Cycling as medicine

I was riding with Zach up Gutierrez Canyon and he said, “If cycling was a pill, everybody would be taking it.”  That’s a neat saying, but after pondering it for a while, I thought cycling is way more fun than taking a pill or vitamin. The benefits of cycling are proven medically effective, and the evidence keeps mounting.

The Specialized Foundation uses cycling as a tool for children to achieve academic, health and social success through their Riding for Focus program.  The Foundation partners with Stanford University to better understand the effects of cycling on the learning process in children.  It’s pretty incredible to see the positive results of cycling becoming more visible.

Play is a huge part of learning!  Cycling play promotes mental health and overall wellbeing.  As a team sport, it builds social connections and a sense of belonging.  When we do high intensity intervals on the bike, the mind focuses on exercise and nothing else.  The goal-oriented part of the brain gets more oxygen causing a focus-shift away from the other parts that might be stressed.  This exercise-focused goal-orientation leads to mental relaxation.  The following study by Global Cycling Network goes into the details more.  Basically the same kind of exercise doctors prescribe for heart patients is also good for our heads, and more.

The bottom line is the value produced by cycling is so positively impactful, we’ll have to create a new economic model to measure it.  The rewards to the individual and society are only just beginning to be understood.  The bicycle is releasing so much human potential!  Kudos to everyone making an effort to harness it more, including the people riding bicycles.

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” –H.G. Wells

Further reading:
Kids are getting on bikes sooner and having more fun: https://bikeinitiative.org/2017/08/25/cycling-for-kids-strider-bikes-and-specialized-foundation/
Cycling as a national investment: https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/the-bicycle-is-americas-vehicle/
The Specialized Foundation: https://www.specializedfoundation.org

Cycling connects us with nature, too, which is good medicine

Creating a national bicycling policy

Here is my superstition: When you focus on creating more good things, you get more good things;  When you focus on solving problems, you get more problems.  —Jing Zhang, May ITE Journal, “member to member”

As we develop a national bicycle policy promoting the most sustainable form of transportation imaginable, we’ll do well listening to experienced cyclists and educators.  It is tempting to fit new knowledge around what we think we already know.   With cycling it helps to see things directly from the cycling perspective, and this changes our outlook.

References and Resources:
The video is from CyclingSavvy, founders of the American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA).  Subscribe for free to their newsletter for “empowerment for unlimited travel”.  https://cyclingsavvy.org/cycling-law/
Here is a guide for improving the conditions for walking and cycling, published and recently updated by transportation leaders from our government and private sector:  https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/ped_focus/docs/fhwasa17050.pdf
For more specific measures to improve mobility safety, see https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/
Traffic safety involves complex causality, but speed is a primary factor.  This study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) includes recommendations for planners, engineers and various government agencies.  https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SS1701.aspx
May’s ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) Journal is dedicated to “Making Active Transportation Safe” http://www.nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/ITE/G93877_ITE_May2018/

Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous.  That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.  —Paul Hawken quoted in “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron

Catching the spirit of the Iron Horse

“the biking circle and community is great”.  –Howard Grotts, 2018 Iron Horse Men’s Champion

Durango, Colorado is a beautiful Western town.  This year’s 47th Annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic celebrated Durango’s cycling heritage, and expanded the fun by weaving in new cycling events including BMX for the second straight year.  The atmosphere around cycling brings out such joy in people and the character of this place in an extraordinary way.  Cycling is a technology of contact, connection.  It’s simply amazing.  The Iron Horse is so fun it’s a pity it only happens once per year.

At the Iron Horse everyone gets involved somehow.  Like many people in attendance, over the weekend I was both participant and spectator.  On Saturday I raced the classic road cycling event from Durnago to Silverton, and on Sunday I watched the BMX action up close on main street and cheered the mountain bike racers as they passed through town and the Steamworks Brewery.  The festivities excel at community engagement so well the Iron Horse is in a league of its own, much like the San Juan mountains are perhaps the most spectacular range in the lower forty-eight.  It’s an event that matches the landscape!

