“Bicycling is a big part of the future. It has to be. There’s something wrong with a society that drives a car to workout in a gym.” – Bill Nye
That quote pretty much sums up the cycling philosophy of Brevard residents Russ and Nancy Knights. The Knights family is sort of locally famous, and have had a number of articles published about their unique lifestyle – they get around almost entirely by bike.
“On average, we put 7,000 miles on our car each year,” said Nancy. “Our car doesn’t come out for anything in town. That’s the way we have done it for 30 years.”
The Knights committed to commuting by bike in 1988, when they bought their house on Whitmire St. for $26,000. At that time, each of them started their own business: Russ took up lawn care and Nancy started a residential and commercial cleaning service. They had carts made for their bikes, and have been getting to work that way every since.
Russ can be seen pulling his trailer, complete with lawn mowers, weed eaters, hedge trimmers…the whole nine yards. Nancy’s trailer is loaded down with vacuum cleaners, mops, cleaning agents and the like.
They get all the work they need to support themselves within a three-mile radius of downtown Brevard. Russ doesn’t have any clients past the high school, and Nancy wound up with seven homes to clean within a few blocks of their own home. Sometimes she may lose a cleaning contract, but she fills that time immediately with yard work. They get so many calls for yard work that they have to turn work away.
“We don’t live high on the hog, and we never wanted to, but it fulfilled anything we wanted,” said Russ. “Our cost to do business has been a lot less than many others. We use the bikes for hauling, and the cost for all that is probably below the cost of insurance for a truck, let alone the gas and payments and all that. So it sounded like a winner to me: cut costs drastically and be fit.”
The Knights met while they were both on separate bike touring trips in Canada, so it’s not like one of them pulled the other into this lifestyle. From Alberta they took off to Arizona to visit his brother. They went to California and Oregon next, all by bike. They traveled the world through their 20s by bike until Nancy got the urge to have children.
As you might expect, the Knights started taking family rides to the Davidson River when their girls, Sam and Anna, were very small. Day trips for lunch by the water were common, all before Brevard had the nice paved path leading into Pisgah National Forest. Each year they went a little bit further out, until they were old enough to pedal for longer lengths.
By the time Sam, the younger, was ten years old, they could make the round trip from Brevard across the state line to the lakes in South Carolina, which required descending and climbing back over the continental divide.
And although it was tough for the girls at times, those early miles were preparation for some unforgettable trips, like touring to the coast with foreign exchange students they hosted from France, or touring through Europe, which they have done several times. Each parent got one vacation a year with the girls, and Russ always wanted to go bike touring.
Of course, commuting by bike in a town that gets as much rain as a temperate rain forest can have its challenges. It was normal to see the family rolling through town, no matter what the conditions, and Anna Knights remembers riding to school and walking around in wet shoes all day.
“Everything below my knees would be soaking wet and my shoes would be squelching with water all day,” she said.
On the other hand, the bikes gave them a lot of independence. Both girls knew how to navigate and were familiar with the names of every street in town. That meant they were free to join clubs and meet friends without needing their parents’ time or assistance.
These days, Anna and Sam are grown and leading their own lives. Anna joined the Air Force, where she said she doesn’t get to ride much. Sam still lives in Brevard and works at Gaia Herbs; Nancy says Sam doesn’t ride much if she can help it.
But Russ and Nancy can still be seen riding around town. In fact, Russ says if people don’t see making regular appearances on his bike, they call to check on him.
If you’re around town and see a tall, smiling man or a sharp-eyed woman pulling a trailer filled with equipment, don’t be surprised. They’re the Knights family, the most dedicated cyclists in Brevard.