Category Archives: landscapes and cultures of cycling

All of us

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
Henry David Thoreau

People bicycling are like family.  Cycling has an amazingly broad and diverse impact throughout our communities.  But I still get surprised when I meet new cyclists and experience how the world of cycling is expanding.  Cycling keeps branching out and bridging gaps.  When I picked up the September/October 2018 issue of Bicycling magazine, I was captivated by the story on NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and his love for bicycling, and how that love is shared by so many in motorsports.


Joe Gibbs Racing mechanic Sean Kerlin is a cycling enthusiast.  photo from bicycling.com

I don’t care who you are…it [cycling] is just a great break in the craziness of life. –Jimmie Johnson

Johnson is one of the great drivers of all time, and he’s also cultivated a passion for cycling.  He uses it for many of the reasons we all do.  Cycling has helped him listen to his body and learn about its needs (which helps him in the race car when he is driving).  Cycling helps him enjoy his travels more.  Johnson gets to explore the places he goes in depth and detail by pedaling, and meets lots of interesting people.   And then there’s the intangibles.  Cycling just makes for a better day.  I bet cycling helps him practice hand, feet and eye coordination too, honing skills.

I’m following Jimmie Johnson on Strava now, and enjoy seeing his almost daily rides.  He has 7423 followers on Strava as of this writing, and posts some awesome pictures of the places he rides and people he rides with, including his wife.  Cycling makes life more beautiful.

To innovate…you need a trained imagination. —Martha Nussbaum, NEH 2017 Spring conversation

I’m a driving enthusiast, but didn’t grow up a NASCAR fan.  So for me, Johnson’s cycling is a way into NASCAR traditions and culture.  I found out they are not so different than what I am used to.  They have a competitive drive that fosters innovation, and they care about the broader world, the environment and all people.  The NASCAR Green program works to minimize NASCAR’ environmental impact and preserve the natural environment and foster sustainability.

No wonder so many of the drivers, mechanics, and staff in NASCAR have joined with cycling culture!  It delivers a balanced approach and real sense of mechanical efficiency, ergonomics and light impact.  Maybe when we ride a bike we are not as alone as we may think.

An action is the perfection and publication of thought.  A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

The bike brings people together.  When we see people cycling we have an automatic connection.  We have a technology that helps us calm our minds, deepen our engagement with our bodies and the planet, and expands our sense of the other, making the world more familiar.

I like this poem by William Safford, called “Maybe Alone on My Bike”.  There’s an analysis in the Literature chapter of this Routledge Handbook that makes me think about the potential of the bicycle.  So much stored energy!  It’s almost like cycling tames ourselves and opens us up to a conversation with the landscape.  We sense a greater connection to the world around us.

I’ve blogged about the manifold applications of cycling over the years.  Here are a few examples of the positive impacts cycling imparts on individual lives, our families, our imaginations of what is possible.  Out of many, cycling makes us one again.  Riding a bike more and sharing the experience with others is a goal that creates the kind of world we want to live in.

The World Bank sees cycling as an investment in health:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/high-level-champions-for-bicycling/

The US Military sponsors endurance sports to support our service personnel:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/telling-it-like-it-is/

Kids benefit from cycling in many ways:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/cycling-in-the-news/

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Connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe with cycling

The way we treat the environment and the way we treat each other are intricately connected.  —Jonathan P. Thompson, “We are the environmental movement”, Colorado Sierra Club blog 

I’ve reached a couple milestones recently.  This is my 365th blog post on bike yogi.  For some reason, this has been a number I’ve had in my head as a goal since I started this blog in 2014 to write about cycling.  I also was trained as a cycling instructor this past Spring by the League of American Bicyclists.  I’ve wanted to do that for years!  And on Sunday June 17th, I connected two great cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with a bicycle ride along the Turquoise Trail, through Santa Fe, and on up Hyde Park Road into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

the turquoise trail connects Albuquerque to Santa Fe through rolling high desert terrain and beautiful mountains

I woke up early on Sunday to begin my ride by 7:15am so I could meet my wife in Santa Fe at Fort Marcy Park for a picnic at noon.  Although June is an extremely hot and dry month historically in the Southwest U.S., the previous day we received a steady rain and the landscape was still wet and fragrant.  Lingering clouds dropped some showers in spots as I rode.  It felt so good to pedal and circulate that oxygenated blood all around my body, and at the same time watch that vital ingredient in the chemistry of life–WATER–flow from sky to the waiting earth.

bike art along the Turquoise Trail

The atmosphere above, the ocean below–it’s one big system.  –Sylvia Earle, “Sunken Treastures

Spooling down the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway on a bicycle is a little bit like sailing on an inverted ocean, the clouds roiling in the sky with a fluid, wave-like motion.  I feel the beauty inside of me.  We already see the roads as an artifact of our culture, and a way into the culture, history and traditions of the land around us.  In Georgia, there is a pilot project on highway to farm the roadside and make it more ecologically productive.  As part of this project rethinking what a highway can be, Georgia is building bioswales to clean the water runoff, growing wheatgrass to sequester carbon, and experimenting with asphalts to make it quieter.  This sounds exciting, but right now by cycling I already feel the way this road is improving my health, today!  Why do for people what people can do for themselves?  Cycling is an economic engine.

