For some in Columbia, bicycling is a way of life.
They are committed bicyclists, riding them for all or nearly all of their transportation in town.
The United Nations since 2018 has declared June 3 World Bicycle Day.
“According to the World Health Organization, safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity,” the UN website states. “For the poorest urban sector, who often cannot afford private vehicles, walking and cycling can provide a form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death.
“Accordingly, improved active transport is not only healthy; it is also equitable and cost-effective.”
You wouldn’t need to explain that to Mark Haim, George Smith, Lawrence Simonson or Mike Perkins.
Simonson is CEO of Local Motion, formerly PedNet Coalition.
“I walk and use public transportation occasionally,” Simonson said. “I do not own a car.”
Cars have been available to him most of his life, but it just never stuck, he said.
“Owning a car doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for my life and my lifestyle,” Simonson said. “It’s a massive cost-saving to not own and operate a car.”
“It’s much more enjoyable to ride a bike,” he said. “I get a lot of health benefits out of it. It’s a lot more fun. When I’m riding my bike, I feel like I’m part of the community.”
Riding bicycles is a huge benefit to the environment, Simonson said.
“Cars and carbon emissions is a huge contributor to climate change,” he said.
The car-centered design of society is a huge issue of equity, he said.
“If we design a system that requires you to own a car, that’s a large cost of entry,” Simonson said.
Haim, director of Peace Nook and Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, a not-for-profit dedicated to peace and environmental sustainability, rides his bike the three-quarters of a mile from his home to the downtown store and back every day.
He sometimes rides his bike to visit his mom, he said. It’s four miles of hilly terrain.
“It’s time-consuming,” Haim said of the ride to visit his mother.
He uses his car a couple of times a week, he said. He gets a discounted rate on car insurance for driving less than 7,500 miles a year. He averages about 3,000 miles a year in the car, he said.
“The bicycle is a lot better for my health, better for the environment, better for my wallet,” Haim said.
The ride between work and home is easy and convenient, he said.
“I feel really fortunate that I located myself so close to work,” Haim said. “When you drive, you have to find a parking spot.”
He turns 73 on July 7, and that week he plans a 73-mile bike ride to celebrate, he said.
“It’s a fundraiser for Peaceworks but mainly it’s a fun event and a bit of a challenge,” Haim said.
He will have friends along with him on the ride, he said.
Smith may be the most well-known cyclist in town. The retired University of Missouri professor won the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He famously has a reserved space in a bike rack on campus.
“A large reason I bike or walk most places is I don’t feel I’m a safe driver anymore,” said Smith, 81.
He walks when he’s within a mile or two of his destination, but bikes when the destination is too far to walk, he said.
“A bike is much safer than a car anyway and you’re going at a quarter of the speed,” Smith said.
Saving the planet is another reason to ride bicycles, he said.
“I’m a climate change activist,” Smith said. “I give lectures on the subject. I do think we absolutely have to get out of cars. I don’t think we can afford personal cars.”
All powered transport should end, he said.
“I do think I’m the wave of the future here,” Smith said.
But Smith and his wife drive their car on occasional trips to St. Louis to visit their first grandson, he said.
He doesn’t think he gets much health benefit from biking, he said.
“Bicycling doesn’t play a big role for me in health,” he said.
Another college professor who bicycles regularly is Mike Perkins, who teaches social work at Columbia College.
He commutes back and forth from his home to campus, a distance of about five miles, he said. He also bikes to drop off recyclables and make pickups at Walmart.
“I’ve got two trailers,” Perkins said. “One for hauling kids and one for hauling stuff.”
His grandchildren enjoy riding in the kid trailer, he said.
His route to work includes Bethel Park to the MKT Trail and downtown to campus.
“It’s free exercise,” said Perkins, 65. “It’s cheap. It’s sustainable. A bike is just practical.”
Cycling is appealing when gas prices are so high, he said.
“There’s really no downside to it,” he said, before thinking of one.
“It takes a little longer,” he said.
He dresses warm when it’s cold outside, he said.
“I’ve ridden on the coldest days” and even when it snows, he said. “Ice is the one thing that stops me.”
He rode bicycles as a child, but only took it up in adulthood about five years ago, resulting in significant weight loss, he said.
He’s in good health now.
“That’s a big part of it,” Perkins said.
Columbia is a bike-friendly city, the cyclists said.
“For Missouri, it is a bike-friendly community,” said Simonson. “Nowadays a lot of communities are realizing the benefits of it and not just for the health reasons. There’s also personal finance reasons and economic benefits.”
Columbia has a pretty good system of bike paths, Smith said. He was part of a city committee developing them from 1978 to 1982.
“I think Columbia is quite bike-friendly,” Smith said.
He also has biked in Madison, Wisconsin, where one can get almost anywhere on a bike path. He said it’s a much larger city with a much higher volume of traffic.
“We could do better,” Smith said. “Our trail system is somewhat incomplete. It’s still pretty good.”
As bicycling has become more popular in Columbia, they said they see less inconsiderate behavior from motorists.
“It does seem less frequent all the time,” Simonson said.
If there is an incident of rudeness, Simonson said he doesn’t take it personally.
“I think people have gotten used to bicyclists,” Smith said. “Maybe they see that I’m old. I don’t see a lot of hostility.”
Roger McKinney is the education reporter for the Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected] or 573-815-1719. He’s on Twitter at @rmckinney9.