hitch to the back of his trike to take his beloved dachshunds on his youthful adventures.

• In his book Scottsdale Memories, former Scottsdale City Councilman, state legislator and business leader Paul Messinger recounts his experience as a newspaper delivery boy in 1940s Scottsdale, biking 11 miles twice a day:

In those days, because of the length of our routes and in the interest of time, we modified our bicycle gears so that a single turn of the pedals turned the rear tire four times. We could go really fast—on flat roads. Given the length of the routes, the newspapers paid each carrier for the miles they rode (over and above the money we were paid to actually deliver the newspaper). We got one dollar per mile per month…A new bicycle, if you could get a wartime priority to buy one, generally cost $35 to $40…I also remember how satisfying it was to watch the sunrise over Scottsdale’s pristine desert and its gentle farm fields, or see coyotes coming home after a night’s hunt. Nonetheless, it was lonely riding our bicycles down empty dirt roads in the early morning and late evening…Way back then, most every family in Scottsdale took one or both newspapers. And, over time, we got to know everyone in town.

• Citizens participating on the Scottsdale Town Enrichment Program (STEP) committees made recommendations that started and expanded Scottsdale’s parks, recreation and transportation infrastructure. In 1972, the city took its first steps to develop a bicycle pathway system. According to the Spring 1972 edition of Scottsdale Steps Forward, “$10,000 will be immediately used to accelerate renewal of a form of recreation-exercise-transportation in which as much as $500,000 may ultimately be invested… Scottsdale’s plans call for the immediate operation of a bicycle path two and a half miles long…the 30-mile system, which is proposed to be opened gradually, will connect all areas of the community with access to Arizona State University and Scottsdale Community College…Six-to eight-feet-wide bike paths are proposed to be built on both sides of the Indian Bend Wash, in parks and along canal banks.” The city of Scottsdale continues to place a priority on alternate transportation/mobility systems, particularly bikeways. The city has convened task forces and studies in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998 and throughout the 2000s to enhance Scottsdale’s bikeways.

• In 1991, the Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) established a bike patrol unit. Fifth Avenue Merchants Association donated the unit’s first bike, used by Officer Nigel Sherriff. The first patrol area was Fifth Avenue and downtown Scottsdale. The SPD began using a bike in its D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program, taking it to schools and other events. Today, according to the SPD website, the Bike Unit is responsible for citywide liquor enforcement, attending and hosting special and sporting events, plain clothes surveillance and assisting in other SPD operations. Officers are also trained in mountain biking. The SPD has a bike registration program, designed to create unique identifiers on citizens’ bikes; IDs are then entered into a database to recover lost or stolen bikes.

• Several Scottsdale residents started the city’s Handlebar Helpers earn-a-bike and apprentice program in 1994. Jack Harris, Rosemary Mossbarger and Doug Banfelder brought their idea to the city’s Parks and Recreation Division, which embraced the concept. Jack, a former bike-shop owner, donated bikes, bike parts and equipment to get the program started. Since inception, Handlebar Helpers has been housed at the Paiute Neighborhood Center. The program has five goals: encourage volunteerism, provide job and life skills for community youth, provide positive adult role models for at-risk youth, provide reconditioned bicycles to employees who bike to work, and promote safe bicycling and environmental stewardship. Handlebar Helpers bike team members recondition bikes, attend the special events and pick up donated bikes. When someone earns a bike through community service, they are also given a bike helmet and safety instructions. For information on donating, volunteering or earning a bike, see

• The Scottsdale area has had several bicycle racing events that have drawn participants from throughout the Valley and nation. The Cactus Cup mountain bike race was held in and around the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and McDowell Mountain Regional Park during the 1990s. More than 2,500 racers rode in the 1998 Cactus Cup race on the McDowell Mountain Competitive Track at the county park that adjoins the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Since 2004, the Tour de Scottsdale, produced and hosted by the DC Ranch Community Council, has attracted hundreds of riders to the autumn event. The Tour honors the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, which is the glorious backdrop for this race and ride, and raises funds and friends for the non-profit McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. There are two events, a 70-mile race and a 30-mile citizens’ ride, that begin at Market Street in DC Ranch. For information on the 2014 Tour de Scottsdale (to become a sponsor or to participate), see

• For nine years, residents and visitors have enjoyed a free bike tour of Scottsdale Public Art during Cycle the Arts, usually held in April, which is Valley Bike Month.

• To capitalize on visitors’ desire to bike Scottsdale, the Bespoke Inn, Café & Bicycles opened on Marshall Way in downtown Scottsdale in 2013. Among its amenities, the small property offers guests access to a bicycle. Other area resorts also offer bikes to their guests.

• To print/download maps of Scottsdale area bikeways, see

• For information on mountain biking in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, see under the Visit the Preserve section, or for maps and the hours that the trailheads are open.

• Too hot to bike for the next few months? Enjoy pedaling a stationary bike in a nice, air-conditioned place (your home, health club, city fitness center or senior center), and live vicariously through bike-helmet-cam rides through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and other bike-able places via YouTube.


Joan Fudala is a Scottsdale-based community historian and author. Contact: