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It’s A Good Time To Be A Cyclist

Weekends like the one that just passed remind me that it’s a good time to be a cyclist.

A few folks from the shop took our fat tired bikes out Sunday afternoon to enjoy some camaraderie, shake off the cobwebs leftover from Saturday night’s excess, soak in a beautiful fall day, and play on the singletrack in our soon-to-be backyard of Burns Park in North Little Rock. It was one of those days when most everything seems right with the world. The trail was dry and the soft sound of the light dusting of leaves on the ground crunching under our tires accompanied us the whole way providing a constant reminder that the heat, humidity, chiggers, poison ivy, ticks, and other vagaries of summer have gone dormant in these parts, at least for a few months. I’m heading into this winter a few pounds lighter than I was last year and I think I could actually feel it out there in the woods yesterday afternoon. My mountain biking career is still hampered by the fact that I tend to brake when others are coasting and coast when others are pedaling, but following some much faster colleagues on days like yesterday always makes me feel like I’ve learned a little bit more and have gotten just a little better on the bike. Next time I’ll keep my fingers off the brake levers a little longer and keep the pedals turning through sections that slowed me down today; and the ride after that’ll come a little easier; and the ride after that… There’s always improving to be done!

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One segment of the day’s route passed close to an abused and forgotten corner of Burns Park that the Arkansas Free Ride Society has adopted as the site for its new dirt jump park, downhill trail, wooden-ramps-in-the-woods path, and general two wheeled hangout spot. Ryan, one the Competitive Cyclist demo dudes, and E2, our go-to guy for all things gravity related were out there pushing dirt around all day with a few of their free-riding friends before their donated heavy equipment has to go back to the rental shop next week. These guys have really made a lot happen in the last few months and it’s going to be fun watching and helping them make their vision a reality out there.

The day started for me with the donning of my unfortunately bright green volunteer t-shirt/uniform for American Trails’ National Trails Symposium being held right here in Little Rock and riding down to the Statehouse Convention Center to lend a hand. It’s pretty cool seeing all these trail types from various corners of this land coming together to learn and share what they’ve done and know. Mountain bikers, adventure cyclists, walkers, canoe-ers, denim-wearing horse people with long braided ponytails, and tons of other trail users are all here for a few days of networking and inspiration. Even Competitive Cyclist’s own Don West is there with a booth in the exhibit hall to tell people about his trail design firm. I managed to be on the right side of the keynote luncheon door when it was closed this morning and got to hear Dr. Richard Jackson (UC Berkeley prof and former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health) talk about urban sprawl and public health, which also happens to be the title of his new book. He described his job at the CDC as finding out the root causes of the causes of health problems and his research led him pretty definitively to our planning choices over the past few decades that have engineered exercise out of our surroundings, put many of us in cars for huge chunks of our days, and made the places we live generally less livable. Good stuff. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the symposium brings.

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All this to say, these are exciting times we’re living in. I know, I know -- we’re going through the biggest economic meltdown some of us have ever experienced, we’ve got a couple of wars going on, climate change looms large just before us, we’ve all got chemicals stuck in our bodies for life that we didn’t even know existed, and in general we still haven’t figured how to live together well as a species after all these centuries of painful trial and error. At least in the transportation and planning sectors there might be a paradigm shift occurring as a critical mass of people start to realize that this country’s obsession with building more lanes and roads for cars over the past few decades has led to more traffic (hmm…shocking, right?), an economy completely reliant on oil and everyone buying giant cars, a growing health epidemic, etc. Heck, there’s even talk that Obama might pick US Representative Earl Blumenauer as his Transportation Secretary. This is the guy who bikes to work every day at the US Capitol and doesn’t even own a car in DC. Then again there are still people like this out there too. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how all this will play out over the next few years.

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