Cyclists, NASCAR champs unite for 400-mile tour

Tim Johnson and PeopleforBikes brought cycling, and some special guests, to the Southeast to raise bicycle safety awareness.

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Tim Johnson teamed up with NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson last week to promote bike safety in the Ride on Atlanta, which finished April 2. Johnson, a former cyclocross professional, national champion, and bicycle safety advocate created a series of bike rides in 2011 with the aim of promoting road safety. The “Ride on” series started with three Rides on Washington, and Johnson followed those with two Rides on Chicago. The events have raised nearly $400,000 for PeopleforBikes, a bike advocacy group. This year’s ride toured the Southeast, taking riders from Asheville, North Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia.

The Ride on Atlanta was four days and roughly 400 miles. The group of 30 riders pedaled from Asheville to Atlanta on March 30th to April 2nd. The group stopped in Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, and Athens, Georgia before arriving in Atlanta.

Johnson said, “The Southeast is a beautiful place to ride a bike, but it’s not actually a great place to ride a bike.” Johnson and PeopleForBikes chose to ride in the Southeast because it is one of the most problematic areas when it comes to rider safety.

Former pro Ted King spent many years racing and training in the Southeast, and has fond memories of the area — the now-defunct Tour of Georgia was one of his favorite races. King rode for reasons beyond nostalgia as well: “I’m here because bike racing was a huge part of my life for a dozen years, but bike racing is only a small fraction of bike riding. I loved bike racing, and I love bike riding. I want cycling to be safe, whether going on a hundred-mile training ride, or a two-mile commute to work. This ride is the work of making cycling more visible, more politically viable, and more accessible. I’m here because bikes belong.”

Tim Johnson and Ted King weren’t the only high-profile riders in the group, however. Jimmie Johnson rode the first leg of the four-day tour, a 130-mile trek from Asheville to Charlotte. Johnson rode last month in Scott Lagasse Jr.’s Champions for Bicycle Safety Ride in Daytona, Florida. Lagasse’s ride, which was sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation, had the same aim as the Ride on Atlanta. Johnson is an enthusiastic cyclist, and uses his bike as part of his physical fitness regimen. Johnson believes that cyclists and motorists can safely and happily share the road.

“Cyclists have a responsibility and so do motorists,” the Jimmie Johnson said. “It’s an environment we need to share on the road. As a cyclist I know that cyclists aren’t [always] the friendliest and cyclists do break rules. That [breaking the rules] upsets motorists and it’s an environment that can be better approached from both sides.” Johnson also added some advice for the driving public: “Just be patient. You’re upset about 30 seconds to two minutes that we might impede your progress. Another thing to remember is that we’re also people. They’re real people on the bikes, and just humanizing it [cycling] is key.”

Fellow NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth also joined the ride. Though he is a relative newcomer to cycling, he and Jimmie Johnson often ride together at racetracks after they finish their driving practices in the days leading up to a race. They also ride mountain bikes every Tuesday in the Charlotte area.

The final day, from Athens to Atlanta was a shorter day, less than 100 miles, and featured another special guest, Thomas Dimitroff, general manager of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Dimitroff echoed Kenseth’s and Johnson’s sentiments: “Outside of football, cycling is one of my greatest passions. I believe there is so much opportunity for it to be a bigger, better, and safer experience here in the Southeast.”

The Ride on Atlanta has helped PeopleforBikes raise over $60,000 of its $125,000 goal. For more information or to make a donation visit the Ride on Atlanta site.

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