The Informal Guide To Bikes in the Presidential Election

By: Andrew Gardner Oct 29

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Obama wears jeans. Romney drives.

Chances are you’re tired of the election coverage: the internet memes, the incessant squabbling, the interruptions of debate commentary amidst your typically bike-centric social media feed. But among the binders and pension plan insults, the political puffery and the endless punditry, there are still a few looming questions surrounding this presidential election. Those questions, to those of us that organize our lives around pedaling, are about bicycles. Specifically where bikes fit into either of the would-be presidential administrations and what the future holds for bike policy.

Let’s start with the personal. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have had passing time with bicycles. While neither has been seen in lycra, both have used bicycles as a part of a fitness routine, though Obama is more known for his basketball game and Romney admits to jogging more often.



In addition to the occasional pedal for mere fun, both men have done some utility cycling: Mitt Romney used a bicycle while acting as a missionary for the Mormon Church in France in the 1960s. In the case of the president, personal transportation via bicycle on his trips to Martha’s Vinyard was met with some severe style critiques, especially when he appeared without a helmet.

Style aside, how, if at all, do either politician view the bicycle in the context of policy? The Romney campaign has its most overt connection to bicycles as a business example. Through their campaign website, Romney officials have used the involvement of Bain capital in GT Bicycles during the 1990s as a model of business success. GT CEO Mike Haynes is seen here celebrating Romney and Bain.


Since its inclusion in Romney campaign materials, the story has been countered by articles claiming that Bain succeeded at GT through outsourcing and dubious strategies. Aside from his loose involvement with GT, Romney has made no further connection to bicycles for policy. His policies have bicycles and any alternative transportation conspicuously absent.



For his part, the president has paid lip service to alternative transportation, especially rail and fuel-efficient busses, but bicycles have suffered at the federal level due to a recalcitrant congress and the deal-making nature of democracy. A transportation bill submitted to the president by the republican congress radically rolled back funds, accountability and support for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. (One of the major caveats of the bill allowed states to opt out of the required pedestrian and bicycle expectations for new projects, a huge bummer for those hungering for city-like bike lanes outside of cities.) In his defense, Obama gave up the bike and pedestrian expectations in trade for removing an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from the bill, a noble, if brief, environmental victory. The end result, however, was a black eye for bikes.

When politically possible, the Obama administration has pushed an agenda of public transportation, alternative transportation infrastructure, and support for non-motorized progress. This is not something seen from the Romney camp. Governor Romney has typically aligned with his party in issues of transportation, stopping short of the Tea Party claims in 2010 that bicycling is the gateway drug to communism. While the Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romey oversaw a highway account that provided five times the support for roads than for public transit, a particularly high number for a state with a public-transit focused city like Boston in its midst. Through his campaign, the Governor has pushed for privatization of all forms of public transportation but has advocated greater spending on support for roads and cars.



Neither candidate is an overt advocate for bicycles. Neither has an emotional connection to the bike in an athletic way, like the remarkably legitimate efforts of President Bush. President Obama, however, has policy views that could, in time, bear results for fans of cycling and in the single issue of voting for bikes, has gained more credibility as a defender for the cycling scene. Just don’t expect him to ride in anything but jeans.

 

Profiles in Advocacy: Mitch Hoke

By: Andrew Gardner Oct 1

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Even at 24 years old, even after multiple years as a pro cyclocross racer with the Elite Team Clif Bar Program, after trips to Europe with the US team and multiple top-ten finishes at the US Mountain Bike National Championships, Colorado rider Mitch Hoke, hasn’t lost his childlike giddiness from discovering cycling, “At first I just loved riding my mountain bike and having fun.”

“Fun”, for Mitch Hoke, has been a decade of jean shorts, impressive forays into elite racing and bad mustaches. In mid-September, Mitch flew to Germany, then traveled to Austria for the World Mountain Bike Championships finishing in the top fifty after a 90th place starting position, a finish he’s pleased with, though he doesn’t use the word “fun.”

Photo courtesy of Mitch Hoke.

“It takes a little bit more than fun to get out and motor pace for an hour and I do that. As hard as that is, I do enjoy training hard. But it’s a good thing that in cross is not everyone is taking it super seriously, which brings a good atmosphere to the races. Even if you are super serious, you can’t help but smile at beer and dollars bills hand ups.” Despite an inclination to be a racer, Mitch has left the obsessive out of compulsive. He’s compelled by a lighter feel, a looser atmosphere in racing.

It is that atmosphere that Mitchell hopes to share. Hoping to reach developing riders, Mitch helps administer the Clif Bar Development Cross Team a squad that can boast a list of alumni riders like Troy Wells, Danny Summerhill, Pete Stetina and Tejay Van Garderen. Of the current development program, Mitch explains his role, “We have six juniors and three U23s. I do everything from contacting sponsors to picking the kids up at the airport to get them to race. Our goal for the devo squad is get the kids experience racing and traveling and growing as cyclists. I owe everything to people that got me into racing, so because of that I want to make sure younger riders get that opportunity.”

Photo Credit: Leslie McShane

It’s impressive to hear Mitch wax philosophically about the need to give back at his advanced age of 24. Equally impressive is that the space between racing and the rest of the world is a place that Mitch ponders, “Most people who race realize how much bikes have changed their lives for the better so they are pretty excited to help out an organization trying to change peoples lives with bicycles.” To that end, Mitch is a member of Bikes Belong and works with the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance Through his sponsors Clif Bar & SRAM, he’s raised money for World Bicycle Relief.

