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Jack Knox: Celebrating Bike to Work week, the Ryder way

May 29 2012

Biked to work Monday. Two pretty girls met me at the door, handed me a bouquet of flowers and kissed my cheeks, leaving perfectly formed red lipstick marks, just like they did with Ryder Hesjedal.

Then I shook a big bottle of champagne and sprayed it all over the crowd - or at least, the woman from Human Resources - who had come to cheer me on/put a letter in my file.

She pulled off her glasses, dried them on her blouse. "You know you're not Ryder, right? And this isn't the Giro d'Italia."

"No," I said, "it's Bike To Work Week. Close as most of us are going to get."

She nodded. "Where are your shoes?"

Oddly enough, this was the same question I had asked myself. Went to change into the work shoes I thought I had left under my desk, only to find they had wandered off on their own.

This was not as bad as the day we got a brand new editor-in-chief who walked into my office and introduced himself just as I, having cycled to the Times Colonist in the same ragged shorts that Tom Hanks wore in Cast Away, stared at the empty rack where my work clothes were supposed to be. "Hello," the editor said, "I'm your new boss."

"I'm Jack," I replied. "I forgot my pants."

This is, unfortunately, a true story, and clearly demonstrates the perils of commuter cycling.

It is indeed Bike To Work Week, the annual event in which your beaming, Lycraclad colleagues try to coax you out of your car and into the cult, just like the Moonies used to do.

Cycling is both enjoyable and good for you, they say, just like eating kale or flossing your teeth. They lure you with Galloping Goose "celebration stations" and fabulous prizes, trying to hook you like a crack dealer or a priest who secretly wants you to be good all year round, not just on Sundays.

Alas, not everyone likes sharing the road. Bike To Work Week usually brings a smattering of angry letters to the editor written in block capitals: "ROADS ARE FOR CARS AND ALL CYCLISTS ARE SCOFFLAWS AND WHY DO WE HAVE TO HAVE METRIC GAY MARRIAGE AND THE FRENCH DAMN THAT TRUDEAU ANYWAY."

Most drivers and riders simply want to stay out of each other's way. Still, neophyte nerves, in combination with the memory/footwear conundrum, can be enough of a deterrent to keep commuters behind the wheel, cultivating their incipient heart disease.

Which is what made Hesjedal's Italian success so serendipitous. Nothing like the chance to draft on the wheel of victory to suck Walter Mitty off the couch and into the saddle for Bike To Work Week.

The rest of Canada is just learning about Hesjedal, who until now has been less of a household name than one that's hard to pronounce.

Even European race announcers experimented with Hedge-dal and Highsdoll before settling on "the big Canadian" last week.

(That's better than Ryan Heyerdahl, as the woman on CBC Radio called him at least three times Saturday morning, apparently believing he led the Kon-Tiki expedition.)

Here we already know him not just as a good rider, but a good Ryder. He's an ever-accommodating, unassuming cheerleader for both his hometown and his sport, one who gives freely of his oh-so-limited free time, from pumping Bike To Work Week to, with barely a week to spend at home between the Tour de France and the Beijing Olympics, riding a Tour de Rock fundraiser in 2008. There's a great picture bouncing around Facebook that shows Hesjedal being cheered on by his friends in Canada's Elk Lake-based Olympic rowing team as the Giro passed through the Italian town where they were training last week.

It was a reminder of what a hotbed of athletics we live in, of how lucky we are to have so many role models - rowers, swimmers, triathletes - in our midst, inspiring us to demand a little more of ourselves.

Who would you rather influenced your kids, Ryder Hesjedal and Simon Whitfield, or the Bacon brothers?

Road-cycling is already booming in Canada. Hesjedal's Giro triumph is sure to inspire even more to saddle up - if only for a week.

> Global attention for Hesjedal, C1

jknox@timescolonist.com

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