By John Addison (8/19/08). After bicycling for 152 miles in 6 hours and 23 minutes in Beijing’s smoggy air, the gold medal was determined by a fraction of a second. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez willed a supreme effort to out-sprint the world’s great riders like David Rebellin and Fabian Cancellara. Although Sanchez could ignore pain and exhaustion during the 152 miles, he could not hold back his tears while listening to Spain’s national anthem being played in recognition for his gold medal victory.
Fifty-seven million U.S. citizens ride a bicycle, at least, on occasion. Over one billion globally use bicycles, famously including millions in our Olympic host nation. For all of us “Everyday Olympians,” the pace is gentle as we enjoy exercise and fresh air. For some of us, the bicycle is a practical part of our commuting and reaching other destinations.
Visit any college or university, and you are likely to see thousands of students, staff, and professors bicycling instead of driving. Parking is normally such a challenge that it is faster to bicycle, or even walk, rather than drive and search for parking. Some universities encourage students to start on the right foot, by having both feet on pedals. At the University of California, Santa Cruz, for example, freshmen are not allowed to have a car on campus. My niece, Lindsay Short, rode to classes and work on bicycle and buses, not missing the car that she left behind.
Gary Bulmer often commutes 25 miles round trip to and from work with breathtaking rides through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge. He is a master chef who enjoys great food, yet never gains a pound because of all his bike riding. He and his wife Sue live in beautiful Sausalito, a community located where the Marin Headlands reach down to the Bay, and both work in San Francisco.
When his work extends into the evening, Gary usually returns home on an express bus with a bike rack in front of the bus. Public transit in most major cities, such as San Francisco, permits boarding with bikes, making one-way bike commutes easy.
Gary is serious about fitness. He normally rides to work year round, rain or shine. In addition to the health and environmental benefits of bicycling, Gary saves $35 per day in parking, gas, and bridge tolls.
Sue enjoys recreational bike riding. As a director at a major publisher, bicycle commuting does not normal match her need for business attire and the lack of a shower at work. During the summer, however, on “casual Fridays,” Sue enjoys riding to work, then riding home with Gary as the stress of the work week disappears into the infinity of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a wonderful way to start their weekend together.
During my rides with Sue and Gary, I have always been impressed with their attention to safety including wearing helmets, inflated tires, using bike lanes and dedicated pathways when possible, riding clear of car doors that could suddenly open, and being visible to drivers.
Safety concerns, however, do keep many Americans from bicycle commuting to work. As Mark Twain quipped, “Ride a bicycle and you won’t regret it, if you live.”
Nichole Cooke survived the intense Olympic bicycle race in rain that made downhill hairpin turns dangerously slippery and caused four great riders to crash. She is proud of her first Olympic gold medal. She is no stranger to great victories. Paris has acclaimed her for twice winning women’s most demanding bicycle race, La Grande Boucle Féminine (the women's Tour de France).
Paris encourages “Everyday Olympians” to use bicycles by offering 750 stations where over 10,000 bicycles are available to quickly get between major destinations including transit stations.
Thanks to what started in Paris, 5 million Europeans in 16 cities are now members of Cyclocity® with locations near major public transit stops, large buildings, and near major employers. Paying an average of thirty euros per year, members do not need to own a bike. They simply use a bike for less than 30 minutes without paying a premium. Members use their smart cards to unlock a city bike at a transit center, ride one way to the Cyclocity® bike rack nearest their destination and lock the bike. The same bike is used by various members for up to 50 times per day.
Our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, is starting with 10 stations and 120 bikes. But D.C. officials are eager to expand it quickly if the response is good. Proponents say the program easily could be expanded to more than 1,000 bikes at more than 100 stations within a year.
SmartBike D.C. is similar to car-sharing services like Zipcar. Users sign up for a $40 annual membership to gain access to a network of bikes stored at computerized racks around the city. To unlock the bike, users simply scan their access cards. The bikes can be used for up to three hours at a time and can be returned at any SmartBike station.
LeBron James, high point shooter in the NBA, is committed to the USA will again achieving Olympic gold in basketball. In an interview with Time Magazine’s Sean Gregory, LeBron described how he visualizes wearing gold on the medal stand. “It’s going to be like waking up on Christmas Day. All you dreamed about this whole month was having that bike you wanted, and you get down to your living room – it’s there.”
If not in your own living room, check the garage and your bike is probably there. Now, close your eyes and visualize more health for you and the planet. Then open your eyes and smile. Your dream is there. All you need to do is enjoy the ride.
(c) Copyright 2008 John Addison. John Addison publishes of the Clean Fleet Report. While researching and writing this article, John ran a few errands on his bicycle.