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Annual Student Bike Essay Contest





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2005 Student Bicycle Essay Contest Winners

Below are the winning essays from the 2005 International Bicycle Fund Student Essay contest. The winners are: Learning to Ride by Niki Loo, age 8, Cottonwood Elementary, Lake Elsmore, CA, (the age 9-12 was not awarded) and Four Wheels Prevail Over Two by Stanford Tran, age 16, Wilcox High School, Santa Clara, CA.  Each receives a cash prize. Congratulations to the winners and thank you to all the students who submitted essays.

Learning to Ride

by Niki Loo

When I learned to ride my bike I kept on falling and falling.  My dad pushed me but I kept on falling. But one time I almost got it and I rode, but when I stepped on the brake I fell and banged my head and I started to cry.  But when I got up I felt better.  I finally learned to ride a bike at my dad's office and I never fell again.

After that we went on bike riding trips and we had a fun time going bike riding. Sometimes we would bring our bikes to our auntie's place in Long Beach where there are bike paths to ride on. We even ride in the parking lot.

I like riding because you can see other people and their bikes. I can see the ocean, the beach and the islands.  I can watch people feeding the birds.  I can hear the birds chirping.

The reason why I picked this topic is because you can ride and relax for good health.  I'm happy I learned to ride my bike.

Four Wheels Prevail Over Two

by Stanford Tran

I felt a bit light-headed after biking the 5 miles and bounding up the stairs three steps at a time to my friend’s house. My study group was waiting for me, giving me the look of amusement that I always get whenever I biked somewhere. I sat down at the table and pulled out my physics notes, bothered by the fact that people don’t take bicycling seriously. After all, it is the ideal and most efficient form of transportation.

After study group was over, someone’s overprotective mother invariably offered to drive me home, convinced that I won’t last but 5 minutes on the road at night before some car runs me over or some stranger mugs me or I won’t be able to see and run into a pole or I’ll catch a cold. I have to patiently explain to her that (1) reflectors on my bike alert drivers on the street to my presence (2) the mugging rate in Santa Clara is low, so it will be very unlikely that I’ll be mugged (3) streetlights illuminate the streets fine (4) physical exertion requires the metabolism of ATP, and produces heat as a by-product, so I’ll be warm. But usually, I don’t bother to explain and instead, just smile and nod.

The misconceptions that people have about bicycles pains me. Bicycling is a great thing, but so many people immediately reject bicycling as an alternative to driving. Many people, like my own parents, are apprehensive about switching from driving to bicycling because they feel it is counterintuitive. I have heard people whine about gas prices, and in the next sentence, complain how they are not going to the gym more often enough. Commuting by bicycle would be the perfect answer to both these concerns. Unlike Europeans, many Americans view bicycling as unnatural and unconventional. The word bicyclist conjures an image of an obstruction in today’s fast-paced lifestyle: some hippie in a tie-dye shirt, slowing down traffic. Why is American culture so close-minded when it comes to bicycling?

Starting my research off, I knew resources were going to be scarce. It is not feasible for me to cover every facet of this complex problem. I can only try my best and uncover as many as I can. A catalog search of San Jose’s and Santa Clara’s library revealed no books. Three hours of searching on Google did not turned up the kind of information I was looking for. I decided to interview people. Mr. Hedlund, besides being a math teacher, rides his bike to Wilcox everyday. When I walked into his room for our interview, I noticed that his bike no longer hangs on the wall. He told me that injuries from an accident a couple months ago prevented him from riding his bike, but he hopes to get back as soon as possible if his wife lets him. I smiled understandingly. Like other cyclists who I have talked to, Mr. Hedlund had a connection with his bike that is unscathed even by physical injuries. When asked how come not more people ride bikes. He readily replies, “Our society is not set up well for bike commuting. In other words, I can bike commute to here because I bike to school and go over to the locker room and there’s showers and lockers; most business don’t have a locker room. They are not set up for people to ride their bicycles to work. It’s a whole cultural thing. You can’t go to work and be a sweaty pig.” It is very true that commute by bicycle presents many obstacles to bicyclists. Besides the logistics of changing, there is also the prohibitive distance between where a person lives and where he works. The average distance between work and home in Santa Clara County is 35 miles, whereas the national average is only 3 miles.

But even more influential than logistical problems are social problems, as shown by the condescending shrug that many people gave me when asked if commute by bicycle is an option. People must keep up their appearances. They are judged based on the way they dress, what kind of car they drive, and where they live. Many of these people fear that riding a bicycle will degrade their appearances. It seems that the many benefits to bicycling are outweighed by the few or if any, disadvantages. Mr. Hedlund claims he is in better shape than most of his peers because he bicycles 24 miles a day, which only takes 26 more minutes than driving the same distance. As far as time management goes, a mile a minute is fantastic. A bicyclist is exempted from many costs: insurance, registration, smog check, fuel, maintenance, and parking fees, just to name a few. But, it’s clear that social appearances outweigh both better health and lower costs.

