Photo Credit: Andrea Kurth | Daily Texan Staff

Cycling groups in Austin were previously seen as exclusive. As the scene grew, cycling groups started to open and shift from a competitive view to an open community. 

Since 2009, the Social Cycling Austin group has been calling together bikers of all skill levels to go on rides ranging from five to 15 miles. Since then, Social Cycling Austin has expanded to eight cycling events during the week, with the biggest turnout on their Thursday Night Social Ride.

Hundreds of cyclists ride through Austin, passing through streets lit with holiday lights and lined with food carts, residential areas that hide lesser-known parks and the downtown night scene. The sights immerse the rider as they’re surrounded by different kinds of music coming from the stereos of cyclists.

Each week, the ride leaders change. Terry Schreck has been riding with the group for three years and now helps lead the groups.

“The first one was kind of funny,” Schreck said. “I didn’t know what it was about, so I found out where the ride started and went down. Immediately, I was welcomed into the group.”

Social Cycling meets weekly at Festival Beach on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. Prior to takeoff, cyclists meet for an hour of socializing. The group starts with about 10 people showing up promptly, but, as the time for departure nears, the number of cyclists grows to about 100-300 people.

“If you want to meet like-minded folks, people that want to experience Austin and love bikes, then this is a great group for that,” Schreck said. “This is a very diverse group with just about every cycling there is; we accommodate everyone. We try to be really inclusive and get really involved in the community.”

A number of cyclists dress up for the ride, styling their hair with neon gel and wearing outfits to match the theme of the month. Bill Murray was the theme for March.

For those individuals who prefer a smaller group setting, there are other rides available throughout the week during the afternoon and evenings.

On Wednesday nights, cyclists meet for Queer Ride, a ride co-created by Zachary Settle. This group ride creates a welcoming environment for LGBTQ individuals, as well as anyone else who wants to join.

“Before I started Queer ride, I would go on some of the bigger ones, like the Thursday social ride,” Settle said. “I rode that a lot, but I wanted to form a group that caters to our community more. I know gays and lesbians like to ride bikes in Austin, and they didn’t feel comfortable in big groups, so we started with a few friends, and it kind of became its own social ride.”

One event Queer Ride is known for is the drag-themed rides in which cyclists gear up in dresses and high heels and ride through downtown.

Tuesday nights are reserved for the yoga ride. This allows the cyclist to cruise around Austin and then unwind for a yoga lesson at the midpoint of the ride. Melissa Hagen, one of the ride leaders, has participated in the yoga ride for four years.

“It’s so beautiful,” Hagen said. “I lie on the ground, on my back, doing the yoga, reaching towards the sky, and the stars start to come out. It’s really pretty, especially when we’re by the water.”

This ride is shorter than most but makes up for the lack in distance by offering a free yoga lesson taught by various instructors joining the ride that day. The yoga lessons are primarily taught in parks, but sessions have been held all over, even on building rooftops.

For all rides, cyclists of all skills levels are encouraged to join any of the events held during the week. Ride leaders ensure that all cyclists make it to the destination, and the safety and well-being of all riders is a priority. 

“We help folks get their butts on bicycles and keep them there,” Schreck said. “That’s the way we like to see it.”

Here we go: another doping scandal in cycling. But this time it involves a big name — Lance Armstrong. As in past doping scandals, the public debate about what lessons to draw from athletes’ dishonesty contains three main arguments. First, there’s anger toward Lance Armstrong, a villain who has betrayed the public and deserves every possible punishment. Second, nostalgia for the good old days when EPO (the performance enhancing drug erythropoietin) didn’t exist and cycling was a good, clean sport. And third, profound disappointment with the polluted sport of cycling. Subscribers to this view usually swap their cycling enthusiasm for a different sport, one still untainted by doping scandals.

