Tim Johnson grits it out to become the highest US finisher at the 2010 Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic.  © Joe Sales

The weather for the Ride on Washington may be similar to 2010 Worlds, but the pace a bit slower. And the ride a lot longer. File photo © Joe Sales

by Josh Liberles

Last year Tim Johnson crossed a line that, unfortunately, few professional cyclists do – from competitor to bike advocate. Johnson attended the annual National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., and something clicked. This March he’ll be taking his support one step further, by riding from Boston, near his home town, all the way down to the summit in D.C. The “Ride on Washington” will be a benefit for the non-profit Bikes Belong, and he’ll be joined by several other prominent cyclists and industry professionals along the way. Richard Fries, development advisor for Bikes Belong, well-known race announcer whose voice you may have heard at Worlds this year and director of the Providence Cyclocross Festival, will be one of the hearty souls embarking on the full 500-mile trip. Meredith Miller, who finished on the podium in each of the past two Cyclocross Nationals, will be joining the crew along the way for a significant portion as well.

“There are so many different ways that cycling touches people’s lives, and being part of the summit opened my eyes to that,” Johnson told Cyclocross Magazine. The three-time Elite national champ went on to say that there’s an unusual bond between ’cross racers and the cycling community that makes such a connection more likely, however. “It’s a grassroots event where the riders are immediate, right there in front of the fans, both during the race and after. It’s such a tightly-knit community that it’s the perfect tie-in to advocacy and making the connection between competition and improving what it’s like to ride a bike in this country, whether it’s through Bikes Belong, People for Bikes or the bike to school programs.”

This year Johnson, who has also raced at the highest level on the road, including a stint on the Saunier Duval European team, has the opportunity to focus on his passion: cyclocross. So his “offseason” is suddenly a lot more free. “Last year when I went to the summit, I flew there and then flew directly to my next road race. This year I decided I’d ride down, then started talking to people and found out that it wasn’t just me that wanted to ride – a lot of people wanted to get involved.”

“Bike riders have raised millions, if not billions, to fight everything from cancer to diabetes to AIDS,” said Fries in a press release, “but cyclists need to realize that their own government funding for bike facilities is in real danger of being eliminated. We want to raise funds and awareness to continue the development of cycling facilities in America. Every study confirms that to be the most cost effective way to improve our public health, our environment and our economy.”

Bikes Belong has an impressive conversion rate, as the non-profit claims to turn every donated dollar into $1,800 in government funding for cycling-related projects through its advocacy. The Bike Summit will begin on March 8th, the same day that Johnson and crew will roll up after riding through Providence, Hartford, New York City, Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore en route and hosting pro-bike functions and building mass as they add more cyclists to their numbers along the way.

“We want to engage governors, mayors, bloggers, reporters, schools and other cyclists along the way,” said Johnson, “Three of the biggest threats to our country are obesity, climate change, and our shrinking energy supplies. Bikes are part of the solution to all three of those problems.”

In spite of the three feet of snow in his front yard and the “pissing rain” that was coming down when I caught up with Johnson, in typical cyclocrosser fashion, he wasn’t going to let weather worries spoil his endeavor. “I’m riding down on my [Cannondale] Super-X, so I’ll be on my ‘cross bike. Rain or shine, we’re good with whatever.“

Ride Itinerary
Friday, March 4, 2011, Boston-Providence-Hartford, 130 miles
Saturday, March 5, 2011, Hartford-Bethel-New York, 90 miles
Sunday, March 6, 2011, New York-Trenton-Philadelphia, 100 miles
Monday, March 7, 2011, Philadelphia-Wilmington-Baltimore, 110 miles
Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Baltimore-Washington, 40 miles

The group will be recording its progress and uploading to along the way so that you can follow along. For more info on the event and how to become involved, visit the Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington Facebook page, donate to the effort via PledgeReg, or register to ride yourself via BikeReg.

Also, check out Bikes Belong and the League of American Bicyclists.