There’s such a diversity of events there is something for everyone.  The road ride on Saturday is the most accessible event, and it’s on one of the most beautiful courses in the county.  There are races for women and men in all different age groups and categories.  The most popular road ride is the Citizen’s Tour to Silverton.  But don’t be fooled, even though the tour is not an official race, many of the participants are trying to set a personal best or even beat the Iron Horse train that departs downtown Durango at 7:15a.m. and steams up the canyons to Silverton.  I bumped into my friend Rose from Albuquerque on Sunday in Durango, and she did the Quarter Horse ride, which is a shorter road ride with less climbing that goes to Purgatory ski area halfway between Durango and Silverton.  Over the weekend, there is the La Strada La Plata Gravel Ride, MTB (mountain bike) race, BMX, Cruiser Criterium, Kids Race, bike parade and things beyond cycling–a running event, a triathlon, a Veterans Memorial Ceremony, and lots of vendors with art, food, and cycling offerings.  It’s incredibly fun.

I had a pretty good race by my standards.  I was sitting eight overall on the road as we headed over the final pass, Molas, for the final descent into the old mining town of Silverton.  Cycling legend Ned Overend was just a few minutes in front of me, and I basically had a front row seat to see him and other stars in racing action.  What a learning experience!  As I flew cautiously down the steep grade, two riders caught and passed me, and out sprinted me in the slightly uphill drag down Silverton’s main street to the finish line.  One of the riders I knew well, Ben Sontag, a mountain bike pro for Cliff Bar.  The other I wasn’t so sure of, but man can he race and is he fast!  As soon as we crossed the line conversations began, and I met the other rider, Todd Wells, three time winner of the Leadville 100 and USA Olympian.  He just retired and said this event kept him motivated to stay in shape.  I ended up in 10th place, but hey, when Todd Wells is just in front of you, is that so bad?  I was a happy finisher, like everyone!

Over the weekend, visitors soak up the local Colorado vibes and learn more about the many things we can do with bicycles.  And residents get to pinch themselves and be reminded how lucky they are to live in such a special community.  When people come together around bicycles more great things happen.  The cool thing about Durango is that having Olympians and cycling champions living next door is not really remarkable, it is just normal.  They represent the possibilities of human expressions through the bike life.  The event itself normalizes cycling.  The bike is the way to get around town.  The mainstream planning community is starting to respond to that.

I think it’s time we start referring to active transportation modes for what they are, our most basic and primary modes.  –Michael P. Sanderson, Professional Engineer (P.E.), “Leading the way to make active transportation safe, while improving health”, ITE Journal May 2018

I’ve grown up in a world where bicycling is seen as alternative or unconventional.  Planners and engineers today are working to make walking and cycling flow more naturally, like a mountain stream.  Every street in front of every house is a bike route.  Our street system connects us to where we want to go, our schools, work places, our friends’ houses, recreational assets, our business districts, health facilities.  Making the street system accessible and welcoming bicycles is key for healthier and sustainable lifeways.  The Colorado Department of Transportation has made big strides, putting bike lanes in on the main route through town, Highway 550.  This is where the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic begins, right in front of Durango High School.  They are trying to making it convenient for people to ride a bicycle everywhere we need to go.  It’s not perfect, though.  Vallecitos Road has a typical sign as you leave town that says “bike route ends” and the wide shoulder tapers down, but that doesn’t mean people stop bicycling there.  People that live in the country want to ride their bikes to town, too, and certainly town residents love to ride their bikes to the countryside.  When we change our paradigm and view cycling as conventional, we expect bicycles everywhere.  And at the Iron Horse it is like leaping into the future.  Softly, gently, joyfully…cycling dreams will come.

The entire community supports the Iron Horse, including the outstanding independent bookstore on Main Avenue, Mariah’s Bookshop

Credits and Further Reading:
Thanks to our team, sponsors and partners for getting us to the Iron Horse for the second straight year.  Go Team CSP-SBI!  https://bikeinitiative.org/sponsors-partners/
A special thanks to Sansai Studio for most of the great photos (the better ones!) in this post.
https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index
Visit the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to sign up for 2019 and learn more about the history!
http://www.ironhorsebicycleclassic.com