At least two and half of these statements are wrong. Yes, Lance Armstrong is a villain in that he has broken the rules to win, he has cheated to gain an edge over his (possibly) clean contestants, he may have bribed the Union Cycliste Internationale, he has threatened teammates and other cyclists and, so far, he hasn’t shown any public sign of regret. But has he really betrayed the public, or was the public just reluctant to listen to those who have been accusing him of doping for years? It was much nicer to believe in Lance’s fairytale — in the man who beat cancer, mountains and all of his competitors — than to question his integrity and sportsmanship.

Cycling, and the Tour de France in particular, is the incarnation of the timeless desire to tear down barriers and expand frontiers. Lance Armstrong pursued this dream, but along the way he crossed some barriers that are not meant to be crossed. He was not the first to dope and he will not be the last. Since its inception in 1903, the Tour de France has produced many renowned cyclists who, whether they were found guilty or not, cheated. Doping as we know it hasn’t been around forever, but cheating has. In the early years, racers were known to take the train now and then rather than cycling through the whole route. They notched their opponents’ bicycle frames and paid spectators to hand other cyclists poisoned chicken. In the 1920s they took cocaine, in the ‘30s and ‘40s they took strychnine, and in the ‘50s and ‘60s they moved on to hormones and amphetamines.

Romantic ideas about the Tour’s early years are myths. When the first doping tests were introduced in 1966, the riders went on strike. In 1967 the British cyclist Tom Simpson collapsed and died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. Alcohol and amphetamines were found in his blood. Neither the doping tests nor Simpson’s death, however, stopped cyclists from doping. In the ‘70s and ‘80s they doped with steroids and cortisone. In the ‘90s, EPO burst onto the scene. Since then, numerous scandals, like the Festina affair in 1998 and the Fuentes scandal in 2006, have come to light. And yet, somehow, people are still surprised to hear that Lance Armstrong was engaged in the same behavior.

So, should we write off the Tour de France and cycling as a whole as tainted and immoral? Not so fast. The doping situation in other sports may be just as bad. Take swimming, for instance, which is in some ways similar to cycling — it’s a high-profile sport aimed at personal speed. Although no huge scandals have come to light recently, there is no reason to believe this sport is any cleaner than cycling.

The controls are lax. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics swimming competitions there were more world records set than blood tests administered. During the London games this year, several very young swimmers left behind the rest of the field. Fifteen-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte was evidently judged old enough to participate and win gold but not old enough to answer journalists’ questions afterward. In the last 50 meters of her record-setting 400-meter race, the Chinese 16-year-old Chinese Ye Shiwen swam faster than Ryan Lochte did in that segment. There are plenty of reasons to be suspicious, not just of swimming but of many other sports as well.

My strongest impression of the Lance Armstrong scandal is not of disillusionment or anger. The lesson we should take away is that we should never allow ourselves to be bullied by those who seem powerful. Throughout his career, Armstrong has tried to bring down those who rose up against him. Every time Filippo Simeoni, a convicted doper who has accused Armstrong of being a fellow client of his “doctor,” tried to break away from the peloton in the 2004 Tour de France, either Armstrong or one of his helpers went after him. In the same year, Armstrong sued two Sunday Times journalists for associating him with doping allegations. Armstrong tried everything to mute dissident voices, but in the end they succeeded.

We have to stop believing that popular sports will ever be free of cheating. We shouldn’t assume that someone is guilty of doping before the charges are proven, but it is also wrong to assume that no athletes dope. We have to accept that people break the rules, but we also have to keep fighting for justice and honesty in professional sports. Instead of ignoring the allegations or turning to a different sport in which doping and manipulation haven’t become public yet, we should keep watching cycling. If people stop watching, and the media stops covering races, it will only encourage the organizers of the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and other sporting events to stop making doping charges public in an effort to maintain their reputation and popularity. If these organizations realize that people stop watching as soon as they expose doping, they’ll simply turn the other cheek to cheating or keep the scandals under wraps.

Some people see Lance Armstrong’s scandal as one of the worst sports tragedies in recent memory. On the contrary, I think it’s one of the best things that has happened. Or, at least, it can be — if we draw the right conclusions and act accordingly.

