Cyclists are frequently single-minded. I’m guilty; I got into cycling through road racing, after all, and that part of the sport will forever shape me. But I have pushed to branch out from road racing, and racing in general, as I think all riders should. I enter Gran Fondos and mountain bike stage races as much as road races and criteriums; duking it out on fast group rides is becoming more and more sporadic. But I’m still racing minded. Fueled by Strava, the latest power meters, and carbon clinchers, I struggle to escape myself and my road racing roots.
Tim Johnson’s Ride on Chicago is a ride for recovering types like me, replacing twelve steps with 600 miles of Midwest tarmac and gravel back roads. It exists to raise funds and awareness for PeopleForBikes, to make cycling safer and easier for cyclists of all types.
Avid racers, commuters or enthusiasts — PeopleForBikes is for the every rider. We all need to better understand what cycling means to the rest of the cycling world. All of us, as cyclists, can combine to better riding conditions for the commuter, the triathlete, or the child riding to school.
This ride, of which we are finished just the first day, was created by Tim Johnson, one of the United States’ top cyclocross racers, to save himself from “that racer,” the spandexed equivalent of “that guy,” the one lacking courtesy, seemingly unaware of the grander consequences of his actions. Sometimes that person was Tim Johnson himself, sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s all of us. Richard Fries and the National Bike Summit in Washington DC were his saviors, and his motivators.
After Johnson first attended a National Bike Summit a few years ago, as Fries’ guest, he knew he needed to do more for advocacy. He had to be more than just “that racer.”
“The amount of effort it takes, the people involved and how much work goes into getting a bike path installed, it makes you feel pretty selfish, being the dude who has to get his workout in on the path,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s first project was Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington, a ride that has existed for 3 years, and will still be ridden this November, though with fewer cyclists than this Ride on Chicago. The ride’s goal was to raise money, which it did, over $100,000 for PeopleForBikes and Bikes Belong, but Johnson also wanted to bring together a unique group of riders to bring awareness to how we as cyclists approach a ride of any kind.
The point, he believes, is that respect is a two way street, and our conduct on the roads can have a positive impact on the behavior of other road users.
This year’s Ride on Chicago route, unlike the one on the East coast, goes through many tiny rural towns, the sort that rarely see cyclists. I grew up in the Midwest, and am intimately aware that bike advocacy, while huge in Chicago, is much smaller in these towns; these are the roads I grew up riding.
Day one of the ride, which rolled out on Thursday along a rural journey from Kansas City to Sedalia, Missouri, made the lack of cycling infrastructure in this part of the world directly apparent. The contrast from my current home on the Front Range in Colorado was stark. It drove home exactly what every rider here has been fundraising for.
“So much of the progression in cycling infrastructure is in bigger cities, but small cities, like the ones we ride through, have plenty people who want to ride, and people who need to ride,” Johnson explained. “It’s not just spandex and watts. People ride for all types of reasons.”
We rode through a hot Midwestern day with Fries, Johnson, and captain on the road, Pete Webber, in our ears. The three held sermons on ride etiquette, insistent in good manners both on the Ride on Chicago and after we’ve returned from this journey. “This will redefine how you go on a group ride,” Fries said. “We can ride 500-600 miles without horns blowing or people getting angry. People who even join for a day or two will see their rides redefined versus their stereotypical Wednesday night worlds.”
Just a day in, and I’m already a believer. Now, on to Chicago.