2017, a year in cycling

2017, a year in cycling by cycling ambassador Stephen Wolfe

My wife Kyoko and I started out 2017 with a cycling adventure as part of our planned trip to New Zealand, a place neither of us had been. We spent a month in the country, and managed to take an electric bike tour of Wellington, our first time on E-Bikes. They were very heavy, and hard to maneuver, but I must admit they helped on the climb up Mount Victoria. The following week we journeyed to Christchurch, a city devastated by an earthquake in 2011. The experience was sobering, but the resourceful Kiwis are busy rebuilding. Christchurch was also the start of our cycling tour of the famous Otago Trail. The Otago Trail goes from near Mount Cook on the southern island, to near Dunedin, a major port. The trail is an abandoned rail line that served the gold and silver mines in the Otago region near the mountains. The line continues to utilize the original tunnels and trestle bridges and 145km has been rehabilitated for cycling travel with hard-pack gravel. Because the steam trains used for the ore cars were not very powerful, the average gradient is only 2%, making for an easy climb from East to West. However, taking the even easier choice, we started in Clyde, an old mining town, and rode mostly downhill to Middlemarch, spending the night at several other old station towns along the way, and even trying out the ice sport of curling in Naseby’s indoor rink. From Middlemarch the rail line is still active, so we took the train through some beautiful gorges to Dunedin. Overall, the people were very friendly, the food and coffee (the Kiwi’s only ever drink flat whites, and even McDonald’s and Burger King only had espresso machines for coffee) were great, and the scenery along the trail was unmatched.

http://www.otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz/about-our-trail/

Back in Japan, I took what was my second tour of the Shimanami Kaido, a route in Western Japan that is fast becoming a destination for cyclists from all over the world. Kyoko and I first rode the route in December of 2016, and were so struck with the beauty of the riding across six islands and connecting bridges over the Seto Inland Sea–from the largest island of Honshu to the smaller island of Shikoku–that we vowed to come back soon. My enthusiasm for the ride (and food) was contagious, I guess, as two of my friends expressed an interest, so in April I was down there again. The 75km route, although along local roads, is well-marked, and each of the six bridges  have dedicated cycling/pedestrian travelways, including the Kurushima Bridge, the world’s longest triple suspension bridge at 4.1km. The area is known for its citrus fruits and delicious fish, and the meals we had did not disappoint. We stopped halfway to stay at a Japanese inn and use the local hot springs to ease fatigue, and finished on the second day. My friends, not being dedicated cyclists, took public transport on the return, so I cycled on to another route in the region (more about that later).  Along the way we met cyclists from many different countries, who availed themselves of the many bicycle rental locations along the route.

http://www.go-shimanami.jp/global/english/bicycle/

Later in the spring we traveled to Kagoshima, a city on the southern-most main island of Kyushu. Kagoshima is one of the major cities on the island, is full of history, and features great Berkshire pork products. We took a day tour by rental cycles around Sakurajima, an active volcano across the bay from Kagoshima. The lap around the island was only around 35km, but there was ample evidence of previous eruptions everywhere. The volcano almost continuously spews ash.

May brought the Japanese edition of L’Eroica. The tour was plotted around 4 of the lakes at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and over 100 participants gathered with their vintage bikes to ride the course, which featured some wet, muddy sections. I rode the De Rosa I’ve had since I bought it new in 1980, and had a great time riding and talking with fellow vintage bike owners.

https://eroicajapan.cc/

I decided that for my 68th birthday I would climb Mt. Fuji as far as the paved road goes. The climb is about 24km with an average grade of 5% and 1,200m of ascent, which makes it quite similar to the Full Sandia Crest ride in the Albuquerque region (21.5km, 5%, and 1,150m), although the Fuji climb ends at 2,300m and Sandia peaks at 3,246m, making the altitude more of a factor in the latter. In September I also participated in a “fun ride” put on by the Bandai area in northern Japan to promote the region.  The 65km run was around and up Mt. Bandai, with a total of 1,400m of climbing, and lots of good food at the aid stations.

In October we went to Spain, the first time for my wife and over 40 years since I was last there (Franco was still in power at the time). Needless to say, Spain has changed dramatically since then, and the many areas we visited were vibrant, full of great food (ham, cheese, and wine), and nice people. During our time there we spent a week in Girona, the cycling capital of Spain and a place where the amenable winter weather and great cycling roads have led many pros to spend the off season. Our first day of riding was up to Olot for a ride down the converted rail line. The 60km ride featured lovely scenery of ancient volcanoes and farmland, and mostly downhill riding along the well-maintained trail. Our second day was a circular route to the Vall de Llemena, a quiet and unspoiled rural area near Girona. The following day we took our bikes on a train (the trains are well set-up to accommodate cycles) to a nearby village and toured six medieval villages. On the fourth day, the bike shop that arranged our self-guided tours had a group ride, which I joined for a 90km loop around the city. On the final day we rejoined the converted rail trail to ride from Girona to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Mediterranean. It was very easy to see why Girona is so popular with cyclists. Cyclists were everywhere!