Hardt is an English junior from Freiburg, Germany. 

I’m not going to deny it: Bike helmets are lame. They look lame, they feel lame, if you don’t bombard them with Febreeze on a regular basis their smell surpasses lame and goes straight to repellant. The website of the hip bike manufacturer Public underscores the undesirability of the humble helmet: Public’s front-page boldly displays a slideshow of hip, diverse bike riders, each and every one of them — you guessed it — riding without a helmet. So I won’t try and deny it. I know just as well as the next person that bike helmets are deafeningly loud in their lameness, like orthopedic shoes or un-ironic overalls. But I don’t care. Cyclists, wear your damn helmets.

Last year, French researchers released a study of over 13,000 road trauma records that found that wearing a bicycle helmet resulted in an overall “protective effect” against head and facial injuries. A Swedish study conducted in 2007 looked at the incident rate of head injuries in Sweden over time and found that a decrease in head injures in school children coincided with observational data about an increase in helmet use. Though more study of the efficacy of bicycle helmets is needed, chances are you don’t advocate that the UT football team take to the field bareheaded. And why is their crashing into a linebacker any different than your crashing into a car while on your bicycle?

You probably believe that you are less likely to be in a potentially injury-inducing collision than a football player. And while that’s true (I haven’t known anyone to be tackled while strolling by the Tower), the UT campus and Austin, as a whole, have seen their share of cycling accidents. In 2010, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, there were 42 pedalcycling fatalities in the state of Texas, or 6.7% of the national total. Between 2006 and 2010 there were nine cyclists killed in motorist accidents in Travis County according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On the UT campus, there have been nine traffic collisions with injuries in 2012 alone (though the statistics do not specify how many of these collisions were with cyclists).

Now some of you are no doubt about to scold me for promoting bicycle helmets in lieu of other cycling safety measures — namely, knowledge of how to ride safely in traffic. And here comes the truth of this opinion piece: there are a lot of ways to protect yourself while cycling, and many of them have nothing to do with helmets. But there is strong evidence that helmets offer some protection against head injury. And, as a devoted helmet wearer, who struggles with the demonstrated effectiveness of helmets and their undeniable un-coolness, fellow bike-riders, I’m begging you: let’s make bike helmets the harem pants of the upcoming school year—unflattering, unusual and so widely accepted as a trend that no one looks twice. So cyclists, please, wear your damn helmets. Cover them with stickers, spray-paint them gold, bedazzle them if you must. Wear them so often that the trend of noggin-protection (bulky and unflattering though it can be) becomes the only smart, stylish thing for a UT cyclist to do.

Wright is a Plan II and biology major from San Antonio.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is bringing doping charges against seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, questioning his victories in those storied cycling races.

Armstrong, who retired from cycling last year, could face a lifetime ban from the sport if he is found to have used performance-enhancing drugs.

The story was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.

The charges from USADA come just months after federal prosecutors closed a two-year criminal investigation of Armstrong without indicting him.

Armstrong maintained his innocence, saying, “I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”

City council members and Austin-area bicycle activists cut the ribbon to officially open a new bike lane on Rio Grande Street, part of the city's Green Lane Project designed to help implement new cycling networks around Austin

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Cyclists in West Campus received a new route that’s green, both environmentally and in color, that should help raise cycling’s profile in the city.

After years of planning, the Green Lane along Rio Grande Street in West Campus officially opened Monday, offering bikers their own two-way lane to protect them while cycling.

John Lawler, urban studies senior and former Student Government presidential candidate, said getting the Green Lane Project to become a reality took a few years in the making.

“At first Student Government and local businesses along Rio Grande were hesitant about this project because it would ultimately close down a whole lane,” Lawler said. “However, after many meetings and visual demonstrations, everyone eventually got on board.”

Austin was chosen as one of the six cities nationwide to participate in the Green Lane Project. Bikes Belong Foundation, the organization responsible for selecting the six cities, will work with Austin to develop and implement cycling infrastructure. In addition to the new bicycle lane, the City’s Rio Grande Reconstruction Project installed new bicycle racks, benches, landscaping and trash cans along the stretch of the Green Lane.

