(Charles Riou lives in Austin, Texas, where he is the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Texas Department of Transportation.)
I have enjoyed riding bikes my entire life and have a profound appreciation of cycling from my family history. My father grew up in France and lived though the German occupation in his late teens and early twenties. The bicycle was not only his primary means of transportation; it also played an important part in his survival.
The war was a time of scarce resources. “We had bicycles but could not find any tires to buy,” my father explained in his memoir, “so we used old air hoses instead.” But his bike allowed him to evade being sent to forced labor camps. “We rode our bikes,” he wrote, “and if we perceived a light on the road, we hid in brush because only the Germans had cars.”
After the war there were happier bicycling times: “We went camping together, often on our bikes.” He rode to the beach, too, and used a rake with fine teeth and a long handle to gather small clams (pictured above). In fact, my father did not own or learn to drive a car until 1957 at age 33, seven years after moving to Texas.
Like many Americans, I grew up riding bikes to school as a kid but as an adult, saw bicycling as mainly a recreational pursuit. In the early nineties I became more aware of the transportation aspects of bicycling. I credit “Bike to Work Day” for that shift in thinking. I participated in Bike to Work Day with a group of co-workers at TxDOT as early as 1993 and I eventually made the commitment to bike to work daily.
Since then, I have estimated that I have logged well over 50,000 miles commuting in 20 years. As I like to say: “50,000 miles and unlimited smiles.” It’s an often joyful experience and I can honestly say that my daily bicycle commute is one of the best parts of my day. On my route I often see families walking or riding bikes to school and it gives me great hope for the future.
I began my tenure as the TxDOT State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator in September 2011. It’s been great working with all the great people who are striving to make our transportation system a better place to walk and bike. One of the highlights has been promoting cycling among our own staff though our wellness program with our partners at BikeTexas.
May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we’ll bring you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collections of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.