Strava Pro, cyclocross National Champion, PeopleforBikes advocate and the fearless leader of the Ride on Chicago answers a simple question for us: Why do you ride bikes?
Tim Johnson: As cyclists, we’re asked that question pretty often and our answers may run the gamut from fitness to competition, or delve deep into more personal responses. As someone who’s raced professionally for a while now, I’ve given different answers depending on the timing. For a while it was because I was motivated to develop as an athlete and to push my limits. That turned into a profession and became a massive part of my life. Each race season became a ladder of goals and accomplishments that ultimately lead towards the next season full of similar goals and accomplishments. This proved all consuming and fulfilling, but for me, it turned out that it wasn’t necessarily sustainable.
After joining my friend Richard Fries at the National Bike Summit in 2010, I was struck by the number and passion of those that were in attendance from around the country. Advocacy groups on the local and national level came together to share ideas, work on projects and continue their work to make cycling safer and more accessible. These people who I did not know, people who did not know me, were working hard to make my job, my life, and my community safer. I felt the urge to help in someway. Alas, The Ride on Washington was born on a bike ride the following winter. A ride to raise awareness and funds for PeopleforBikes that finished in Washington at the National Bike Summit. What we discovered in that first year was that those not already involved in advocacy – but who wanted to become involved – didn’t know how or where to begin.
Our group that year was made up of road racers, mountain bikers and cyclo cross riders. And while none of them were necessarily “into” advocacy before the ride, they became intrigued by the legislative process once we landed in DC. I found that like myself, they just needed the opportunity and the catalyst to get involved.
As Richard explained to me, there is a lifecycle that some riders go through and if you hit it right, people respond. An example that I always think of is Rebecca Rusch. She was an accomplished MTB racer but hadn’t yet gotten involved in advocacy. After she and her boyfriend came on the 2012 Ride on Washington, she continued to be involved and is now doing great work with PeopleforBikes, the International Mountain Biking Association and World Bicycle Relief.
What I’ve learned is that people are looking to find things that matter to them. As a racer I realize that bike racing is a very small part of the cycling spectrum. As popular as bike racing can be, there are literally millions of cyclists out there that don’t care one bit about it. Lots of advocacy groups work tirelessly on all kinds of amazing projects. Giving them support by lending influence and calling out successes will give their work a huge boost. Professional Athletes can help shine some light on those that are already involved in helping to change the current dynamic. Some very smart people are working to our benefit and the least I can do is rally some friends for the cause. This year you’ll see Christian Vande Velde and Craig Lewis among many others.
I get asked all the time about how someone might get involved in advocacy. Here’s my advice: look around and see what matters to you and see if you could be of assistance. Even more importantly, try and understand what matters to others. This week we are riding from Kansas City, MO to Chicago, IL to raise awareness and funds – $90,000 and counting – for PeopleforBikes and the amazing work they do in cities like Chicago.
Large group riding always has a break-in period, yet today’s ride was smooth almost off the start. And as I expected, the conversations that I overheard while going back and forth were all over the map. I look forward to seeing what ideas, influence and movement this group can do together. Stay tuned and follow the action on Strava, Instagram and Twitter.