Annick Beaudet, Austin’s Bicycle Program manager, said being chosen to participate is an honor because Austin is being rewarded for their work over the past 20 years to ensure safe and accessible access routes for cyclists.

“Just in the past five years Austin has added more lanes and trails for bikers than the past 15 years,” Beaudet said. Rio Grande Street was chosen as the location for the first Green Lane because it was already under construction, Beaudet said.

“West Campus is also an extremely busy area and home to many cyclists, so designating its own lane will protect cyclists and ensure their safety,” Beaudet said.

As an avid cyclist, Beaudet said it feels good to see the growth of cycling throughout the city.

“Cycling is a remedy to the growth pressures of a big city,” Beaudet said. “I believe cycling is the best way to get around, and projects like this will push more and more people to take part.”

The Green Lane along Rio Grande Street currently extends from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 24th Street, but within the next year it will reach 29th Street. Beaudet said more Green Lanes are planned for other parts of the city and will be funded through federal grants, voter-approved bonds and redevelopment funds.

Eric Bollich, an engineer within the Austin Transportation Department, said he enjoyed participating in the technical design and visual modeling of the project.

“During the planning process, a lot of effort went into vehicle simulation and designs to see if one lane would work well,” Bollich said, “and it was great to be part of a project like this that is so innovative.”

The ribbon cutting of the Green Lane coincided with UT’s Orange Bike Bikeapalooza, a day dedicated to educating students on bike safety through various activities outside of
Gregory Plaza.

Capt. Don Verett of UTPD said any event encouraging education on bike safety is necessary for our community.

“These events are there to protect our students, both cyclists and pedestrians, so it is good to have programs educating our community,” Verett said.

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as: Two-way biking lane opens

The UT Safe Cycling Campaign hosted an event Wednesday afternoon to gather input from students to better bicycle safety on campus.

Photo Credit: Shila Farahani | Daily Texan Staff

In order to avoid the sometimes inevitable collision between bikers and pedestrians, a group is working to make UT-Austin a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly campus.

UT students gave their input on cyclist and pedestrian interactions yesterday at an interactive mapping event called Mapping Conflicts Areas on Campus, which attempted to identify campus areas of conflict between different modes of transportation, said community and regional planning graduate student Jared Genova. The event was hosted by the UT Safe Cycling Campaign, whose current focus is gathering input and opinions from students in order to make the University more accessible to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Community and regional planning graduate student Beth Rosenbarger led the event and said she, as a researcher in infrastructure and design, along with the UT Safe Cycling Campaign, is hoping to improve campus for cyclists and pedestrians and create a more environmentally sustainable campus.

“The University has an opportunity to be known as one of the most excellent cyclist and environmentally friendly campuses in the nation,” Rosenbarger said. “With a campus redesign currently in progress, now is the perfect time to reach our potential.”

The event provided multiple ways to gauge University opinion on the good and bad areas for commuting around campus. A large campus map was on display where passersby placed various colored stickers on streets that were either good or bad examples of pedestrian/cyclist interaction. Many participants also took a cyclist survey and wrote their opinions on a comment board.

The information gathered will be aggregated and presented at a panel discussion on April 13 in order to plan, design and create bicycle and pedestrian friendly spaces around campus.

Music junior Ammon Taylor participated in the interactive mapping and survey and said he cycles to stay healthy, enjoy himself and for many other ethical reasons.

“I have a passion for urban design and have come to the realization that cars make cities really shitty,” Taylor said.

Having commuted exclusively by bicycle for six years, Taylor said he thinks the most dangerous place on campus for pedestrians and cyclists is on 24th Street near Speedway and the Tower.

“I have seen bikes hit pedestrians in this area numerous times,” he said. “Pedestrians, especially those who text while crossing the street, need to be more aware and watch where they are going, and bicyclists should slow down and take better notice of their surroundings.”

