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Utah cyclists share why they ride in 200th anniversary year of the bicycle's invention

This year marks 200 years since Baron Karl von Drais invented the first bicycle. Drais’ motivation behind this man-propelled machine was to create an alternative to a horse, according to his online biography at karl-drais.de. Thus, in 1817 Germany, the draisine or “hobby-horse” was born, and on its first ride covered nearly eight miles in less than an hour.

Weighing in at 48 pounds each, thousands of replicas of this bicycle were created and its popularity rapidly spread across North America and Western Europe.

Now, 200 years later, the world has come a long way since Drais’ “hobby-horse.” Cycling has become a regular part of many Americans’ lives. According to the National Household Travel Survey, “the number of trips made by bicycle in the U.S. more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.” Commuters are choosing to ditch carpools and public transportation for a helmet and a pair of thin, black tires. Groups of women who were once known as “walkers” have become “riders.”

Additionally, Utah’s internationally acclaimed annual bike race, the Tour of Utah, has seen a dramatic increase in attendance and ability in the last few years, according to Jenn Andrs, executive director of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

“This will be 12 years for the Tour of Utah,” Andrs said. “Every year it continues to grow. We see more spectators come out, more volunteers, the level of racing gets better, it’s more and more recognized and we broadcast it live from start to finish. We see our participation numbers in Utah and worldwide increase.”

Urban and mountain biking

Jason Graham, a Salt Lake City resident and father, commutes to and from work by bicycle. On average, he puts in anywhere from 50 to 120 miles a week.

“Being able to ride to work prepares me for my workday,” he said. “I get to think and ponder my day as I pedal. It also prepares me to be a better dad when I get home. I can let go of work and just be home when I’m home because of cycling.”

Graham finds that cycling to and from work is a much better mode of transportation for him because “it’s much better than getting frustrated in traffic.”

Because of his cycling habits, Graham has noticed an increase in physical health. He is able to sleep better, his cholesterol levels are healthier than ever and he has more energy to play with his children.

Laurie Leishman, a Bountiful resident, mother of six children and grandmother of one, began biking two years ago. Since then, she has seen improvements in not only her physical health, but her mental health as well.

“Biking has helped my mental toughness,” Leishman said. “I used to consider myself wimpy, but now I can increase my mileage relatively quickly and achieve difficult goals. I feel a sense of accomplishment as a mom and grandma knowing that I can be active and strong.”

For Leishman, an ideal biking week is made up of three rides: one long-distance ride (30-50 miles), one climbing ride (at least 1,000 feet elevation) and another ride “just for fun.”

“When I first started, I was happy to be able to complete a 10-mile ride,” she said. “Now I push myself for longer distances higher elevation without stopping to rest. I've been riding for two years and I have ridden almost 2,000 miles. If I can do it, anyone can! I'm no pro, but I love being on my bike and I am always excited for my next ride.”

In addition to improving her physical and mental health, Leishman has found social benefits from cycling. She is a member of a biking group called the Bountiful Beauties, which is a group of women from Bountiful — ranging in skill and experience level — who have come together to enjoy cycling and each other’s company.

“A neighbor who has been involved with Rockwell Relay got a group of women together to ride,” Leishman said of the group. “They kept inviting me, but I was afraid to go because I didn't think I would be able to climb hills and keep up with the group. I finally relented and discovered I actually enjoyed it! Everyone was on different levels and gradually we got a regular riding routine going.”

Alison Dodds, another member of the riding group and mother of five, finds that she pushes herself more in a biking group now than she did when she would go walking with friends.

“We go further, which is fun,” Dodds said. “We take new routes and see more of the community than walking. I started riding with a group when a friend brought it up and we all found bikes and went for a ride. It was so hard, but was a lot of fun to get serious about it. It's great therapy to ride together and get some good friend time in.”

Keeton Hodgson, a student at the University of Utah, grew up biking with his family. In addition to road biking, he has developed a love for mountain biking.

“I learned how to ride a bike at a young age,” Hodgson said. “Then, in high school and college I discovered that I enjoyed exploring the mountains on my bike, and that there were many trails between Farmington Canyon and the University of Utah that were incredible mountain biking trails.”

Although he also enjoys road biking, Hodgson quickly fostered a deep love for mountain biking. He especially enjoys the challenging terrain, the fresh mountain air and the beautiful scenery he gets to enjoy while biking.

Similarly to Hodgson, Graham’s favorite thing about cycling is comprised of “feeling the wind in (his) hair, the push of the pedal, the challenge of a climb and the speed of a decent.”

On the other hand, Leishman’s favorite aspect of biking is the “multi-sensory experience of the beauty surrounding you while the wind whips by and the birds chirp.”

The Tour of Utah

Andrs said the riders who participate in the Tour of Utah are the same caliber of rider one would see in the Olympics.

“Basically, I have the opportunity to bring the Tour de France to Utah,” Andrs said. “These same riders are contesting in the Tour de France as well. They come to Utah every year and they have the opportunity to ride through the most amazing terrain Utah has to offer. Utah really is a unique place to ride.”

The Tour of Utah is considered one of the top professional cycling events in North America. The race takes cyclists through a variety of Utah’s small towns and big cities. The first stage begins in Logan, and the race continues through Brigham City, Snowbasin Resort, Big Cottonwood Canyon, South Jordan, Layton, Bountiful, Soldier Hollow, Snowbird and Salt Lake City.

“The scenery is beautiful for them,” Andrs said. “Oftentimes the European riders who travel here to compete have never seen terrain or scenery like what the Tour of Utah offers. It’s our opportunity to provide a postcard to the international cycling community.”

According to Andrs, no matter what someone’s skill level is or what style of cycling they prefer, they can get involved in cycling. She suggested ways to get introduced to the cycling world: being a spectator, volunteering and competing.

“There are multiple ways Utah cyclists can get involved and learn more,” she said. “You can come and watch the world-class bike racers go flying by on the course and cheer them on. It gives you an up close and personal opportunity to meet the riders and really learn about the sport. The next step would be to volunteer at the Tour of Utah in your host community.”

For cyclists who feel up to a challenge, Andrs suggested they participate in the Tour of Utah’s Ultimate Challenge. It is a mass participation event where citizen bikers of all ages and skill levels have the opportunity to ride part of the professional course.

“It finishes with a mountaintop finish at Snowbird resort,” she said. “We give these individuals about a four-hour head start to ride the course that the pros are going to ride on a few hours later. The final climb is timed, which is a cool opportunity for amateurs to see how fast they can ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon and experience what the pros are experiencing.”

No matter if it’s for health reasons, social fulfillment or a little competitive spirit, Dodds suggests to “go for it.”

“I love that I feel like a rock star after I bike,” the cyclist and mother said. “It is hard work and I feel like it's something I can actually accomplish. I don't think anyone should be afraid to bike because the benefits are all worth the investment.”

Email: kelseyschwabadams@gmail.com