Category Archives: perceptions of cycling

Celebrating Steve Tilford, a cyclist and communicator

It takes a certain amount of discipline to allow yourself not to get caught up in the adult world so much and see the world through the eyes of a child. When you do that, it makes life much more enjoyable.  —Steve Tilford, from his blog

The first NORBA Mtn Bike National Championships, 1983, Santa Barbara CA. left to right John Loomis, Steve Tilford, Steve Cook. From Ned Overend’s Facebook post on Steve’s passing

I was sad to hear Steve Tilford’s life tragically ended in a highway crash.  Steve was the first US National Mountain Bike (MTB) Champion, a seven time World Champion (5x MTB Masters, 2x Cyclocross Masters), and all around world class rider who shared his cycling experiences daily through is popular blog.  I didn’t know him personally, but his work has been a source of inspiration for me.   The photos in this post without captions are from my recent travels.  And here’s a song that has been playing in my head that seems appropriate for this moment.

Steve was an American original.  His beautiful writing shares the essence of a cycling life.  By reading Steve, I learned more how cycling grants a better life, and creates a better society and world.  His understanding was deep and rich, and he was honest and willing to talk about what he believed.  As a communicator he did naturally what George Lakoff teaches.  Steve framed facts in moral terms (Steve called out cheating cyclists, for instance) and activated our empathy and sense of social responsibility.  He showed us what cyclists go through, shared the cycling spirit, and made the community cycling generates more visible.  Steve evoked the joy, love and adventure cycling brings, and taught us how cycling connects us with our own humanity.

It’s the humanity that Steve communicated that stands out.  More than a bike racer, he was a good person.  Cycling is communicated as a way of life, of being, that brings fulfillment, meaning and discovery, if you’re not afraid to work hard, keep moving and get your hands dirty.   And what it brings, we see by reading Steve, are friendships and a sense of community that is absolutely incredible.  The prosperity cycling brings spills over into every life area.  Steve brought the great traditions of cycling forward, and adapted cycling to our times.  He had so much knowledge and understanding.  I’ll miss reading his blog and hearing about his racing experiences, and being surprised on which neighbor he was helping, what was happening in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, the people he was meeting, and history and outlook of one of the world’s best cyclists and greatest teachers.  He blazed a new path and left us a trail.  Stevetilford.com

Mountain roads and sacred places

“A good scientist doesn’t have to be separate from the world to make sense of it.”  –Eva Saulitis, Every Reason to Stay in The Sun Magazine, January 2017

While cycling in Japan I discovered some amazing places, like the one pictured above.  I was on a super narrow road, a path really, and the light shining through the bamboo forest canopy and pooling on the ground startled me.  When I’m out cycling my work interests in geography, culture and sustainable transportation flow together with my sense of curiosity and wonder.

Sakai City Japan, the suburb of Osaka where Mai’s parents live, is the home of Shimano, a leader in cycling manufacturing.  Shimano adapted technologies from gun manufacturing in the 1800’s and applied them to cycling parts construction to meet demand for cycling.  Shimano has a bicycle museum in Sakai City.  I’ll have to visit!  This time around I was happy making my own firsthand experiences cycling in Sakai City and the adjacent mountains.  The museum looks very interesting, as they tie together the evolution of technology with the ongoing development of cycling culture.  Cycling is an epic story, a way to relax in nature, build community, be joyful and work towards big picture goals such as global sustainability.  The museum website is here.

Cycling works as a positive force promoting a sustainable, connected, healthy way of being.  When I met other cyclists on the road in Japan there were head bows, encouraging words, and looks of understanding, unspoken communication of shared joy.  The bicycle builds natural and inclusive culture amazingly well if people are open to it.  Cycling creates communion.

Japan’s beauty is awesome.  On this road pictured below climbing up into the Kongo Range, a creek and waterfalls were flowing beside the road.  The landscape’s sweet music.  It reminded me of the sound of meltwater running off the San Juan Mountains I hear in the Ironhorse in Durango, Colorado, which is upcoming this May.  Cycling keeps me motivated and looking ahead to the next sequence of discoveries and shared experiences.  What a joy.  Thank you!

Why Cycle? Because it works!