Advertising junior John Aquino said he mainly walks to class and there are times when he crosses the street and cyclists do not stop at all.

“They sometimes even ride on the actual sidewalks,” Aquino said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are good cyclists out there, but many need to read up on the laws and rules concerning bike usage on campus.”

Civil engineering senior Aloysha King said he chooses to ride bikes to and from campus because it is a fun, efficient way of commuting that allows him to be more environmentally conscious and reduce his carbon footprint.

King said Speedway is a major conflict area for cyclists and pedestrians, especially on weekdays during the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“People are walking down Speedway in both directions, and cyclists don’t seem to have a designated path,” King said. “That confusion added with the construction going on makes it a lot harder to commute for both parties.”

Rosenbarger said cycling can sometimes be intimidating for newcomers who have never cycled in urban areas. The best way to get accustomed to cycling is by riding in groups and with people who know how cycling around campus works, she said. The UT Safe Cycling Campaign is in the process of implementing a cyclist/pedestrian education training program into all UT freshman orientations so incoming students have a better understanding about commuting around campus.

Nicole Marcoe (right), a mountain bike enthusiast visiting Texas from the San Francisco Bay Area, rides through a straight-away in the Peddler Dirt Derby Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

With the hope of getting more beginners riding on Texas trails with their bikes, Central Texas Grassroots Cycling will be hosting four more bicycle races this spring.

The Peddler Dirt Derby, CTXGC’s 2012 spring bike series, takes place Tuesday nights at the Del Valle Motorcross Park. The nonprofit organization CTXGC names the Dirt Derby series each year after its title sponsor. The Peddler, a bike shop in Austin, is this year’s sponsor. The second in their series of six races was hosted Tuesday night, with about 40
racers participating.

CTXGC’s president Ryan Albert said the organization’s mission is to promote fitness through cycling while making it more accessible for those with a casual interest.

“We want it to be like backyard football,” Albert said. “Most other sports you can just pick it up; go play with your buddies in the backyard or the park. We want to make more opportunities like that for people with cycling.”

Albert said there are typically two different kinds of bicycling races: noncompetitive charity events, which can be expensive to get into and USA cycling events which are also costly and can intimidate a beginner. Albert said USA cycling events also require a license, which adds to the cost.

“Out here, you can come and try it for $5 with no license, no barrier to entry really — just show up with a bike,” Albert said. “This is a good beginner level event for people who want to come out here and sample.”

Albert said the reason their prices were comparatively low was because of the sponsorships they get.

“We typically sponsor with partners we believe in, and we try to find sponsors that have a little bit of a coolness factor or a local favor,” Albert said.

Tom Mahnke, a local real-estate agent, is one of the current sponsors. He joined in the races Tuesday evening and said the event had a friendly atmosphere.

“Everybody is very friendly and it is just a great way to hang out with friends on Tuesday night,” Mahnke said.

Jacob Dodson, 2010 UT alumnus and CTXGC board member, said he joined the program during its fall series of 2008 when he was still a student. He said children can always race for free and the group hosts events like ‘Ladies’ Night,’ when women can race for free.

“We are a nonprofit, so we are not out there for making gobs of cash,” Dodson said. “We are just out there to provide a good night of racing and promote fitness through cycling.”

The Dirt Derby started in 2006 as a for-profit business that hosted races. Albert changed the races into nonprofit events in 2008, which he said helped in several ways.

“I shifted the flavor to what it really is and that made it easier to get sponsorships and volunteers,” Albert said.

Albert said they have gotten a lot of UT students as participants in the past, mostly in the fall.

“We’ve had a lot that have just come spectate,” Albert said. “They don’t know if they want to do it, they just come out here and hang out and drink a beer with us, and that’s cool. We don’t charge for spectators.”

However, Albert said they could always use more students in attendance.

“I think we’re missing the boat on UT students,” Albert said. “I think we could get a lot more.”

Printed on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 as: Dirt Derby draws excitement