Like every kid I was so excited to learn how to ride a bike. It was my first means to speed and ultimately freedom; I could commute to a friend’s place or soccer practice in minimal time. I didn’t regard it as a form of exercise or a means to prevent obesity. Back when I was a kid our society wasn’t in this race to get overweight. I did it because it was fun and I could escape and hang out with my friends on any given day. I was a country boy in northwestern Ontario and walking to my friends place would take way too long. Then the day came that I turned 16 – I forgot about my bike in no time at all. It’s easy to explain the reasoning for this: my chevy blazer could get to soccer practice or my friend’s house even faster and was a ton of fun to drive. Also, if I so desired to take a pretty lady out on a date I didn’t have to put her on the handle bars and double and get so embarrassingly sweaty. I did actually have one of my worst bicycle accidents doing this. I did do some occasional mountain biking through my teens, but it started to get pricey replacing helmets and bike components after each crash. Also, I was fortunate to have parents that were keeping gas in the blazer.
It was in my late 20’s while living in Park City, Utah and training with the US Ski Team that I rediscovered my love for two wheels. 2006 US Olympian Carl VanLoan and 2010 gold medallist Billy Demong, introduced me to road cycling and so the story began. I rode to improve my physical performance, as well as my tactical performance, for cross-country skiing. Surprisingly it was the tactics from bike racing that made the greatest difference in my skiing career. When I had major shoulder surgery in 2004 and knee surgery in 2005, cycling proved to be the best way to maintain my physique.
Skip forward a few years and I’m now in my 30’s. Life experiences and travelling around the world over 30 times have taught me to appreciate certain things. I’m not a person that follows any major sports leagues or events outside of the Olympics. I’m more of the guy that likes to get in there and get dirty and play. Although, I watch a little of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia each year, I usually only watch the last 30 minutes as I’d personally prefer to be out playing myself. The same goes for any sport really. After retiring from Nordic Combined at the completion of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics cycling become the one thing that I could do and not suffer too much. A couple of major surgeries and many smaller injuries had left me quite physically beaten. However, when I hopped on my bike I felt so much better (physically and emotionally). Eventually I started to see my selfishness and was sick of greasing the pockets of oil companies, and too cheap to pay for parking at school so I started commuting by bike. This turned out to be a very rewarding path. All of a sudden I had so much more time in my day and felt so much more alert and happy throughout. In reality cycling to school (10km +) took only a few more minutes than it did by car. Actually, when traffic was bad it was faster. I study the relationship between obesity and exercise at the University of Calgary so I am very passionate about contributing to solving the obesity epidemic that is choking our health care system. I never had the desire to commute to work by bike, but when I did it for the first time it felt like a breakthrough and I wanted to share this success with everybody. Here lies the challenge!
Cyclists have been enlightened. Cyclists are usually also drivers, but not every driver is a cyclist. So when this war of rights of cyclists grows in Calgary cyclists have the upper hand because they have open minds and can see both sides of the argument. I would urge anybody that is confident enough to weigh in on the war against cyclist to have the courage and open mind to try cycling a couple of times so that they can give an educated statement. Cyclists often break rules like rolling through a stop sign, but I assure you it’s a calculated risk. People that get angry because cyclists are not following road rules have little right to accuse. We are drivers and we see how many people do things like roll through stop signs, talk on a cell phone, throw cigarette butts out the window, or speed. I still see many people texting everyday while behind the wheel so how can drivers get angry at a cyclist that is rolling through a stop? I can’t recall the last time I saw a car come to a complete stop at an empty intersection (stop sign) unless they had a sign on the top with AMA driving school.
There tends to be a lot of fuss about cyclists riding on roads and impeding cars, and now there is an uproar in Calgary about the city spending money on snow removal for bike lanes. First of all, the safest place for bikes is actually on the road, preferably in a bike lane. Next, if you believe that this is a cost to the city you are very shortsighted.It is an investment. People biking to work is saving millions in health care costs – that is as long as drivers respect them and give them their entitled space. Extensive research shows that physical activity improves function in the workplace, prevents chronic disease and makes for happy people (aka reduces depression). Since cycling to work is such an efficient use of time in this crazy fast world it may be some peoples best opportunity to workout. Really though, how difficult is it to avoid a cyclist on the road? It’s as simple as turning on your indicator and moving left a meter and a half. Sure, there will be accidents with cyclists on the road just as there is with cars in busy areas. I have a huge concern when these incidents happen on Calgary rural roads/highways. The fact is we live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, which is far more prairie like that mountainous. A driver can see a cyclist from miles away. Remember, I know because I am a driver too. Now, if I saw a snowplow ahead, a moose, or a cowboy/girl riding a horse, a person walking there dog etc. . . I wouldn’t lay on my horn and try to scare the s*#t out of them as some people do to cyclists. After all, what are they doing to hurt me? Right, they are saving my healthcare system millions of dollars. They are actually supporting me and my family for generations to come. Whether they are hugging the side, in the middle of the lane or riding multiple abreast it’s a matter of saying to yourself “good on ya buddy, keep going”. I’m gonna respect that cyclist for what they are doing for themselves and essentially everybody by taking care to pass. Everywhere in the world has different recommendations for where and how cyclists should ride in the lane. Ideally they want to be as visible as possible without significantly impeding traffic. When I pass cyclists I’ll even give them a thumbs up or wave of encouragement to show them they are respected and appreciated. Europe has far narrower roads than North Americans and many many more cyclists. They don’t have shoulders on the side of most roads, yet they manage just fine for the most part.
Here is a quote from my friend and fellow cyclist Masa: “I think that the only way to change the perspectives of the very vocal anti-cycling population of Calgary is to hold a “DON’T RIDE YOUR BIKE TO WORK DAY”. If those who often commute by cycling got in a single occupant vehicle (the larger the better, so rent a F150 if you don’t have a truck or SUV) and sat in traffic like the rest for a day, it would become painfully obvious how much worse traffic could be. Even those who take transit could join this party. The average Calgary driver thinks of a cyclist as an obstacle or nuisance, but what they don’t realize is that another car in his/her place would be significantly more damaging to the super important lives they have to live and super important places they need to get to in a massive rush. The cyclists should be thanked for minimizing gridlock (and other minor things like no impact on the environment, lesser burden on the health care system, bla bla), not honked at, spat at, and treated worse than the homeless pan handlers downtown.”
Recently a car hit my friend Robin Clegg while we were riding just outside Calgary on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The incident was so unnecessary. Until this weekend my worst fear of riding in Calgary was getting caught in a hail storm. Those hurt. We can’t change the fact that golf balls will occasionally fall out of the Calgary sky, but we can change our attitudes towards fellow humans that are simply enjoying the outdoors and not harming anybody else. Please take responsibility for your driving and be excited for those taking it to two wheels. Try cycling yourself it could change your attitude, life and save our society.