Recently, I taught a Palestinian friend, a university student, how to cycle. She learned inside my apartment (falling and rising) so she would avoid the stares outside. It is frowned on for women to ride a bicycle in public here. After several hours of practicing indoors, we ventured outside, where my friend excelled. She asked: "Will I forget if I do not practice?" I assured her, "You never forget once you learn."
After this experience, I was pleased to read that in the 19th century, American suffragists called bicycles "freedom machines." Civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony stated in an 1896 interview: "I think it has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes." Also, bloomers (pantaloons) were created around that time in order to make physical activity easy for women.
Will Frischkorn is a West Virginia biking legend. He grew up in Charleston where he spent countless hours biking in Kanawha State Forest, in Charleston and in the mountains near Elkins. All his childhood sweat paid off: From 1999 to 2009 he raced professionally and competed in the Tour de France in 2008.
By email, Frischkorn provided a few suggestions for bike developments in our state. He said bike lanes and wide shoulders are useful. They "help general road health and longevity and give those who ride for sport and fitness more buffer room ... from heavy commercial traffic like we often see in West Virginia."
Frischkorn no longer races, but still bikes for utility and fun. He currently lives in Boulder, Colo., where he runs a retail shop selling hand-picked wine, cheese and meat -- called "Cured" -- with his wife and business partner, Coral. All of the company's in-town deliveries are made by bicycle, "dropping off meals daily, all by human power."
Until 1965, car and bicycle production were equal, according to the website Worldometers -- but today people own twice as many bikes as automobiles: more than 7 billion, globally. According to the website, to date, over 35 million bicycles have been manufactured this year.
Sadly, West Virginia ranks last among states in the number of trips made by bike -- less than a tenth of 1 percent, according to Trafficsafety.org. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans bike to work, although 41 percent of commutes are less than five miles. The website states: "For many people, this is an easy distance to bike. At about 10 miles per hour, this would be a 30-minute bicycle ride and would allow employees to get CDC's recommended level of physical activity."
Mara Bassman (formerly Binder), who grew up in Charleston, enjoys biking, as do other members of her family. She believes that bike lanes in Charleston would encourage far more people to ride. Bassman said she road her bicycle cross-country a few years ago. Many of the roads she traversed did not have bike lanes. "I can't tell you how many times myself or another rider were in danger because of this," she wrote by e-mail. "There are many people out there who do not get out and ride because of the dangers of riding in the street, and I think that many more Charleston residents would ride upon the installation of bike lanes."
Biking could make you beat traffic, live longer, reduce pollution, sleep better, prevent disease, have better mental health, make you enjoy your work more, avoid cancer, lose weight, make friends, be happy and stay healthy, according to countless studies. It improves every index of health and could even make you like the job you despise, if you love biking to get there. You could also make more money. Studies show that when your weight drops your health increases, making you able to work longer. And biking makes immune cells more active, helping fight colds. And a health study showed that those who bike regularly sleep better and longer than those who do not. And finally, we might help our chances in the Gallup poll.
Kaufman is a graduate of South Charleston High School. She won this year's West Virginia Martin Luther King "Advocate of Peace Award" for her work teaching in Palestine. She hopes to return to West Virginia soon and ride a bicycle.