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On Biking: Spring ride raises awareness of bicycling and safety

Posted by Your Town  March 12, 2012 08:39 AM

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Tim Johnson might be the most successful (and nicest) cyclist you’ve never heard of. He’s a six time national cyclocross champion who has been riding professionally since 1992.

Cyclocross is a combination of road riding and mountain biking, with a little steeplechase and mud thrown in. The courses are short and hilly, with lots of crashes and falls. In Europe it’s as popular as football is here.

Tim grew up in Middleton and lives in Topsfield, except when he’s traveling and racing, which is most of the year. For Tim, bike racing is a 24/7 job that starts in March and ends in February. As Tim described it, “In my life as a professional I eat, sleep, train and travel. It’s non-stop if you want to be successful.”

Until recently, the gap between bicycle racers and bicycle advocates has been huge. Until recently, people like Tim had little to do with advocacy groups like Bikes Belong and the League of American Bicycles.

For Tim, that all changed a few years ago, when he attended the National Bike Summit in Washington D.C. “Until then I was caught up in racing and training, but at the Summit I was blown away by how people were advocating for biking, sharing information, discussing the state of biking across the country and dealing with issues,” he said.

For Tim, that conference was a wakeup call. “I realized that bikes are a big part of my life. I was fortunate to be able to ride as a kid, but it scares me to think of how many people…don’t have that same opportunity.”

That’s when Tim decided to take a stand. “I wanted to make a difference.”

For Tim, the way to make a difference came in the form of a ride. He called his friend Richard Fries, the Johnny Most of bike race announcing, and together they decided to organize a ride from Boston to Washington D.C. “I figured it wasn’t that far. It also seemed like a fun idea.”

Tim’s idea of fun started in Government Center on a 17 degree day last March. Five days later, he and his gang of seven arrived in D.C. in time for the Summit. Tim described his goal for last year’s ride as three-fold: “One, to raise awareness, two to raise money, and three to get in some training miles.” Tim certainly raised awareness. He also showed that professional racers care about the same things that all cyclists care about: safer roads, a healthy lifestyle, and having fun.

Along the way, Tim’s group also happened to raise over $25,000 while getting in plenty of training miles.

During last year’s ride over 500 people joined Tim and his peloton. “People met us on the outskirts of Hartford, NYC, Philadelphia and Baltimore and helped us navigate and get in or through those cities.” It seemed like everyone was helpful, except for some Yankees fans. “They gave us directions. It was just that those directions were for how to get back to Boston.”

Tim hopes to raise $100,000 this year (he’s already more than halfway there). With his determination, community support, and a good set of maps, I don’t doubt that he’ll make it.

Tim leaves this Friday, March 16th, from Government Center at 8:30am.

Tim is as generous in life as he is successful on the bike: “Anyone’s welcome to join us as we head out of town on Friday.” Ride with a champion, support a good cause, and enjoy nice weather? Sounds like a good reason to play hooky.

It’s not too late to donate to Tim Johnson’s Ride On Washington, which supports Bikes Belongs.

If you can’t join Tim Johnson, you might want to head out with Jessica Mink of the Neponset River Greenway Council for their End of Winter Ride. You can be excused for thinking winter never started. Still, this sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday: a tour from Castle Island (starting at 10am) along the Harbor south to the Neponset River, to Blue Hills and back. You'll explore some beautiful trails and learn about future paths. Helmets required, pre-registration recommended.

If you’re looking to learn how to eat like a champ, join Dr. Allen Lim (he’s worked with Lance Armstrong and other top pros) to hear him talk about his new book, “The Feed Zone Cookbook. Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes” on Wednesday, March 14th, from 6:30-8pm at Landry’s of Boston.

Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.

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