I wrote this blog post on a notepad during my flight home last night. Scribbled page after page until the paper ran out. Unpacking and getting caught up on work, I've been writing and rewriting this post in my head. Even as I now sit down to type my blog post I find that it could be both very very short, or very very long. I could recap for you the breakout sessions and speakers, my takeaways, my lessons, the people I met, the things we did... I could try to put all that magic on paper (or the blogosphere, as it were) ... But stated simply, the summit and what it meant to me boils down to this:
Bikes can solve many of our problems. More people on more bikes riding to more workplaces and schools, nationwide and worldwide, could legitimately cure many of our issues.
Whether it's a young school girl in Afghanistan who can't walk 3-4 hours each way to school so she drops out in 4th grade ... or whether it's a working mom in an inner city trying to save money by minimizing her transportation costs... whether it's the nation's obesity increasing at alarming rates (along with diabetes, depression and more)... or whether we are talking simply about putting joy back into people's lives by pulling them from frustrated car-smog-anger-filled commutes ...
The Act of Bicycling Holds the Keys to our Successful, Healthful future.
I come to bike-lifestyle via bike racing. For the past decade, biking for me has been training for racing, or racing, to achieve my performance-related goals. Towards that end, I incorporated commuting to my jobs in Kansas City and here in Colorado from Lakewood/Arvada to Boulder, as a way of staying fit for racing while working full time (I did not see a way to get the miles in otherwise). But candidly as a bike racer, it was never my intention to use a bike for transportation. The last thing I'd feel like doing after hard intervals, or a hard 3-4 hour training ride, is to come home and then take a commuter bike to the store for groceries. Instead, after all that hard bike training, I have historically hopped in my car to run around for the other areas of my life. (Ironically logging many of my car miles going to and from bike races all over the state and country).
I could count on one hand the number of times I've straddled a bike in the last decade wearing something other than lycra and clipless pedals. Riding in jeans or a skirt? It hasn't even crossed my mind.
As my work has increased and my bike racing has taken its rightful spot lower down on my priority lists in recent years, I have been using an old commuter bike to ride to/from the office and to run for groceries. We live in a small town -Golden -which sits just west of Arvada and essentially is a suburb of the greater Denver Metro area. Yes, we are somewhat removed from Denver-proper:
When I decided to open my office in Golden, I stragecially chose a location just 4 miles from home. I've changed my dentist, hairstylist and doctor, from previous offices that required 20-40 minute drives, to those here locally in Golden -both to decrease drive miles as well as to patronize local businesses. But I've failed to take it that one step further - to commit to riding to those appointments, despite their location of 5-8 miles from home. (As an aside, my home bike shop since 2008, Treads, is actually my farthest destination, requiring a 30-40 minute drive or 1-1.5 hour bike ride. Are there shops here locally I could patronize? Yes of course. However I'm wicked-loyal when it comes to bike shops and bike brands. So this is my one outlier destination).
Yes I live in a relatively "suburban sprawlish" area and no, I would not want to live in a city/urban environment. I like my wide open spaces. With those wide open roads however, comes a bigger challenge to use my bike for my lifestyle needs. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. When I draw a 5-mile radius circle around my house, nearly everything business-wise I need is within the circle. I needed a nudge.
Enter: the 2014 National Bike Summit...
I arrived Sunday afternoon and took part in the media training session, and then all day Monday took part in the exhilirating Women's Bike Forum (and was an exhibitor in the women's pop up shop). At times it felt we were preaching to the choir, but at times it also felt progressive. Determined. Spot on. The speakers were amazing. The vibe was amazing. Women on bikes... what an empowering and world changing movement, so elegantly simple, yet apparently wraught with obstacles. I can't do the experience justice in words. Suffice it to say, I met really wonderful women in the bike movement and I left buzzing with energy.
Monday night kicked off the Bike Summit over dinner with some really funny speakers including the head of Great Britain's Bicycle League. This rolled into a fantastic Tuesday with an agenda JAM-packed with good stuff. Of course I was drawn to the "scofflaw-cyclist" panel and the "enforcement" panel - both involving issues of bike laws, enforcements, and bike lawyers. Fascinating to hear other lawyers doing and saying many of the same things I've been preaching. And to hear other groups are educating law enforcement, just as I'm aiming to do in our first-annual BOW event on April 18th! It was great to have affirmation that cyclists are wrongfully cited in other states too, not just here. And it was enthralling and HILARIOUS to take part in the discussions about bike backlash. Again - lots of preaching to the choir, but also, lots of brainstorming and constructive discussions. And did I mention, networking with folks around the country who are all just as passionate about these issues as I am?? AUH-mazing.