Cycling in Japan is more about getting the groceries than getting fit.  –Byron Kidd, tokyobybike.com

Anytime we travel or do something out of the ordinary, it gives us a special perspective on our daily lives.  That was certainly the case when I traveled to Japan.  A few things dawned on me that are working in Japan to create a robust walking and cycling culture.  It’s not perfect, but I learned a lot there.  Here are ten reasons why walking and cycling are thriving in Japan.

1. Everyone walks and cycles.  It is a daily necessity, and expected.  It’s the way people go shopping, and to work and school.  It’s the way people access open space, get fresh air, exercise, and spend time outside together.  Walking and cycling are routine, everyday habits.  Errands and exercise flow together.

Seniors ride their bikes to Thai Chi practice in the park

2. Automobile drivers are disciplined, careful and attentive.  Drivers expect to see people on streets and crossing at intersections, and are prepared to yield to slower traffic ahead and when turning.   Drivers reliably use blinkers to communicate intentions.  Driver education and training is extensive and the responsibility of driving is taken seriously and respected.

3. Communities are planned as villages, and are oriented around train stations.  Businesses cluster around the train station, creating a village center.  People live within a short walk or bike from the village center and walking and cycling are the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way of getting to where you want to go, and the best way to access shopping and services.

4. Japan’s train system is awesome.  You really don’t need a car because it makes more sense to take the train.  Trains are accurate, frequent, fast, smooth and safe.  Quality transit makes good community planning a lot easier, and is a building block for healthy, efficient and sustainable transportation.  You have freedom to read, relax, talk or meditate on the train.

5.  Japan has the lowest car usage rate of any of the G8 countries.  This means roads are smaller.  Smaller roads necessitate lower speeds.  Lower speeds for cars means calmer streets for walking, cycling.  Reduced speed differentials increases safety and comfort.  Smaller roads are easier to cross, cycle on, and navigate, and do business along, and it feels like healthier human habitat.

6. Compact, dense development makes destinations closer.  Japan is more careful about space efficiency because space is precious.  With denser building, more destinations are within easy reach by walking and cycling.  Compact, dense development makes walking and cycling very useful, as well as super interesting.  Cars are designed to be space efficient, as well, and the nimbleness of walking and cycling is prized.

7. Japan has a great cycling culture naturally.  From school children to elderly, business people to homemakers, everybody cycles.  It’s just normal.  People cycle in their day clothes, and functional athletic gear, too.  Whatever is fitting.  Towns and businesses serve cyclists by making parking convenient and easy because it makes rational sense and people use bikes for everything.

8.  People walk everywhere, and people are used to sharing space.  Cycling benefits from a strong walking culture.  It means drivers are accustomed to the presence of people on the streets, are on the lookout, and patient to share.  Walking is the foundation of the transportation system in Japan, and it anchors the streets in a culture of sharing.  People have priority.

9. Safety and security is high.  Bicycles are usually parked with a simple lock immobilizing the rear tire.  Streets are family space, and feel inhabited.  Public spaces are clean, organized, cared for and well-tended.  The architecture, design and the way things fit together is beautiful.  There is a strong sense of social responsibility, order, respect and dignity in Japan.  It feels neat and safe.

10.  Walking and cycling is easy, convenient, and effective.  The Japanese take advantage of the most basic forms of transportation by using them as organizing principles and practical tools for daily living, including making people healthier, happier and connected to the community where they live.

Cycling Japan lights my fire

“Touch is the greatest thing on earth. “ –Ray Charles

After five trips to Japan with Mai, on my sixth trip I finally cycled there.  It made all the difference.  This time I was determined to take time for cycling.  I rented a bike on two different occasions, and cycled about 460 kilometers.  Cycling put me in touch with a lot of things.  Here are a few photos and a sketch of my cycling experiences.  I’ll add more detail in my next posts.

My first ride in Japan was in Kagoshima with Mai.  We took a ferry across the bay to Sakurajima, an active volcano.  Mai rented a bike there and we pedaled together on a combination of paved paths, village and farm roads, and highways.  What a beautiful way to experience Japan.  The next day Mai connected me with a local professional cyclist through the bicycle shop I rented from, Fun Ride in Kagoshima, and he led me on a ride through the city and out into the hills.

The vistas from the hills above Kagoshima looking out onto the city, bay and Sakurajima were mesmerizing.  Japan is over 70% mountains, and has more land covered by forest than any countries other than Sweden and Finland.  So once you get out of town, the landscape is rural and a complete contrast to the busy cities.  There are many small farms, and nature abounds.

