The Importance of the Right Fitness Equipment: Carolina Conversations with Greg Combs of May Street Bicycles, Bridget Cook of RIOT (Run in Our Tribe), and Dana Myers of River Jack Outdoor Trading Co.

by Corbie Hill | Photography by Mollie Tobias

This month we felt like doing something a little different. Instead of speaking with one person for our Carolina Conversations feature, we spoke to several professionals about the importance of proper fitness equipment. Our theme this month, after all, is “Living Healthy,” and a major part of that is keeping active.

Greg Combs, owner of May Street Bicycles

1110 N. May Street, Southern Pines


OutreachNC: How does someone who wants to start biking ease into it so they don’t hurt themselves?

Greg Combs: Number one, they have to be healthy. They can stand up, sit down – the basic human functions, up and down stairs. If they’re comfortable riding on a stationary bike at the fitness center and they can do that 15, 20 minutes at any pace, then I would say consider getting the dust off your bike and riding.

The next piece to that is safety – wearing a helmet, putting a light on the bike so people can see you from behind. People driving, they can’t read your mind, so you have to be on the road in a manner that is predictable.

If your goal is “I want to do ten miles today,” you may be better off doing 20 half-mile laps because maybe after lap five or six you may feel like you need to [take a break]. So going out and turning back – set goals. How far can I go?

With my head injury, there’s days I feel fantastic, but there’s other days I don’t. So I do a 28 mile loop, and there’s five or six cutoffs where I can shorten it. A half-a-mile loop is not uncommon around here. You can do that. If you live in a golf community, there’s all kinds of places you can ride in a golf community, and even here in Southern Pines.

And then your basic stuff – be hydrated, in this heat and the humidity.

In terms of selecting the size of your bike, is that an issue of safety or comfort or both?

It’s a combination. I think having something that’s more upright – you don’t have to be perpendicular to the ground, but somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees bend over to almost straight up is best for seniors. Getting something like a flat bar bike, like a trail bike or a hybrid would be the best ones to go with. Hybrids have a whole lot of benefits but the downside is [they have] smaller tires, and if they’re not completely aired efficiently and you hit a rock, you can get a flat. When you turn a corner with a skinnier tire, where there’s a little bit of sand, that can be a safety issue too.

I’m a big fan of the trail bikes. They’re totally multipurpose. You can ride around in the neighborhoods, you can ride around on the roads or you can ride on the grass or you can ride around the Reservoir. That’s not a bad place to ride if you’re wanting to get into it and you’re intimidated by traffic and people watching you in the neighborhood.

I’ve sold some of what’s called e-bikes – pedal assist or electric bikes. One guy was obese and every time he would come to a hill it would nearly kill him, so he got an electric bike. He pushes the button to help him get over [the hill, and] he’s still able to keep riding. He lost, like, 40 pounds. Another guy got a hip replacement, and we’ve got a lot of those folks around here. Same thing – every time he had to do some kind of high exertion it would aggravate the hip, so he got an electric bike. So he’s doing his rehab and day-to-day function. If it starts giving him an ache and a pain, he just pushes a button.

E-bikes are fantastic, but they’re pricey. There are some you can get for around $2,300, and they go up to around $5,000, $6,000, $7,000. If you just want an around the neighborhood trail bike, those are $600.

Greg Combs may own May Street Bicycles, but he opens up on a completely different tack. “Get a dog. Walk the dog. If that’s boring, get a bike,” Combs says.

He stands in his store in Southern Pines, his Belgian Malinois Kilo leashed beside him. His rationale: you can talk yourself out of a bike ride if it’s rainy, if it’s too hot out – you get the idea – but a dog needs to be walked regardless of the weather.

Kilo serves an additional purpose for Combs. In summer 2017, Combs was struck by a car while cycling and wound up with a cracked skull. He survived, but the recovery process sapped his energy levels. And then a friend suggested he get a “brain dog.” Now that he has Kilo, he has to get up and go – even if his energy level is low.

“She gets me up at 5:15, 5:30,” Combs says. “There’s days we’ll walk an hour, an hour and a half.”

Bridget Cook, RIOT (Run in our Tribe)

205 NE Broad Street, Southern Pines


OutreachNC: How important is it to run in the
right shoe? What can happen to you if you’re in the wrong shoe?

Bridget Cook: The biggest thing that we see that people come in here with is shin splints. What we look for when someone comes in is what their foot does. You either pronate or supinate – I pronate pretty bad so I turn in, my feet flatten out. If I don’t have a shoe with support holding me up a little, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on your shins and your knees. You’re not going to want to run because you’re going to be in pain.

We look for a few [things, such as] how your arch is, if you need a stability shoe or if you need a neutral shoe. You definitely need to be in the right shoe. If you just go to Dick’s and you pick out a shoe and it’s the wrong shoe, you’re going to get hurt. So really, just looking for what shoe they need first, whether it’s stability, neutral or motion control.

