Last Wednesday a pack of fifty or so cyclists in Lycra rode 60-miles from an alligator farm in St. Augustine, Florida, on the scenic A1A highway to the Daytona Beach speedway circuit. Along for the Champions’ Ride for Bicycle Safety were former pro riders such as George Hincapie and current cyclocross pros such as Tim Johnson, but the champions in question were IndyCar and NASCAR motor-racing drivers because this was a promotional event staged by NASCAR champion Scott Lagasse Jr. It was the second annual outing for the ride.
Lagasse, who keeps fit by cycling and rides 100 miles per week, said: “My goal is to humanise the cyclist. We’re not just objects on the road, we are real people! A bike just happens to be our vehicle of choice at that moment.”
The State of Florida has the third-highest cyclist fatalities in America. Lagasse is a spokesperson for Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, a campaign launched in 2012 by the Florida Department of Transportation to increase public awareness of pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
The A1A is one of the deadliest roads in Florida for cyclists but on this particular ride there were few safety concerns because the event was supported by the Florida Department of Transportation and there was a rolling escort of 20 police motorcyclists and ten police cars. (Some of the riders in Lycra were also police officers.)
NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson told LAVA magazine: “We all share the love cycling and want it to be safer.”
He added that the publicity surrounding the bike ride would reach out to motor-sport fans:
“I am happy we can direct some of the NASCAR media and fanbase toward cycling."
This was echoed by event co-organiser Jim Escobar, a former cycle journalist who now runs Pro Tri Fit in St. Augustine, a bike shop and bike fitting service. He told BikeBiz:
“As well as TV coverage and local media the ride will have been seen in motor racing’s social-media channels. For instance, we were joined by Jimmie Johnson – he’s the Michael Jordan of driving, everybody knows him.”
Images from the Champions’ Ride for Bicycle Safety appeared in the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds of the motor-racing drivers.
Triathlon champion Alicia Kaye said: “These guys have such a massive platform to make change. To see the following they have and to think that this is one of their messages, we’re so lucky to have that.”
Other pro cyclists on the ride included Christian Vande Velde and US Olympic triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker. Charlie Cooper, VP of membership and development at PeopleForBikes, travelled out from Boulder, Colorado, to be on the ride.
The worlds of motor-sport and cycling have been co-aligning for some time. Formula 1 motor-racing drivers often keep fit by cycling. In 2012, motor-sport enthusiast and former bike shop owner Michael Hart of Indianapolis, Indiana, created the Racers Who Ride Foundation which involves the “stars of motorsport changing the culture of driving for safe cycling.”