"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride." - John F. Kennedy

Bicycle riding (cycling) is becoming one of the most popular sports in the U.S., with an estimated 48 million people taking part. But for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, it’s a way of life.

“It’s a great time to be talking about biking,” says Heather Deutsch, executive director of the organization. “People are stressed, and biking is a great way to relieve it.”

Indeed they are. Psychologists are reporting that Americans are “anxious, worried, sleep deprived, distracted and depressed” in record numbers. The pandemic has brought with it an “omni-present threat, profound disruptions in daily life, and uncertainty for the future.”

Exercise, especially cardio-vascular exercise, is a well-documented way to relieve stress, and bicycle riding ranks with running, rowing and swimming as among the best kind of cardio a person can do.

No one is more aware of this than the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. Its Facebook page lists 20 reasons to love cycling. Among these are “an antidote to low morale,” “non-polluting,” and “it’s incredibly good for you.”

Heather sees one of the Coalition’s tasks is to educate people — especially younger ones — about biking and all the benefits it can bring.

“We focus on teaching children how to ride, and we work with P.E. teachers in the local schools.”

One of the Coalition’s goals is to see that every child has a bike, no matter what their financial situation. To this end they get old bicycles from the trash, from the police, and as donations. They are they repaired and sold at reduced costs in the hope that every child — or adult — who wants a bicycle can have one.

The Coalition maintains two DIY locations, one in Santa Maria and one in Santa Barbara where bicycles can be repaired by their owners and get the benefit of “expert assistance” at the same time.

The bicycle traces its roots back to 1817, when a German named Karl von Drais invented a two-wheeled machine that had no chain or brakes. It was propelled by the rider’s feet.

From this humble beginning the bicycle was born. By 1850 a three wheeler had appeared; 1870 saw the “penny farthing,” so called because its gigantic front wheel and tiny back wheel resembled coins.

In 1920 the “kids bike” was invented, and in 1930 Schwinn added a spring fork to help a bicycle withstand the punishment from teenage boys. The 21st Century has witnessed the rise in popularity of the hybrid, bicycles that combine features of road racing and mountain bikes, along with the use of aluminum tubing, carbon fiber forks, and narrow tires and wheels.

Biking is more popular in the U.S. than ever before. The Union Cycliste Internationale sees this as part of “a new concept of modern living … slower paced, more focused on people and simple pleasures, and better for the planet,” sentiments that the Coalition heartily agrees with.

“Biking is a common type of transportation, and the ability to get from place to place is a basic need. The allure of the bicycle is about freedom,” says Deutsch. “When you ride on a bicycle trail, you can look around and see nature and people.”

One of the many events the coalition sponsors is “Bike to nature.”

The Coalition sees its mission as one of social justice. Part of its task is to “address inequities in transportation planning by promoting bicycling for safe transportation” and “to create healthy, sustainable and equitable communities in Santa Barbara County.”

For more information, call 805-845-8955, email Heather at heather@sbbike.org, or go to www.sbbike.org.

Mark James Miller is an Associate English Instructor at Allan Hancock College and President of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.