As a self-described "bike commuter, NOT a biker," using a bike solely for transportation leaves me with a rather cynical negative attitude about bikers and biking. So imagine my surprise at finding biking inspiration at my local YMCA swimming pool...in the words of basketball legend Bill Walton.
When I met Bill after swimming laps at the pool last Saturday, I had no idea he was a biker. I knew only that he spent a lot of time in the pool since his back surgery, and that if I was in the next lane it was only neighborly to introduce myself. When I expressed my surprise at seeing him at the YMCA pool, he replied that the only mornings he DIDN'T come to the pool were "when I'm out of town, or when I'm doing a really long bike ride." When another swimmer asked him about his biking habits, he said that some days he'd get up and do a 100-mile morning ride by himself. When I said I couldn't imagine doing more than my 10-20 mile a day commuting ride, he replied "If you can bike 10 miles, you can bike 100." According to him it's all about the technology, and if you have a good bike you can exceed your expectations. After mentioning the improvements that have occurred since the first bike he rode as a five-year-old, he said of his current bike:
"It's my gym, my wheelchair and my church."
That comment stuck with me throughout the next week, and when I saw Bill again last Friday I asked if I could quote him on it. I expected his agreement, but did not expect what came next. He reiterated his earlier comment with a tone of complete gravity and sincerity that drew me in despite my time limits. "My bike is my gym, my wheelchair, and my church all in one." Then he went on, enthusiastically describing his biking experience.
"I love my bike," Bill said. "It's the most important THING in my life." As someone who presumably owns a fair amount of things, this seemed a bold statement. So although I was crouched, dripping-wet on the YMCA pool deck and about to risk running late for work, I felt compelled to see what else Bill Walton had to say about biking.
I was not disappointed. He went on to say "There are only 2 things I don't like about my bike. One is I don't get to ride it enough. The other is...when I get back from a long ride, my wife says 'Hey, big boy...remember I wasn't a part of that 8-hour conversation you were just having.'"
While enthusiastic about biking, Bill is also realistic about the obstacles faced by San Diego bikers. "Pave the roads!" he exhorted. Thinking about the pothole-ridden stretches I've been on in the last two years, I couldn't agree more.
He went on to address the motorist/biker relationship. "Drivers should show more respect for bicyclists. When you're driving and you see someone on a bike, slow down and move away. Even a little easing off the gas and a little move makes a big difference."
While I wanted to hear more, I finally had to excuse myself to go get ready for work. But as I got up and headed towards the Mission Valley YMCA women's locker room, I realized that something more surprising had occurred than getting an impromptu poolside interview with a legendary sports figure....
I actually felt inspired to bike for recreation, not just transportation!