(Screaming downhill from Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador)
(2006 picture taken by John Greenfield)
Jim Redd was one of the early visionaries and organizers of Chicago Critical Mass.
In lieu of reinventing the wheel, read here how he first heard about Critical Mass, and a recount of the first Chicago Mass on Friday, September 5, 1997.
Jim and his wife have since moved to Ecuador and own a bike friendly inn called La Posada del Arte. They are offering a special lodging discount to anyone who comes and mentions this interview. Contact information is at the bottom of the interview.
1) How/when did you get into cycling? What are your first memories cycling?
I learned to ride a bike in 1948, when I was 6 years old, in Gadsden, Alabama. I remember, vividly, my Dad pushing me with his hand on the seat, keeping me upright, until I finally discovered the magic of balance: to turn the wheel in the direction I was falling. I have no idea why that particular memory has stuck with me all these years. Then, in 1953, in Birmingham, I got a paper route. In those days, there, all the paper boys used bikes with big baskets on the front to deliver the papers. We rolled them up with string and threw them into the yards of our customers. On rainy days, we tried to get them on the porches, using the left- or right-handed shot, or even an over-the head shot. I learned the art of allowing for bike speed, wind and porch configuration to land the papers right in front of the door.
Unfortunately, when I turned 16, the legal driving age, I "grew up" and got a 1953 Chevrolet and spent the next few years acting like a teenager driving my car around town to impress my friends, dating, drive-in movies, etc. My Dad got a '57 Chevy which, as far as cars go, was about the coolest thing you could have in those days.
But then sometime in the '70s, after Marshia and I moved to Chicago, I had an epiphany while driving somewhere, I don't remember, in our big clackety Ford station wagon. Why should it take a 2-ton vehicle to move my skinny little ass from one place to the next? I asked myself. That memory of my Dad was still lurking somewhere, as well as the paper-boy days, and I bought a bike and put a kid seat on it to carry our son, Adrian. I still remember the incredible sense of liberation and freedom that came with this transition.
Anyway, for what it's worth, last month, here in Baños Ecuador, I taught my neighbor's 6-year-old daughter to ride a bike on the street in front of our hotel, using the same technique my Dad used with me in 1948.
2) How does your inn cater cyclists?
Well, unlike most hotels here, we don't have a "parqueadero" (parking lot). And we're probably the only hotel owners here without a vehicle. We offer guided mountain bike tours for our guests. We also offer lodging/biking packages.
3) Do you specialize in a certain type of cycling?
We do all our shopping for the restaurant on bike, using Ortlieb panniers and a Bob trailer (a Bob can carry 100 lbs of potatoes!). Also, we are opening a brew pub here next month. We use natural spring water, and transport it to the brewery in a BOB trailer (see www.posadadelarte.com/posadablog.php -- scroll to the bottom).
Personally, I love single track. Unfortunately, there's not much in Ecuador, so I go to the US. My son Jason and I did trail riding in Fruita, Telluride, and Durango, CO a couple of years ago, and I've made 2 trips to Sedona, AZ for single track.
4) What are your "must-have" items for cycling (this could be a tool, an accessory, a food, etc.)
A GPS. I love to see my elevation profile and tracks on Google Earth. (Recently, Jason and I climbed 1000 meters and down again!)
5) What's your favorite bike?
I love my Cannondale F5. It's solid black. I call it my "Stealth bike". It's a domesticated, mild-mannered grocery-hauler one day and a screaming downhiller the next.
6) What was your biggest challenge as a cyclist in Ecuador? In Chicago when you were living here?
In Ecuador, dealing with the exhaust from buses and trucks burning cheap diesel, and the "roundabouts" in Quito. Roundabouts are designed by traffic engineers from hell. Traffic from at least 4 streets merge in a circular free-for-all. All I can say is thank God for peripheral vision! In Chicago, what else? Fullerton Avenue.
7) How does cycling in Quito compare to Chicago?
Actually, Quito has a very active and progressive biking community. Every Sunday they close 30km of urban streets for the "Cyclopaseo" which attracts up to 10,000 cyclists. Also, there is a marked "cyclovia" all through the city. Chicago has no such thing as the cyclopaseo (except CCM, which is not sponsored by the city). Maybe the annual Lakeshore Drive ride is comparable, but it IS only once a YEAR, whereas Quito is once a WEEK. And I think you have to pay for the LSD thing as well. And throughout the cyclopaseo route there are parks where people stop, hang out and listen to live music, street vendors, etc. The route goes through the architecturally world-renown colonial section of Old Quito. And very little spandex. There are families, kids, all sorts of folks with all sorts of rag-tag bikes. But it is a beautiful thing.
8) If you could go on a bike ride with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
George Christensen. Although George is a road biker, and I prefer off-road, no matter. I'm willing to forego single track just to ride with him. He is an excellent, observant biker-writer and always adds a dimension of history and personal encounters in his writing (riding) (see his blog).
Old Chicago Critical Mass website (click on "Rides" for Jim's account of the first ride on September 5, 1997)