After two days of cycling in Kagoshima, we took the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) back to Osaka where Mai’s parents live.  I rented a bicycle there, and ventured into the mountains straddling the border between Osaka and Wakayama, Mount Izumi Katsuragi, in the Kongo Range.

I was delighted by the back roads.  There are so many byways from the foothills up the mountains that are only a lane or a lane in a half wide.  There is hardly any motorized traffic on them so it seems more like a mountain bike ride.  Very peaceful, quiet and enchanting.  There are roads like this in California such as Ebbetts Pass (though it has more traffic) but Japan has an incredible network of them.   I had some knowledge of these roads based on what I’d seen on maps and Google Earth, but cycling them gave me an entirely new understanding.

The access to the mountains from Osaka is pretty amazing.   Since it was the start of Spring, blooms were beginning and farmers were busy working their fields.  Schools were on break.  It was a great time to be cycling, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.  Arigato Japan!

Happiness on a Bicycle

She put down in writing what was in her mind.  –Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet”

You’re always a kid on a bike.  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”

white-sands-flow

My sister sent me a subscription to Sun Magazine for Christmas 2016.  The first issue contains Heather Sellers’ short story on her cycling life.  I am pretty amazed at how Sellers’ writing evokes perceptions and feelings one may experience while cycling.  If you want to read Sellers’ story directly, here is the link to Sun Magazine January 2017 Issue 493.  It’s an amazing story.  A story full of truth about what cycling can do.  As Barry Lopez wrote, “Story creates an atmosphere in which [truth] becomes discernible as a pattern” (Crossing Open Ground, 1989).  I fit my photos from White Sands this past September–when Mai and I walked the soft sand dunes at twilight watching the sunlight splash and play on the landscape–to this blog post.

white-sands-floating-castle

Albuquerque’s official visitors guide for 2016, published by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has catchy slogans–change your perspective and find your essence.  New Mexico’s landscape and culture can do that for you, exponentially so if you experience it on a bike.  “On a bike the world seems made just for you”, says Sellers.  She goes on to say, “Somehow it was the landscape…that made me feel smarter.”  Cycling opens up our capacity for wonder again, and allows us to receive the information about place through our senses.  Cycling makes it easier to let the place we inhabit touch us, in a reciprocal, healthy, even healing way.  By opening up and giving ourselves up to the experience of place, we receive knowledge that is otherwise elusive.

white-sands-night-awakening

When we cycle we have a much more intimate view of our surroundings.  With a careful operator, the bicycle moves in a way that is relatively unobtrusive.  It just flows, “each moment unfurling into the next”, as Sellers puts it.   “The tires carry on a conversation with the road, and you are both a part of it and listening to it all at once”.  Cycling teaches us how to get along.

mai-walking-at-sunset

Sellers addresses the social dimension of cycling.  Group riding made her feel “like we were doing ballet on a roadway.”  She talks about the “exquisite timing” of group riding and how that makes her “more at ease with people on land”.  People on land?  Sellers uses a trope making cycling a metaphor for flying, evoking our ancient kinship with the animal kingdom.  We need to feel that sense of wonder and awe.  Cycling stokes our vital forces.  Wakes us up.  Connects us.

white-sands-dune-glow

As well as improving the way we get along with others, cycling makes us feel more like ourselves.  Sellers’ writes, “When I was on my bike, I could not only envision a happy, outgoing future self; I was her.”  That experience of being happy, present, and connected is powerful.

Resources:  Once again, here’s the link to Sellers’ article.  “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal.” 

 

The Spirit of the Bicycle

Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Bicycles remind me of the Canadian rock band Rush.  They’ve never had the marketing machine elevating them to pop star status, but their audience grows over the years through consistent competency, practicality, artistry, value and pure fun.  They simply perform well.

west-looking

And so it is with the bicycle.  I was talking with a bike shop manager during a ride.  His ideal customer is someone just getting started and wanting an entry level bicycle, $400 or so.  They ride it until it wears out.  Through their experience, they have a clearer idea for the next one.  I told him that was my story.  I started riding almost 20 years ago on a Specialized Rockhopper.  It cost about $400.  Now, 20+ bikes later, I’m on a Specialized Tarmac.  Technology is wonderful, but the most important thing is your bike fits you, and is mechanically sound.  How much money you spend is irrelevant.  The ride characteristics come from you, the rider, from your heart and soul.  A good bike lets you do what you want to do.  It is intuitive, honest, trustful.  You are the instrument making the sound.  You make the bicycle go where you want to be.

