In 2011, Tim Johnson decided to go for a bike ride, a long one. Over 500 miles in fact. The American cyclocross star invited six friends to ride to Washington D.C. last March and along the way over 160 other cyclists joined them for part of the ride. When they finished, they began shaking hands and letting Congress know that cycling is important to American voters at the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit. In the process Johnson also managed to raise $25,000 for Bikes Belong.
Johnson first attended the National Bike Summit in 2010 after an invite from famed race announcer Richard Fries.
“Richard had always told me about the Summit,” said Johnson. “Being in New England, where it’s semi-urban but with country roads, a lot of my friends ride. But my friends also work and those that commute are tough people. Not every place makes commuting easy.”
At the National Bike Summit, the long-time professional racer had a bit of a revelation. There were people that he’d never met, never even heard of, who were working to make his life as a pro cyclist better. Those people were the folks at Bikes Belong, the League of American Bicyclists and other cycling advocacy groups. At the Summit, cyclists met to discuss efforts in their respective communities and encourage their elected officials to consider bicycling constituents when transportation and health legislation comes their way.
“There are over 1,000 people that get together and talk about bikes, not like they do at Interbike, but how to make riding them better,” said Johnson. “It opened my eyes. These are people that are working to make it better for all of us. I saw that as a pro cyclist, there was a lot that I needed to learn. I use roads for a living.”
Suffering for a cause
Rewind to the winter of 2010-11. During a training ride, Johnson said he thought to himself, ’I should just ride to D.C. How far can it be?’
“I talked to Richard, called him up and it was going to be the two of us,” he said. “And the ball started rolling from there.”
The ride was far from easy. Johnson and crew truly suffered for their cause.
“We had the day into NYC that was very hard, just straight up difficult. Over 8,000 feet of climbing, but the next day it rained from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Inches and inches of rain. We were so cold and wet. There was flooding in the streets. So that was fun.”
Johnson made sure that the ride last year had sufficient support, with a SRAM neutral service car following and a sag vehicle. But he also made sure that quitting was not an option for anyone on the ride.
“Even if all of us wanted to quit, it’s impossible,” said Johnson. “We can’t. We don’t have enough racks on the cars and seats inside them. That’s a good situation to be in. That’s where the camaraderie comes in. When things are really hard people come together.”
The suffering was apparently worth it, as Johnson is back this year for another edition of his Ride On Washington. He said he feels that he is just beginning to attract a wide audience.
“When people think of advocacy they think of bike commuting,” he said. “When they think of racing, they think of pinning on a number. This ride is a mix of those things. We’re riding bikes to get somewhere. But we also get in a lot of kilometers, so it appeals to both types of people.”
Bigger and Better
In its first year, the Ride on Washington went from an idea to the start of the ride in only six weeks. This year Johnson and company have had 12 months to prepare, and with that preparation come a bigger event and loftier goals. Twenty cyclists will ride the entire distance, with guests joining them throughout their journey. Starting on March 16th, riders will make their way from Boston to Hartford, Connecticut, and eventually to Washington via New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Johnson expects a peloton of 50 riders to roll out of Boston and many more than that to ride into Washington on March 20th.
To help these riders, Johnson has SRAM back as a sponsor of the event and for mechanical services. There will also be two massage therapists, sag vehicles and a logistics coordinator to drive ahead and check into hotels. Dr. Allen Lim, of Skratch Labs, and Biju Thomas, who co-authored “The Feedzone Cookbook” with Lim, will handle nutrition for the crew.
With 20 riders participating, the fundraising goal this year is $100,000. Each rider has taken on the individual goal of $2,500, a difficult but realistic task. So far, the crew has raised over $50,000.
A sense of responsibility
In speaking with Johnson about The National Bike Summit, Bikes Belong and his Ride on Washington, it’s apparent that he feels a responsibility to work for safer cycling. So do many others, but knowing how to help keeps many from joining the fight.
In 2010, at the National Bike Summit, Johnson, “realized that there is a process involved in getting bikes accepted to the point that they are. I went into a lawmaker’s office and shook his hand. It was really empowering for me.”
That feeling of empowerment is something that Johnson would like to pass along. With his ride, he hopes to encourage others to become active in their communities, whether it’s reaching out to elected officials or helping new people find cycling.
Johnson summed up why his efforts are so important to him saying, “You see these incredible race photos in Velo and I grew up with cycling as a sport. It was so inspiring. But what about a kid who isn’t allowed to ride his bike to school? He can’t get into racing because his roads aren’t safe. You never know how and when a kid will start riding and whether they’ll become a racer. But we can make it easier for them.”
Editor’s Note: The author is going to participate in the event and is helping raise funds for Bikes Belong. To follow the ride’s progress, visit the Facebook page or stay in touch via Twitter with the hashtag #TJROW. If you would like to donate, please do so at Pledgereg.com.