Setting aside my generalized glowing adjectives for a moment, the rubber really did hit the road for me at the summit. I realized that bike racing is a small percentage of the bigger bike picture and that to truly demonstrate the principles I hold so dear, more of my transportation must be via bike moving forward. Starting now. I created my VOW list as soon as I boarded the plane:
The first and most important VOW I made is to drive less than I ride. Because of where we live (in the suburbs as I mentioned above, which is not changing anytime soon) and also because of our weather here in the winter (freezing temps and frequent ice) I don't know that my husband and I will be able to make the jump to 1 car. I know many do it with harder commutes and who have kids and all kinds of other obstacles. I'm just being honest. It's a goal - but we're taking baby steps. The second goal is #onelesscar. We technically have 3 cars- one is the cycling team car used by the team my firm sponsors. It's going back this week. I consider that a pretty big step -as the car is a great marketing tool complete with decals and bike racks for bike races:
But one less car is the goal. So - team car is going back.
Because I'm a small business owner I already track vehicle expenses and vehicle miles. Last year I drove just under 12,000 miles total. As a bike racer, I've always tracked bike miles using my Garmin and Strava. So the data collection process is already established. Now it's a matter of counting miles each week, and restricting driving mileage to at or less than cycling mileage. Cut out useless trips. Ride more to places. Save the driving for bad weather and absolute necessities. Small steps - prompted in my life by the National Bike Summit.
After making my VOW list I dove headfirst into a book I'd purchased at the summit called Bikenomics by Elly Blue. Positively fascinating. Stats and stories were absorbed by my already open mind following the summit. I inhaled the book flying home. I recommend everyone read it. Think how happy we could be as a nation if we pulled people out of their harried car-coma-induced states and put them on bikes. Weight loss, stress reduction, energy, fresh air, positive emotions and just heightened consciousness. Bikes provide that to us. I became intoxicated with my post-summit buzz and Bikenomics. I couldn't sleep last night. I am fixated.
Ten years ago I had a hunger for bike racing. Over the course of a decade and especially the past few years, my desires to compete and win have waned. I was looking for a new "goal." I have been hit or miss in my training -versus the old Me who would never dream of taking a day off! And suddenly post-summit I find myself re-invigorated with the bike - not necessarily in the racing sense, though I intend to keep competing... but in the lifestyle sense. I know I'll make mistakes. I know it'll be hard. I know sometimes I'll just want to hop in the car. But if I took away one lesson from the summit it was this: change starts with me. I cannot advocate for more bike lanes while logging 12,000 miles in my car each year. I cannot ask other women to join me in riding to the grocery store if I'm not doing it. I can't say we aren't spreading our message quickly enough until I share my riding bliss by buying a GoPro Camera and using it and sharing my movies. I can't inspire others without leading by example.
The bike revolution is coming. Technically, tt's already begun. It's no longer a rich, white man's sport. It's a way of life for people of all walks of life. (Pun intended). We can't afford more/newer/bigger roads. Many big citites can't provide more parking. Our cities are swollen with traffic. As one speaker said, "if you're not at the table, you're on the menu." I say - we don't get to sit at the tables of the policy makers and leaders when we aren't living the cycling lifestyle first hand.
So I challenge you - ride more than you drive, sell a car, teach a new person how to use their bike as a means of transport, learn your public transit systems and your bike share programs inside and out, resist the norms and get creative. I've asked the women in my neighborhood- most of whom don't ride -to grab their bikes and join me for a ride to our nearest grocery store. It's flat, short and easy. I'm going to persist until they accept my invite, even if just once.
National change starts one rider at a time. Bike racing is great, but bike living is...well- it's a whole 'nother world. I challenge you to start today. What are your VOWs?
AUTHOR ARTICLE UPDATE: April 9, 2014:
So I'm happy to report I've met all of the afore-mentioned goals! I did in fact turn in the team car pictured above. It was a great little car but it only sat 4 people and towing the trailer was NOT fuel efficient. It resulted in us all typically driving separately to team races and that's simply NOT green, and Not showing proper bike love to my VOWS! So... I decided if the right fuel-saving option came along, I'd consider it. And sure enough -a Dodge Sprinter DIESEL van came along... and we bought it for the team. We can now fit 6-10 people AND 6-10 bikes and average 20mph... thereby saving fuel for the long bike trips AND hanging out as a team.