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CYCLING: Spinning our wheels

touring cyclists

©Dmitry Naumov | Dreamstime.com

May is National Bike Month in the United States, and across the country, there are signs that America is finally starting to “get it” when it comes to bicycling.

Am I the only one who gets mildly annoyed at the steady stream of commemorative days, weeks and months, all begging for a sliver of our precious attention span? National This Week, National That Month.

Do you ever find yourself wishing for a National Nothing Month?

That’s how it is for me, too, with two exceptions. The first is Black History Month, which comes around every February and is far older than most folks suspect. The other is going on now.

National Bike Month.

It’s sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, which is trying to get more American kids riding bikes to school and more of their parents riding to work.

Its motto: “Get Up & Ride!”

Cycling is wonderful fun, great exercise — and as folks are gradually learning, a practical means of transportation. It also works wonders for morale. I smile more on my bike than any other time (except when my beloved Oakland Raiders are winning).

So in the spirit of “Get Up & Ride!,” let me spend a few pixels here on cycling and cyclists.

Black Americans are increasingly getting into bicycling. Some for exercise, some out of economic necessity, the most miniscule handful for sport.

In all those categories, though, our numbers are growing.

From the Major Taylor cycling clubs around the United States to grassroots cycling organizations, like Richmond Spokes and Red Bike and Green in the San Francisco Bay area, black Americans are taking their place on America’s roads.

Then, there’s the NBC that’s a network, but not on television. That would be the National Brotherhood of Cyclists, with its own chain of affiliated black cycling clubs around the country.

Go ahead and cross “cycling” off that list of things that “black folks don’t do.”

While you still have that pen in hand, circle the dates Aug. 8-12. That’s the when NBC will be holding its annual convention in Nashville, TN.

BYOB…Bring Your Own Bike.

Even in 2012, you won’t see many of “us” in road or track race cycling. But if you look, you will see a sprinkling of us.

Back in the day, it was Nelson Vails, who looks as if he could still hammer a banked track into submission. These days, it’s guys like Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams and Erik Saunders.

None of these guys may be household names like, say, Lance Armstrong. But Armstrong knows who they are.

Especially after Bahati and Saunders smoked him in a race in Ojai, CA back in 2005.

Much of the American public — maybe too much of it — still thinks of bicycles as toys. Cheap Walmart-bought toy bikes for their kids. State-of-the-art racing toys for adults — feather-light, technically sophisticated and wildly overpriced.

Little by little, however, people are starting to realize that these are practical machines that can transport not only a person, but a fair amount of goods.

That point was drilled home to me a few days ago when I encountered, for the first time, a cargo bike at my suburban San Diego post office.

Cargo bikes are exactly what their name implies, specifically designed to safely haul big loads. The one I saw at my post office had a frame elongated at the back, with double saddlebags.

It looked very similar to the bike above, except that it also was sporting a wide, flat cargo rack of tubular steel over the front wheel. It looked as if it could’ve easily accommodated a small microwave oven.

To me, it looked like an old-fashioned station wagon on two wheels. I’d seen bikes towing a trailer before, even commercial tricycles with humongous baskets over the two front wheels, but this was like nothing I’d ever seen on asphalt.

I was absolutely blown away by it, too stunned even to chase down the rider and ask him about his remarkable machine.

You can bet I won’t make that mistake again.

As US gas prices continue their painful climb toward $5 a gallon and perhaps more, I fully expect to see a lot more bikes like this in American cities.


So this is a good month to think about digging that bike of yours out of that corner of the garage where it’s been buried, dusting off the cobwebs — from both the bike and yourself — getting yourself a bike helmet…and getting out there.

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