Hunka hunka burning rubber: Nashville bike route looks like Elvis playing a guitar

All morning it rained cats and hound dogs. 

Still, this trio of Vanderbilt biology researchers kept pedaling.

From west Nashville to east, up and down street after street, they plotted out guitar strings and bell bottoms and one rockin’ hairdo.

They rode with one goal in mind: Create an image of Elvis.

A trio of Vanderbilt University biology researchers — Nick Adams, Dale Edgerton and Bryan Shepherd — rode through Nashville to create Strava art that looks like Elvis playing the guitar. (Photo: Submitted)

To draw him, they had to travel 100 miles of Nashville streets with just two things — their bicycles and a GPS tracking device.

The Music City-themed bike route is part of a global trend some call GPS doodling, or “Strava art.” Runners, cyclists, skateboarders and other athletes trek around towns, and even across countries, with GPS devices strapped to their wrists or handlebars to create pictures with their activity routes.

When they are done, they post them to networks like Strava, which is essentially social media for athletes. It’s meant as a training tool, where people can compare their performances and friends and followers can like and comment on them.

What’s just as cool about it is that each route forms a thin red line on a map. And that line can unclip an athlete’s imagination.

Stephen Lund is one of the most prolific GPS artists out there. The cyclist from Victoria, Canada, has ridden thousands of miles and designed routes that look like a giant giraffe, a T. rex, an anteater and a Ninja Turtle.

For him, what began as just exercise has become an exercise in creativity — and it’s ignited a passion that has grown to become a world phenomenon. Even in Nashville.

On Saturday morning, a trio of Vanderbilt professors — Nick Adams, Dale Edgerton and Bryan Shepherd — cycled through Music City to create a bike route that looks like Elvis Presley playing the guitar.

Wearing gold glasses and fake sideburns, they rode.


It started with Honest Abe and a birthday surprise

Nashville cyclists Bryan Shepherd and Dale Edgerton perfected a Strava art picture of Abraham Lincoln. (Photo: Submitted)

It didn’t start with Elvis, actually. In fact, it was someone much older — a forefather of our country — that was the original Strava art inspiration for the group.

At 4:14 a.m. on Presidents Day in February, Edgerton and Shepherd wanted to surprise Adams for his birthday. They set up an early morning ride, but they didn’t tell him where they were going. 

The three had become friends and cycling buddies, because they all commute to and from work by bike. One comes 11 miles to Vanderbilt from his home near the airport; the other two travel 11 to 17 miles from Williamson County.

In their day jobs, the biologists work to solve important global issues. Right now, Adams is focused on creating devices that can diagnose infectious diseases to improve health care in rural clinics and countries such as Africa and India.

But, Adams said, “I like being creative for the sake of being creative and not necessarily to solve a big problem.” GPS doodling is the perfect hobby. It helps give rides a purpose, said Adams, who has never loved the idea of “cycling for no reason and grinding it out.”

It is a way to make exercise fun, dissolving the delirium of riding the same roads and routes on each daily commute.

Wearing gold glasses and sideburns, a trio of biology researchers from Vanderbilt University — Nick Adams, left, Dale Edgerton, center, and Bryan Shepherd — rode through Nashville to create Strava art that looks like Elvis playing the guitar. Midway through the 100.3-mile ride they posed in front of the Parthenon in Centennial Park. (Photo: Submitted)

It was actually Shepherd’s commute that became their first inspiration. When uploaded to Strava, it looked a little like the features of a face, he realized. So he started to use his bike like a red marker, expanding the image with Edgerton’s help to create a doodle.

When it was complete, they took Adams on an unusual ride. Adams knew they were drawing something that overcast 33-degree February morning, “but I was so confused with all the rerouting,” he said.

The 126-mile route stretched almost up to Hendersonville, through Mt. Juliet and down to Brentwood. And when they were done, it looked like a president. Abraham Lincoln, to be exact.

Adams knew almost immediately he wanted to make one of his own.

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