The last big tour of the year was with a friend who works at the same Japanese steel company where I used to work. We traveled down to Hiroshima, and from there took a ferry to the Kakishima Kaido, one of seven cycling routes established in the Shimanami region mentioned above. This island route featured vast oyster farms along the seacoast, and totaled about 90km. We over-nighted in Kure, a town where the famous Yamato battleship of WWII was built, and the next day we rode over 5 islands connected by bridges along a very rural and beautiful shoreline road, with a stop in a village that features houses from the Edo period of Japan, built over 150 years ago. A short ferry ride at the end took us back to the Shimanami Kaido, over four more islands, and ending in the shipbuilding town of Onomichi, a total of 110km.  We are looking forward to seeing how 2018 unfolds and though we have nothing definite planned, are sure it holds adventure.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about Stephen and meet more of our cycling ambassadors on the Team CSP-SBI members page:  https://swbikeinitiative.wordpress.com/team-csp-sbi/team-members/

Team CSP-SBI’s Tom Sisk receives science award

Team CSP-SBI cycling ambassador Tom Sisk was honored by the Defenders of Wildlife with a science award this Fall.  Tom joined a prestigious group including Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, and Dr. Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston from Yellowstone National Park, for making “lasting and extraordinary contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation.” Tom is a pioneer in ecology, environmental management, education, outreach and leadership training.  In his remarks from the award ceremony, Tom noted healthy ecosystems depend on all people having “opportunities to experience, learn about, and value nature.”

Dr. Tom Sisk, on left, receiving the Spirit of Defenders Science Award, from the Defenders of Wildlife

One of the highlights of my year was experiencing the great outdoors with Tom and more Team CSP-SBI ambassadors at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this past May.  Cycling connects us with wild places and the spirit of life within ourselves. Cycling gives us opportunity to get oriented, and gain first-hand knowledge of the places where we ride.  We learn about them in detail through our senses, while connecting with the communities that conserve them.  Riding a bike with teammates and thousands of friendly people in a place as grand as the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado was incredibly energizing.  Cycling’s light footprint and positive health impact makes it a great match for safeguarding lands and habitat.  Plus sharing a bicycle ride is a great way to bring communities together and forge memories that bond people of all ages and backgrounds for a lifetime.  Cycling opens the way for community engagement, action-oriented learning, and thriving communities.  So fun!  Congratulations to Dr. Tom Sisk for the Spirit of Defenders Science Award, and wishing him lots more productive work and cycling.

Tom Sisk cycling at the Iron Horse with Wendy Palen, May 2017.  The bike heritage in Durango is special.

References / Credits:
Award photo and opening quote from the Defenders of Wildlife Blog

You can learn more on Dr. Sisk’s work at:
Landscape Conservation Initiaitive where he is director
Conservation Science Partners where is a founding board member

Learn more about Team CSP-SBI at the Iron Horse on SBI’s Blog

Cycling traditions in Albuquerque, NM

Pez Cycling published a feature article on Albuquerque cycling stalwart John Frey.  Over the 3+ years I’ve lived here I’ve met John many times while out cycling.  Even before I moved here I was aware of the US 40 kilometer time trial record he set in 1990 on one of the fastest courses in the world in Moriarty, NM.  John averaged nearly 32 mph!  And his record still stands.  Pez Cycling’s article helped me learn much more about the depth and detail of John’s accomplishments and the prominent cycling traditions here in Albuquerque.

John Frey, featured in Pez Cycling’s ‘Chrono Legend’ article linked at the end of this post

I grew up in Tucumcari, New Mexico and discovered cycling by visiting a small pro shop in Albuquerque, NM while attending the university and using the bike for transportation. I was intrigued by the specialized equipment and [the] fact that bicycles were raced like horses, even the cleats were nailed onto the shoe.  –John Frey on getting into cycle sport

Each time I’ve met John it has been an impromptu meeting on the bike, and every time has been memorable.  I first met John on the North Diversion Channel multi-use trail, while I was cruising with my friend Chris.  We stopped and said hello.  Another day I was climbing the Sandia Crest and rode up beside John and he started talking to me.  I matched his pace for a while and he told me how popular this climb was for cycling.  As I recall he got through a couple different subjects including steel bicycle frames before I spooled ahead.  The last time I met him we rode together north to Bernalillo and east through Placitas.

John Frey on the right, yielding to horses (photo by Mark Aasmundstad)

It was a fun ride.  John was on a team ride with Sandia Cycles, a bike shop in Albuquerque, and the group I was with bumped into them at the traffic circle on Tramway Road, a common meet-up spot for group rides.  We all decided to share the road together and headed to Bernalillo and then Placitas.  During the ride we came across a herd of horses.  We carefully chose our path around them.  On the same ride John led us through a series of backroads bypassing busier roads.  It was a new route for me, and a beautiful one.

