It was roughly 4 years ago that I seriously made a commitment to cycling, specifically mountain biking. I have always ridden bicycles from a young age, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I realized how much I truly loved the sport. I became more immersed and began competing. I quickly improved and traveled across the country racing at the elite level for Team Santa Cruz/X-Fusion P/B Frontier. It was like a dream come true to be noticed enough to be offered a scholarship for the sport I love so much.
This quick love for my new sport led me to Lees-McRae College, which has one of the few top Division 1 cycling programs in the country. Between the very enticing athletic scholarship I was offered (for which I am so very appreciative and flattered) and with the ability to graduate with a minor in cycling — no other college could even compare. Academically, Lees-McRae offered all of the other interests I have and need that will help me move forward on my path.
My parents probably realized my passion for cycling long before I did, but I don’t think any of us could have anticipated where it would take me. At age six I asked my father if I could sell my horse that I was given just a few years before, for my birthday, and then in turn use the money to buy a mountain bike.
My dad still owns and works with horses by profession, so you can imagine that I grew up as an equestrian as well. The question of becoming a cyclist was not really an issue since my dad has always supported my passions. He always has my best interests at heart.
Back to my arrival at Lees-McRae…I was accepted and enrolled in my first classes of the cycling minor and other basic courses. Actually, the cycling minor at Lees-McRae was the first in the country and is still the only one of its kind. The main professor, Ted Silver, is an amazing expert in the sport.
In the 100 level class, students learn a little of everything from how the bicycle came to be, basic function, to the laws of the road and even some mechanics. Next is the 200 level class where students learn about cycling infrastructure, design and urban planning. I am currently enrolled in the 300 level class where we have been learning how to communicate with potentially important people that might help get better cycling infrastructure placed in our communities.
This last class included a field trip to Washington D.C. for the National Bicycle Summit. It’s an annual event where hundreds of cycling advocates from around the country come together and spend the day on Capitol Hill meeting with representatives to advocate for cycling.
Thanks to a generous grant from Bikes Belong we were able to take this amazing trip as a class. We had the opportunity to appreciate the sights of our nation’s capital by bike. Later that evening everyone was treated to a first class dinner and some fascinating speeches, one of which was by The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, arguably one of the biggest supporters of cycling in the federal government. An attendee said, “He is the only politician who keeps talking about bikes once cycling advocates leave the room.”
After the dinner was over, we all broke off into our respective state groups. Having been raised in Altadena, California I went over to the LA County group, one of the many groups from California. We discussed how things would go on Wednesday when we went up on Capitol Hill.
So, Tuesday was basically a learning day. We went to many different workshops and learned about everything from wilderness trail conservation to social media as an advocacy tool. Although most classes were quite interesting, others were a bit over our heads.
During a highlight of the day, I had the privilege to meet with Gary Fisher and Hans Rey, both Mountain Bike Hall of Fame members. Following the workshops we once again met up with our delegations to knock-out the final details for the next day up on the Hill.
Wednesday morning we all woke up with a nice amount of nervous excitement with some anticipation sprinkled on top. In no time we had made our way to the Hill, where we split-up and went to meet with our respective delegations. I meet up with Eric Bruins, who would be doing all of the talking in the meetings in order to keep them focused and professional. He is the planning and policy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and is an amazing advocate.
After taking a group photo or two, we were off to our first meeting with the congressman who represents the Long Beach area. Since the congressman was so busy throughout the day, all of our meetings were with the representative staffers, which is rather common. These are the people who really help the congressman make the hard decisions and advise the congressman how to vote since he is so busy; at least that is how it seems to me.
Our first meeting went smoothly as we introduced ourselves, and then Eric dove right into our list of ‘asks’… usually the first question being if the congressman would join the Bicycle Caucus. The second ‘ask’ was that the congressman please come see a cycling event in the district. This is important because if they can come out and see success in person they are more likely to be compelled to want to make improvements or continue with what is already being done. The third and final ‘ask’ was that the congressman sign a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to Secretary Ray LaHood in support of performance measures for cycling improvements.
There are currently performance measures in place for cars but none for bikes or pedestrians. A performance measure sets goals such as reduced crashes or deaths for states and cities to meet in order to receive funding. It has been proven that performance measures work for cars as collisions and fatalities have gone down over the past few years. Unfortunately due to the lack of bike and pedestrian (Ped) performance measures bike and ped deaths have consistently increased over the last few years.
For example in LA County, 19% of trips are made by walking or biking yet 39% of fatalities that occur on roads are cyclists or pedestrians. Without measures to ensure that bikes and pedestrians are safe this number will surely continue to rise. After he explained these things the staffer asked some questions about some of the ‘asks’ and thoughtful bike related questions. We then said thank you and left as a group. We did this several times throughout the day with different staffers.
I enjoyed every moment I spent on the Hill. It was one of the highlights of my year; learning to be a part of the political process… going from meeting to meeting and actually being a part of a group fighting for change. Before this trip, I had very little faith in the democratic process. After being on Capitol Hill and watching as staff member after staff member was enlightened about the flaws in our transportation system, the idea that there is even a slight chance that positive change can be made through the political process has inspired me to want to take more matters into my own hands.
I cannot just be content with the way things are now, but instead expect more: for the roads to be as safe for me as they are for a motorist. I have also realized that if we don’t fight for these things now, nobody will, and in 10, 20, or even 50 years from now I may not be able to go out and do what I love.
Without the people who have been advocating for cycling for years I may not have been able to do what I love and if we don’t continue in their footsteps who knows if my kids will be able to ride the way I rode as a kid? As difficult as it must have been for my dad to hear that at such a young age I did not share his passion for horses, we now know he made the right decision when he told me that I could donate my horse to a riding school for the handicapped and that he would buy me my first mountain bike. At least he was able to tell me I could pursue my passion.
What this really brings home to me is that everyone has their own passion in life from cycling to horse riding to everything under the sun. America was founded upon the idea that everyone should have an equal right to the pursuit of happiness as long as it does not infringe upon another’s rights. Thanks to these kinds of ideas, our government was designed so that if you feel your ability to pursue your passions and realize that your rights to happiness are being infringed upon, you can bring your issues to the government. It may be slow, but the Constitution is framed to represent our rights as individual American citizens and we each have a voice.
I will pursue my basic rights as a cyclist, but I do not feel that I can do it alone. After participating in my first National Bicycle Summit, I plan on returning every year to learn more, and hopefully even teach others about what I have learned about how to protect the Constitutional rights of our fellow cyclists.
I am also very grateful to everyone who helped me and my classmates participate in such a great learning experience including Bikes Belong, The League of American Bicyclists, and Lees-McRae College.