Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A belated thanks to Lance Armstrong

During the week, I pretty much ride a desk chair and word processor. I've never met Lance Armstrong. I've only seen him on TV and read about him in magazines and newspapers. And I certainly wouldn’t put myself anywhere near him when it comes to achievements on a bike. But I do want to thank him for making biking more visible and acceptable, and a whole lot safer for everyone who rides. Especially a quasi-consistent rider like me who puts in a few hours in on weekends, and any decent-weather weekdays I can manage.

Somewhere around Armstrong’s second or third Tour win, I began to feel a change in the air. And on the road. That was the time he began turning a thin-looking, athletically and culturally challenged European sport into a tolerable endeavor.

Up until then, most motoring folks didn’t seem to care that much about a cyclist's safety or well-being. And many of them -- some obliviously, others by design -- let me know how little I mattered by turning fast rights and last-possible-second lefts in front of me, or dusting past my 160-pound frame and 30-pound bike a little too closely. A guy in a plumbing supply truck once let me know my place on the road's food chain by slowing down long enough to dump fast-food leftovers on me, while others found time to voice their moral objection to men wearing lycra bike shorts in public. My favorite was a particularly vibrant barrage of expletives delivered unwittingly (at least I think) by the father of one of the boys in my Scout troop.

But Armstrong — tight lycra and all — made it highly cool and very OK to ride skinny bikes while wearing loud shirts. And today, after seven highly visible Tour wins and a very respectable return-to-Tour third place last summer, Armstrong helped put biking clearly on the collective radar and, in doing so, made every biker everywhere more acceptable. Now even the worst of the cell-phone addled, SUV-emboldened tank girls and oblivious boys in six-blocks-to-the-gallon Hummers seem to recognize my right to exist.

Of course there's still the occasional close call. Which makes those loud shirts worth every cent. But it has and always will take two parts tenacity, and two parts Manhattan-bicycle-messenger mentality to ride around the New York environs. At least I feel more top of mind in the sense and sensibilities of drivers nowadays. And a tad or two more confident that I'm going to live a little longer, and enjoy biking a whole lot more. Thanks Lance.

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