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Why I Ride #31: Simple Common Sense

(Andy Clarke is the president of the League of American Bicyclists.)

Andy Clarke riding a stage of the Tour de France

Growing up in England I followed a similar path to many an American. I rode everywhere as a kid on a light blue Coventry Eagle ten speed with a leather saddle (probably the most valuable thing on the whole bike, and certainly what I missed most when it was inevitably “nicked”) my older brother David bought me for Christmas. As a teenager I pretty much gave up riding — true, I also went to boarding school, which limited the opportunity and need to ride whole lot — and didn’t get back in the saddle until the end of my second year at university, when I was invited to go on a cycling holiday in France.

At the start of that summer, I got a second-hand bike and started to ride in preparation for the trip. Lo and behold, not only was it a fun way to see the countryside but it was also a whole lot better and more practical than waiting for the bus at home in Bristol. Riding turned out to be quicker and a lot cheaper than any other way of getting to classes in Birmingham. At the end of that summer, I traded in the bike for a new one and had another “aha!” moment: I got more trade-in value and had ridden more miles than my other brother Peter did on his motorcycle over that same summer!

So before I turned 20, I’d figured out that riding a bike was cheap, economical, quick, practical, and enormous fun. Why wouldn’t I ride a bike?

A growing social and environmental conscience confirmed the bike as a true vehicle for change in the world — more so than the law degree I was finishing at the time. The day after exams finished I took off on a six-week ride around Europe with a fierce determination not to be a lawyer and not much else. On my return, I volunteered for a local cycling campaign in Cheltenham and worked on a Safe Routes to School project. That was the summer of 1984 and within a matter of months I had gotten a job with Friends of the Earth in London as a part-time bicycle campaigner, visited the Netherlands for the first time, and in May 1985 found myself appointed the [volunteer] Secretary-General of the European Cyclists’ Federation — still the best title I’ve ever had.

What’s not to love about cycling and riding a bike?

Almost 30 years on, I am still amazed at the practical versatility and simple common sense of the bicycle. I still ride to work every day. I still see the bike as THE vehicle for change. And I am still amazed that so many people just don’t get it… yet. Why wouldn’t you ride? Why on earth haven’t individuals, communities and nations embraced the multitude of diverse benefits bicycling brings; all the reasons you’ve read about in this compelling “Why I Ride” series of articles.

Why do I ride? Seems pretty obvious to me: it’s a good thing to do.

Why wouldn’t I ride?

May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we brought you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.

Click here to view the full series.


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