Hyde Park Road leads up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

The infrastructure is the landscape.  –Jonathan Thompson, “River of Lost Souls

In Santa Fe I took the most direct way through town, and started climbing up Hyde Park Road.  Due to the high fire danger most of the recreational facilities from the road are closed, so there is very little traffic, and more than half of that traffic are bicyclists.  It’s so quiet I am spooked when I here twigs breaking in the forest next to me.  I look to my right towards the sound’s source and there are two deer running up an embankment.  They were enjoying the quiet too.  After I climb “the wall”, the steep two mile pitch through the State Park, I turn around to be on time for my picnic date with my wife.  It’s delightful.  After lunch we stroll through town.  In the Plaza in the center of town where the streets are closed to motorized traffic, all I can hear is a chorus of human voices.  It’s like a hundred conversations happening all at once, something like a symphony of voices.  A beautiful sound.  The fabric of community.  We stumble upon a free concert by the Santa Fe Concert Band in front of the Court House.  We lay on the grass and listen to the songs roll–Arioso, Black Horse Troop, A Touch of Carmen, The Phantom of the Opera. We drive home to Albuquerque together, feeling restored, hoping more rain will come soon.

The Santa Fe Concert Band played a Father’s Day Concert at Federal Park

Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.  –Albert Einstein

References and Resources:

We are the environmental movement is an interview with writer Jonathan Thompson https://www.sierraclub.org/colorado/blog/2018/06/we-are-environmental-movement

Georgia DOT is farming the roadside:  https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/georgia-highway-rightofway-farming-ray-anderson

Explore New Mexico’s Scenic Byways:  http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en/byways.html

The Sun Magazine’s feature interview each of the last five months has been incredibly inspiring:
https://www.thesunmagazine.org

Jonathan Thompson’s book River of Lost Souls is in part about converting our economy so what used to be sacrifice zones contribute more to human well-being and our sense of place.  https://riveroflostsouls.com

Loving the land

Somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous, recognizable culture has been growing on Western ranches and in Western towns and even in Western cities.  It is the product not of the boomers but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.  I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.  –Wallace Stegner

I was at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and was reminded how the act of cycling restores to us a sense of our better selves.  On Saturday the road from Durango to Silverton is open only for event traffic, which consists of thousands of people cycling.  And on Sunday, in downtown Durango they build a BMX (bicycle motorcross) course on Main Street and run mountain bike, kids, and costume rides through town.  The city is designed for enjoyment.

In this economy, what is circulating is people, and more specifically people filled with curiosity, joy and excitement.  Combine the human created atmosphere with the Animas River flowing through the heart of town, quaking Aspen stands, and the La Plata and San Juan mountains flying high on the edges, and you have what feels like a healthy community.  As my wife said, “the oxygen tastes good” in Durango.

Contempt for the natural world is contempt for life.  The domination of nature leads to the domination of human nature.  —Edward Abbey, quoted in “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” by Jonathan P. Thompson

To put Abbey’s idea into positive terms, perhaps embracing our human nature helps us to appreciate greater nature.  When we get on a bicycle, our legs flow freely around in circles, the wind blows in our faces, and we breath in more of that sacred oxygen.  We feel good.  We move forward.  When I become more alive inside, I see more of the life around me.  Cycling fits here.

Dutch cycling

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  —World Health Organization

Cycling culture is universal in the Netherlands.  It is part of the national consciousness.  They embrace all things bicycle.  In a country with less than half the population of California, they have many of the worlds top cyclists including Chantal Blaak, winner of the Amstel Gold Race and World Road Race Championship, and Tom Doumalin, winner of the Giro d’Italia and World Time Trial Championship.  Just as Norway’s love for winter sports was on display in the Winter Olympics, the spirit of the people of the Netherlands expresses through cycling, in sport and everyday life.  Cycling is a principle value the Dutch have built their communities around.  [I usually use my pictures for this blog, but the photos in this post are from the public domain, mostly of the Amstel Gold women’s race which takes place every April in the Netherlands]

The bicycle was the traditional vehicle for transportation in the Netherlands in the early part of the 20th century, accounting for about 80% of trips in Amsterdam.  Car technology changed that in the 1960’s, just like it did here in the U.S.  The Dutch decided in the 1970’s to comprehensively plan for providing service to people cycling, and that has made a big difference.  Cities are built for people on bicycles.  75% of secondary school children bicycle to school.  The Dutch educate their children to travel by bike with a traffic certificate program, which most kids complete by age 12.  This is part of the planning process, to instill confidence.  There is a public expectation that kids will be cycling.  The urban planners work with the traffic department and local communities to ensure that the roads, paths, and trails are safe for bikes.  This is very similar to the travel culture that I experienced in Japan–bikes and walking are thought through and planned as completely as other modes such as trains, buses, and cars.

The results are pretty incredible.  By no means perfect, but they go a long way towards a happy, healthier and more sustainable society.  We have all the seeds in America we need for this.  Our Safe Routes to Schools programming started as a safe streets movement in a country nearby the Netherlands, Denmark.  We have many assets we can leverage including wide streets, space and our hallmark of ingenuity guided by science and a high regard for all people.  Our Constitution seeks to form “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.  Bicycling aids with all of these things, the American way.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we celebrate cycling, I like to remember how it brings together the highest aspirations for our healthiest possible future.  It is about justice, equity, inclusion, freedom, equality, and building strong and responsible communities.  We can tell our young cyclists when they push those pedals the possibilities are unlimited.  You very well could end up on top of the world.

BERG EN TERBLIJT, NETHERLANDS – APRIL 15: Arrival / Chantal Blaak of The Netherlands and Team Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam / Celebration / Lucinda Brand of The Netherlands and Team Sunweb Women / during the 5th Amstel Gold Race 2018 a 116,9km women’s race from Maastricht to Berg En Terblijt on April 15, 2018 in Berg En Terblijt, Netherlands. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Photo Credits, and References:
http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/amstel-gold-race-women-2018/results/
http://www.tdwsport.com
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/gallery/2016/may/18/cris-toala-olivares-netherlands-tulip-fields
http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/racing/world-champion-chantal-blaak-wins-2018-amstel-gold-race-376513
https://santanaadventures.com

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycling_in_the_Netherlands