By Sal Ruibal
The very merry month of May is also National Bike Month. I’m sure you are all excited about the big bike parade in the downtown of your city and the speechifying from the mayor and your U.S. Senator about how great bikes are and how they help the environment and make us fit and happy.
I’m always eager to see the happy Moms and Dads riding with their kids, whooping it up down Main Street as the dozens of independently owned bike shops open their doors to greet their throngs of loyal customers.
The highlight is the annual announcement of the top cycling state in the U.S. of A. Those bragging rights are determined by the highest authority in the land, The League of American Bicyclists. No matter who wins, there will be heated discussions all over the country, with No. 2-ranked Coloradoans drowning their sorrows with Gatorade and those lucky-duck, No. 1 Washington Staters dancing in the streets of Seattle guzzling home-brewed Pilsners.
The air is filled with huzzahs and hoo-rahs and the ringing, ringing, ringing of your alarm clock.
It was all just a dream.
May is National Bike Month, but every day is National Automobile Day, Hour, Minute, Second. You can’t avoid it. I live across a little-used street from the Cardinal Forest, but I can hear the rumble and buzz from I-66 and I-95 more than a mile away all day and into the night.
I am lucky. I can get on my mountain bike and be on a forest trail in about 10 seconds. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated cyclists over the years, I only have to ride about six blocks of pavement to reach a trail network that would take a week to ride ride every foot of singletrack.
We’ve done a good job in Northern Virginia of making lots of cool places to ride in the woods, but a not so good job of making it easier to ride to work, movie theaters, grocery stores and most important, schools. We have swooping, flowing singletrack for miles and miles but the kids who ride bikes to West Springfield High face a busy thoroughfare with no shoulders and a short paved path that is so buckled and cracked you need a full-suspension downhill bike to survive it.
The opposite is true in China, the most important nation in the world right now. If you don’t believe that, go through your house and garage and toss out every item made in China.
I visited China in 2007 and 2008 and was amazed by the rivers of bikes that flowed through Shanghai, Chengdu, Beijing, Tianjin and Hangzhou. I saw women in fashionable clothes and high-heels ride next to vendors selling corn-on-the-cob from a steaming pot bolted to their bike. Average citizens had amazing bike-handling skills: track stands in busy intersections for minutes on end.
But there were few singletrack trails. In 2008 I was lucky to hook up with the American guys from the Trek shop near the Beijing Olympic mountain bike course who took us on a great ride in the hills above smoggy Beijing.
The year before, I was in Hangzhou, a beautiful lake city. It was the only place in China where I found a mountain bike rental shop. It really wasn’t a shop, but a guy with some funky MTBs on a street corner that he rented by the hour to tourists – mostly Chinese – who wanted to ride around gorgeous West Lake. They didn’t get many foreigners renting bikes, so I got the stink-eye for a minute or so, but I did get a bike.
I was so happy to be on a mountain bike that I almost cried.
We are making progress. In neighboring Washington, D.C., you can get a “key” to use DC Bikeshare for only $75 a year. You can go to any kiosk, use your key to release a bike from the rack and ride away. Of course, you must return it to any kiosk in the system. Only $75 a year, no maintenance, no muss no fuss. I’m happy to see that neighboring jurisdictions are creating similar systems.
There’s no reason why Bikeshare can’t be created for mountain bikes at our county recreation facilities. They rent paddle boats, why not bikes?
Celebrate National Bike Month by riding your bike every day and preaching the gospel of singletrack salvation. I know I’ve been saved.