Next, I interviewed Mr. Terry Trumbull, who has an extensive background in environmental studies as a professor of environmental law at San Jose State University, an environmental lawyer, speaker for the Sierra Club, part of the Boards of Director for the American Lung Association part of Advisory Council to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Environmental Judge with the Hearing Board of the BAAQMD, Endorsement Chair of the California League of Conservation Voters-Santa Clara County, and Government Affairs Chair of the Pacific Industrial and Business Association. America is a very car centered society and along with that, has erected many institutional barriers. For example, the government subsidizes the cost of owning a car greatly, granted that they get the money from some other means, as income tax. The car tax does not nearly cover the costs required for maintaining roads or the damage to the environment. If the gas taxes reflect the “actual costs”, than our gas prices would be the same as Europe’s, around 5 dollars a gallon. If we charged every employee who drives to work $300 a year, the cost of maintaining one parking space in the car lot, maybe bicycles would seem more attractive. One of Mr. Trumbull’s favorite examples is the fact that the government has a tax break for Hummers.

“Specifically for Hummers?”

“Well, no. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a tax break on all his Hummers because Hummers are so big, that according to the government, they are classified as trucks. The government’s tax break for trucks was designed to ease the costs of buying company vehicles or businesses.”

“Interesting. How can we fix this?”

“The solution is to become a true laizzes-faire country. All tax cuts should be removed and the ‘actual costs’ should be charged for all products. Although it sounds a bit extreme, doing so would make things fair.”

“So why haven’t people proposed this idea before?”

“The problem lies in our institution. One way many elected officials get votes is by appealing to the common interest of people. In this case, it’s automobiles. No politician has the guts to propose this idea because doing so would mean the end of their political career.”

Another major problem is the design of cities. According to Mr. Trumbull, “I drive through the Stanford business center and it’s this enormous 4 square-mile complex but they don’t have any place for people to walk for bike. They have single lane roads that connect the businesses, but you can’t walk into the businesses because they are designed for cars. The streets don’t have any sidewalks. There’s no concern given at all to facilitate bicycle. So no surprise you drive people out using bikes.”

Continuing on, “The dilemmas are many though. We are not designing our world to encourage people to bike. A major factor is that we have the longest distance in this county between where a person lives and where they work. Only the most dedicated people on the planet are going to bike 35 miles to work everyday.”

This reminded me of something I learned from Environmental Science 001. “In my environmental studies class I learned that the typical city layout is having the businesses in the middle and residential area around it. But it is not like that around here. Why is it?”

“Well, the concept you mentioned is called zoning: describing different areas for different uses. The current state-of-the-art planning is multiple-use. Take the Santa Clara CalTrain station. BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit; a subway system] is planning on coming there and you already got CalTrain. You should have higher rise buildings with retail on the ground floor and maybe office space and then apartments up above it. The zoning around there is single-family residential. It’s insane because you don’t have the density necessary to make mass-transit work. Similarly, if you got people closer to transit, closer to jobs, closer to retail opportunities, they start walking or using their bikes. So that American concept of zoning you mentioned accurately is one that developed during the 20th century based on driving everywhere.”

AH HA! So I finally found the reason behind American driving culture. I would love to see the future BART and current CalTrain station more functional because frankly, it would benefit me. “So what can we do to have your plan implemented, from the car taxes to zoning?”

“Well, you live in Santa Clara and the question is, why doesn’t you City Council do it. And the city council does it if you an your parents and all your friends lobby. The typical politician says that if Stanford Tran gets a hold of them, that stands for a thousand people because so few people get a hold of them.”

My interview with Professor Trumbull has been much more informative than I expected. When I arrived, I hoped to learn why American is such a car culture. When I left, I not only achieved my purpose of understanding the problems, but found out the solutions as well. I also learned my lessons in economics and politics, that Schwarzenegger illogically advocated a car-tax reduction even though California was in a fiscal crisis because it was a political move, not a logical one. But most importantly, I left with a feeling that I can make a difference.

Sadly, though, these changes will take much time. Even an avid biker like Mr. Hedlund said, “I would not let my kids ride off to little League practice when they’re eight years old. In this world I wouldn’t let them do that. When I was a kid, things like people driving up next to you in a van and pulling your kid into the van didn’t happen, but now it does. It’s a scarier world these days.” Changes in people’s attitudes will take generations, and will only happen with a lot of lobbying. There are lobbying groups like the “Spinning Crank”, a bicycling advocacy group, who have protested the recent Baby Bullet train because it holds only 16 bikes per car, down from 32. The alternative is true laizzes-faire: allow people to do as they wish until the air becomes so polluted and fuel so scarce, that people will realize for themselves the need for a better method of transportation. But must we really go through that phase? Or will people have the foresight and prevent such sickening conditions?

Ballantine, Richard and Richard Grant. Richard’s Ultimate Bicycle Book. New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 1992.
Fajans, J. "Steering in bicycles and motorcycles." American Association of Physics Teacher Vol. 68, No. 7, July 2000 <>.
Santa Clara County Transportation Agency Planning and Capital Development Division Planning and Programming. Santa Clara County Bicycle Plan: March 1994. San Jose: Transportation Agency, 1994.
Tran, Stanford. Personal Interview with Craig Hedlund. 1 Jun. 2004.
Tran, Stanford. Personal Interview with Terry Trumbull. 3 Jun. 2004.

Annual Student Bicycle Essay Contest



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