wilderness-edge

The places we can go are fabulous!  When I was driving 18-wheeler across America for a living, I saw a lot of country.  But I missed most of what was out there.  The bicycle allows you to immerse yourself and get a 360 degree experience of the landscape surrounding you.   Cycling experiences make our senses and minds more impressionable.  It keeps us fresh, youthful.  If I would have had a bicycle with me on my 18-wheeler rig to ride during layovers, loading times, and rest days, I could still be truckin’.  We live in the best of both worlds.  We have macro-transportation capabilities to span the globe, and can find intimacy and serene pleasure too if we take the time to be quiet, humble, and explore under our own useful and fitting powers.  Keeping a balance is key.  We have to choose wisely, and accommodate ourselves to the world.

fr-445-specialized-action

The bicycle allows us to build an understanding of the world minus the scaffolding.  The structure of the cycling experience is almost unmediated.  What a brilliant, fun technology.  The bicycle is sustainable transportation.  It is practical and worthwhile.  My how we need it!

champions

tall-view

If you want to be a champion to future generations and create important changes now, be a champion of the humble bicycle.  Let people make music with the bicycle.  Embrace this technology and abide by it.   Unlike the rock band Rush, bicycles do not grow old.   We are on the precipice of big change in the world.  Bicycles help us move our story in the right direction and produce more positive outcomes, win-wins.  Bicycles build optimism, health, and–

  • get us out of our bubble
  • activate our inherent mobility powers
  • shift our perceptions so we tune in
  • stimulate creative thinking
  • help us meet new people, feel connected to our communities, and be a part of the world
  • assist us in creating change
  • deliver benefits in health and wellness, sustainability, and creative development

Bicycles put humans in a positive light.  Days are gifts as we pedal forward.  The bicycle abides.

at-the-dunes

resources:
Check out Specialized for bicycles.  The spirit of the bicycle is you!

A Complete Ride

We’ve all heard how sports such as cycling can be more mental than physically challenging.  Virginia Commonwealth University embraced the UCI Road World Championships in 2015 in Richmond, VA with a cross-disciplinary campus-wide effort to engage faculty and students in experiential learning.  Their work became “part of the university’s intellectual and cultural heritage”.  Studying cycling helps you realize it transcends any fixed categories such as transportation, identity, or even sport.  It is an integral part of the fabric of our lives.

VCU English Professor Gardner Campbell explained:  “The project was not just the experience of a sporting event. It represented something more, having to do with the possibilities of human accomplishment and the commitment it takes to get to your goals. Our students saw around them, as they were pushing themselves in the context of their own intensive courses, world-class athletes who were committing their hearts and minds and bodies to excellence.”

vcu-bike-book

The Great VCU Bike Race Book project gave students an opportunity to learn by doing and a chance to become “authors,” producing content curated into a virtual “book.” –photo from the article linked below

Read the full article here:  How a Bike Race Led to Experiential, Personalized Learning ,or,

https://campustechnology.com/articles/2016/11/16/how-a-bike-race-led-to-experiential-personalized-learning.aspx

This video of the final 5 kilometers of the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, VA shows an exhausted peloton.  The echo chamber of fans lining the cobbled streets, cheering in global tongues.  The winding course highlights city features, the 50 mile pedestrian trail to Williamsburg, Libby Hill, Governor Street, world culture shining in America, and Sagan’s all around cycling skills.  He only had a couple bike length’s lead over the last cobbled climb, but opened the gap zipping through the twisty turns, and extended it further with unrelenting commitment across the flats.  And the way his competitors great him after the race!

An incredible ride by Sagan, steadfastness, control and skill in the midst of seeming chaos.  The discipline of saving energy, then unleashing his heart’s desires at just the right moment.  Cycling is a global sport and a spiritual journey.  Sagan used the microphone after the race to call attention to the plight of refugees, and articulate a vision for shared prosperity for all humanity.  He won the road world championships again in 2016 to continue his reign.  We keep learning!

Virginia Commonwealth University is our Bike Org of the Month for November, 2016.

Detail on the course in Richmond here:  https://www.usacycling.org/richmond-2015-unveils-courses-for-2015-uci-road-world-championships.htm
A previous blog post on Sagan’s Richmond victory:  Achieve World Peace Through Bicycling