Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bicycle commuting

For years, long before it was cool, during the time a young Lance Armstrong was first attempting triathlons in north central Texas, before Greg Lemond won even his first Tour de France, in fact, during the last days of Eddy Merckx's professional career, I have loved bicycles and bicycling. I especially like to commute to and from work by bicycle because it fulfills two goals: exercise and environmental responsibility. I started riding an internal-hub three-speed to my summer job while a college student in the late 1970s. (I still have that bicycle and use it for grocery shopping.)

My coworkers at my first "professional" job probably thought of me as that "girl on the bicycle," but were too polite to say so aloud. Similarly, a motorcycle-riding female computer scientist was defined as "the woman who rides a motorcycle."

With the higher profile and popularity of the Tour de France and bicycling's entry in the Summer Olympics in the 1980s, bicycling became more mainstream. Finally, I was, well, maybe quasi cool.

Then, a new Army general and avid cyclist came to lead the military base adjacent to the town. Bicycling became cool, very cool, and trendy, and chic and the "it" thing to do. Especially for gung-ho young military officers. I continued to draft behind the virtual peleton of cycling popularity, commuting to work (20 miles round trip at an average 12 mph), participating in recreational rides. The fun and convivial local bicycle club called itself the "ride to eat" club, with rides punctuated midway by a breakfast stop.

It's interesting to observe the viral spread of cycling popularity. At this point, I was a full-fledged bikie, but a woman from work, encouraged by another dyed-in-the-wool cyclist, amazed me by riding about 20 miles daily of unrelenting uphill from her home by the river to our work site on the flank of a mountain. Without a go-fast bicycle, without purpose-built cycling clothing, and perhaps without a clue that she was peforming an amazing physical feat on a daily basis.

While upgrading through a series of light road bikes, I joined group rides, large benefit rides, and organized a recreational bicycling club in my town. Gingerly, I started riding a mountain bike. A heavy-duty touring bike took me on several multiday tours and eventually a solo, self-contained cross-country trip.

Okay, now I'm in a different state, different atmosphere, different age. I have cut back to bicycle commuting and one organized ride per year. I find the recreational club in this town somewhat daunting. I still hold out hope for another cross-country expedition, maybe north to south this time.

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