John takes us past the wild horses, just before the road turns to dirt and climbs the Sandias

John is a lot like New Mexico.  His down-to-earth authenticity makes his monumental stature approachable, if you can keep pace with all the interesting stories.  On the Placitas ride he was looking after his teammates and keeping the herd of cyclists together.  As typical on a medium sized group ride, you ride side by side and change partners as the group rotates through.  I heard a lot of stories from John and his teammates about the cycling heritage and traditions here in Albuquerque and New Mexico.  John’s feats of speed on the bike did not surface.  You have to read the Pez Cycling article for that!  The links are at the end of this post.

After John and his team turned around I headed up the gravel road climbing the Sandias with Chris and Dean

Continue crazy for the bike, but enjoy anything outdoors in New Mexico altitude with my wife, Kelly, who is still on my wheel after plenty of rough road and bad weather! Advocate for cycling and health prevention to anyone, whenever possible.  –John Frey on what he’s up to now

Displaying IMG_20171215_113827759.jpg

Tramway road leading towards the Sandias is one of many assets making Albuquerque a great place to cycle

Links and references:

Pez Cycling talks to chrono legend John Frey, part 1

Pez Cycling talks to chrono legend John Frey, part 2

USA Cycling National Records

Movement is life, and more reasons to cycle to work

“Imagine if a team of scientists devised a drug which massively reduced people’s chances of developing cancer or heart disease, cutting their overall likelihood of dying early by 40%….That drug is already here, albeit administered in a slightly different way: it’s called cycling to work.”  —The Miracle Pill

“The benefits of physical activity are just so overwhelmingly large.”–Cycling to work means better health and a longer life.  Here’s how to get started.

On September 8 the Washington Post published an article on cycling to work in their Health & Science section.  It relates scientific evidence of cycling’s amazing benefits to the real life experiences of six bike commuters, making the benefits palpable.  One commuter, Carlos, says he’s saved $7000.  Another, Tricia, says cycling helps you see your city “in a way you’ve never seen it before”, and cycling to work clears her head.  “It’s exercise, there’s sunshine and it’s really cheap. It makes me happier.”  All of the commuters interviewed for the article “said they liked how biking built exercise into their day.”  It makes exercise come naturally and easily.

Not exercising is definitely risky.  Humans are designed to move.  But is cycling perceived to be safe?  Even though cycling crashes resulting in a death are relatively rare, Southwestern cities—Albuquerque, Tucson, Las Vegas, and Phoenix—led the nation in cycling crash rates in 2014-2015.  The growth boom of Southwestern cities after WWII produced a “transportation infrastructure focused almost exclusively on the private motor car” (from the FHWA doc. linked below). This is definitely a wake up call that we need to prioritize cyclist safety so the public feels more confident making healthy decisions.  Southwest Bike Initiative focuses on improving traffic safety and service for all travelers here in the Southwest US so citizens can share in the prosperity of cycling’s restorative effects.

One super cool thing about cycling to work is it shifts our perspective.  By changing behavior, changes in attitudes follow.  When I’m cycling I feel more connected and compassionate.  Our city’s purpose is to nurture our citizen’s collective well-being. We don’t want to be fit into a system that doesn’t make us fit or enhance our fitness.  Choosing independent movement through a self-powered vehicle like a bicycle makes us fitter, and is therefore very fitting.  It takes a new vision and education to positively change our social norms and habits, and leadership from the community.  It’s a matter of conscious choice and free will.    Carol says in the Washington Post article: “I think a lot of people have this idea that ‘real cyclists’ will look down on them if they only bike some of the time, or only for short distances, but there are no ‘real cyclists’; there are just people who put on their clothes and get on a bike.”  Cycling really is for everyone.

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/sep/17/the-miracle-pill-how-cycling-could-save-the-nhs

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cycling-to-work-means-better-health-and-a-longer-life-heres-how-to-get-started/2017/09/08/b48d13f2-72ed-11e7-9eac-d56bd5568db8_story.html?utm_term=.509d666c2b0e

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/apr/20/its-good-to-hear-cycling-to-work-reduces-your-risk-of-dying-but-thats-not-why-i-do-it

Kenneth Burke—“people may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness.” quoted in The Well-Tempered City by Jonathan F.P. Rose

https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/other_topics/fhwasa09027/resources/Design%20Guidance%20Accommodating%20Bicycle%20and%20Pedestrian%20Travel.pdf