Are there any age-specific questions older
customers have?

Honestly, when an older person comes in and they say they’re either running or walking, I automatically go to Hoka. There’s a ton of cushion in them, and cushion is really important when you’re older because it softens the impact. Most of the older people are walking on the streets or the sidewalks, so you want something with a ton of cushion. You don’t want the minimalist shoes for them. The older people love Hokas. This is all cushion, so it’s going to soften the impact of the hard pavement and protect your shins, protect your knees and just make it really comfortable.

A shoe is so personal – once you get your shoe, you’re going to live with it. Is there a way to test them out?

Most shoe companies give a certain period where they’ll take back the shoes if they hurt you, so we do two weeks where you can try them out. If they don’t work for you, you can take them back. Even trying on a shoe here, you’re not going to know how it feels until you take it out for a longer period of time. Even if you do like it, maybe there’s something you notice more when you’re walking or running that you didn’t notice in the store. I think they know that and that’s why the companies let you try stuff out first.

Dana Myers, manager and buyer at River Jack Outdoor Trading Co.

181 NE Broad Street, Southern Pines


OutreachNC: With trekking poles and walking sticks, what function do those have?

Dana Myers: We went on an outing with one of our groups and we got to test some of their poles. The difference is kind of amazing. It’s not that you need it so much, but it is kind of this helpful tool that you do notice an improvement in certain things. It’s not always the up, it’s really the down – down is a lot easier, but you go a lot faster. If you’re on a rocky trail or a lot of roots or something like that, it helps you maintain a pace and help with stability.

I think most people who start using them could never go back to not using them. It’s one of those things – once you get the hang of it and the motion of it, then it becomes a really big, helpful tool.

The walking sticks are kind of the same thing. Most people, when you’re on a trail in general, you kind of do it on your own – you find a cool stick and you pick one up. With the kids, they always kind of tend to do that. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s a helpful tool – you get cobwebs out if they’re in front of you.

Around here I think a lot of people can use them on the street. There’s different bottoms that are used for different things. There’s a snow pick. If you’re doing it for aerobic activity, one that’s a little more rounded. Trekking poles help you maintain a pace and help with stability.

As you were saying before the interview, people around here like them because it doesn’t look like a cane.

Exactly. It’s kind of a cool use for something that’s functional.

Let’s switch to paddling. Do you have older customers who want to get into or back into paddling?

A lot of people around here either used to do it, maybe had to stop and are wanting to get back into it or they have older equipment that just needs updating. A lot of our customers just really want something to do aerobic outside. It’s an exercise tool. Their doctors told them they need … help with their upper body and maybe they’re not gym people. Maybe they told them a kayak would be good for their upper body strength and things like that. It’s an awesome thing to get you outside and to get a little aerobic activity. There’s definitely a lot of opportunity around here to do it, and it’s easy stuff. It doesn’t have to be these roaring rapids. At Reservoir Park, just throw the boat in and go.

How about the weight of the boats? Is a kayak tough to carry?

It depends. Our main boats that we sell are between nine and a half and ten and 11 feet, so we really kind of focus on the recreational lengths. Most boats range between 35 and 45 pounds in that length range. For some people, 35 pounds is not a big deal. I think the hardest part is getting it on a vehicle, and that’s the challenge for anyone – that’s the challenge for me. So people that maybe live on a lake and can drag their boat up on the grass beside it, then that’s a lot easier. But there are things to help that, like kayak carts that have the wheels so you can just drag it basically and have it off of the ground. Car top systems make it a little bit
easier, too.

Can you speak to the advantage of breathable shirts and breathable material?

We really try to look at things that have UPF ratings that are wicking, that get away moisture from your body, because it is so hot here. In the summer we talk about UPF and wicking and keeping you cool when it’s hot. In the winter we talk about keeping you dry when it’s cold so your sweat doesn’t make you colder and the differences between synthetic fibers and wool fibers and natural fibers and cotton and the pros and cons of all those things. We have clothes that have bug repellant imbedded in the fibers.

Generally, most people want to be outside, they don’t want to be miserable and hot. They have to have sun protection because it’s important or their doctors have told them. So you can have a long sleeve shirt that gives you protection that doesn’t make you want to keel over. Some of our stuff has cooling fibers, so certain things actually are sweat activated, so when you sweat it actually has a cooling sensation on your skin.

Even when you’re walking, the importance of good socks and good shoes and stuff that’s gonna promote health instead of making it harder to do those things. Blisters suck. Most people don’t realize that it’s not always your shoe that’s giving you the blister. It could be your sock that’s scrunched down in your toe that’s creating those hot spots. You might pay a little bit more for those things … but it’s expensive for a reason. There’s technology behind this stuff. It’s not just a cotton sock that you can buy in bulk, but one pair of socks that’s $20 could last you 20 years.