“Those are organizations that tie so nicely into racing. I have a real identity crisis with two parts of my life that are at odds with each other: On the one side I love bike racing, the challenge of traveling and racing the best people in the country and the world keeps me motivated and moving forward. But i have this other large part of me that wants to live simply and have a smaller footprint. Logging 50,000 frequent flyer miles in a year isn’t exactly living simply.”

For the coming season, Mitch Hoke does have a fairly simple focus. In addition to doing his advocacy thing, his hopes are set on taking another jump up the national cyclocross rankings.

“I would really love to be a part of the Worlds Team for Louisville. So to that end I would like to race consistently in the top 10 at the USGPs the other C1 race weekends.”

Photo courtesy of Mitch Hoke.

This goal seems wildly possible for Hoke given his low key approach and general easy going manner. Take, as closing evidence of his relaxed demeanor his response when asked about a race he rode as a junior when he unintentionally rode with his shorts on backwards.

“That happened. I burned them out of shame. I can send you the urn.”

 

Better Living Through Stuff: 5 Sustainable Bits for Cyclocross

By: Andrew Gardner Aug 27

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As sports go, cycling is tight with stuff. The top ends of every game has its gear-happy scene but cycling goes above and beyond: one need only a glance at the bits and pieces of shining goodness pedaled around the local group ride to see that new stuff is a part of the game. Iʼm not going to pretend that this isnʼt something that moves me. I love the feeling of new parts, love when bikes are put together without a ʻstockʼ piece in them, love the creativity and new-stuff-lust that consumes the kits, wheelsets and rolling displays of happy consumerism. (Remember, Iʼve never hidden the hypocrisy that comes with being compelled by sport and sustainability.) Yet, rarely are products considered for their performance and their footprint on the world. So I present for your consideration, the first in a series within this series: Five Sustainable Bits. Given the changing of the seasons (there are actually some leaves gathering color up here in Vermont) and the impending cyclocrossgasm threatening the bike community, the focus herein will be cross.

5 Sustainable Bits for Cyclocross:

1. Pedroʼs: This isnʼt the first green list Pedroʼs has shown up on. Their environmental initiatives are well documented from reduced packaging and shipping to bulk sizes for their fluids and cleaners, yet the quality of their products is often overlooked. (You canʼt argue with their Bike Lust cleaner.) When Pedroʼs restructured last May, it renewed its focus on distribution of its products and leaned out its scene. New products and tools are to follow but the focus on the sustainable remains. There isnʼt a season thatʼs more suited for tool purchases than the muddy destruction of cross. Plus, in the season of beer hand-ups and Oktoberfests, you canʼt argue with a laser-cut bottle opener. More at www.pedros.com.


2. Alloy Frames: Carbon fiber is grand. It is light, stiff and wild in its performance. Itʼs also considerably worse for the world, less durable than its alloy cousins and pressed forward with marketing genius because, in addition to its performance benefits, it is considerably more profitable for bike companies to make and sell. Iʼve owned carbon fiber frames. I recognize their performance, yet Iʼm happiest on my aluminum frame. I just like it. It might be the sturdy welds or it ability to be recycled, an issue, that despite efforts still haunts carbon fiber. Regardless of the trends and focus, the real-world demands of cyclocross will be kinder to alloy even if you wonʼt.


3. Dr. Bronnerʼs Soap: Ok, forget about the end-times style manifestos that grace the bottles, despite how fun they are to read in the shower. Look PAST the fact that Dr. Bonnerʼs has the ability to save dudes from accidentally grabbing their partnerʼs inexplicable bottle and using its contents for chamois-area washing, thereby ensuring a subsequent verbal beat down. (Can you tell Iʼm speaking from experience?) The best part about the preachy fair-trade, organic soaps made in California is their versatility. Pack it for post race clean ups, quick bike wipe downs, shoe cleaning, glasses cleaning, bottle rinsing, etc, and youʼll be surprised and how often you actually do use the stuff. Mercifully, Dr. Bronner has pulled “toothpaste” from his list of suggested uses, an option that thorough consumer testing proved to be unpleasant, unless you have nostalgia for the days of grade school curse word punishments or youʼre compelled by the residue of poorly rinsed dishes. Available in bulk sizes. www.drbronner.com


4. Ibex Wool Clothing: While most clothing companies the size of Ibex have seen their manufacturing bleeding to foreign lands, the Vermont-based outdoor wool clothier has made a concerted effort to push manufacturing back to US shores, citing quality oversight and reduced shipping costs, both environmental and financial, as a boon. The sustainability of wool is easy to understand. (Indeed, those sheep get shorn every year.) The performance of wool takes a little more diving into to feel. Having used their baselayers for years, the variety of conditions they make comfortable is still surprising. Think: insulation against the seeping rooster tail of cold mud on your back. For the pit crew, the new Ibex AIRE jacket, insulated with wool where other companies use down will stand up to the soggy season better and keep folks warmer, longer. (Which is good because those peeps are doing you a solid by hosing down your pit bike after that last go around.) www.ibex.com


5. The Telephone: Yep. You read that correctly. The telephone. 140 years old. Comes in a variety of options: old school, payphone, cordless and cellular, the “phone” as it is known colloquially is a wonder of sustainable planning. Hereʼs an example, I have, more times than Iʼd care to admit, arrived at my weekly cross race, only to find my neighbor close by in his separate car, having made the forty minute drive by himself. Iʼm guessing Iʼm not alone in this. Iʼm guessing a quick call to bike homies, a bit of planning might save a fair amount of driving. How you split the gas money is on you. More at www.telephones.att.com.

 

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