August 13, 2014

by Karen Brooks

Marla Streb racing a Super D in 2007 (Image: Flickr)

One might think that the rarified world of pro bike racing has little to do with bike advocacy, but in fact, those superhumans we see on television and in the glossy pages of magazines can be strong allies for everyday bicyclists. As our President, Tim Blumenthal, pointed out, pros are regular riders, too?they travel and run errands by bike on city streets with their families, and experience life on two wheels just like the rest of us. It’s only natural that bike advocacy would be an ingredient in a well-balanced pro career.

One inspiring example is legendary downhiller, two-time Singlespeed World Champion, author, trail designer, mom, and bike advocate Marla Streb. Since retiring from racing in 2009, the “Gravity Goddess” splits her time between Costa Rica and her hometown of Baltimore, MD and has resumed biking all over town just as she did before her time on the pro circuit?now with two young children in tow. She carves time out of her busy life to work with Bike Maryland teaching cycling classes.

Oh, and Marla won the Mayhem Enduro this past May?her first win since becoming a mother?so don’t count her out of racing just yet.

Marla riding around town with her two young daughters.

PeopleForBikes: A bike is your main form of transportation in town. Do you ride with your daughters often?

Marla Streb: Every day, through rain, snow, sleet, smog, humidity, heat, and the two nice days we have per year.

PFB: How has bike commuting affected your involvement in bike advocacy and your riding in general?

MS: I can get up there and actually “preach what I practice.?

PFB: You?ve been working with Bike Maryland as a Safety Program Coordinator for a couple of years. Do you teach both kids and adults?

MS: Yes, adults for commuting and safety, and kids mostly for safety.

PFB: What’s your favorite part about teaching the program?

MS: Besides the occasional big hug, the best part is the result: after a workshop, when I see one of the kids or adults out there actually riding their bike, and on the right side of the road.

PFB: The hardest part?

MS: Strong-arming kids to wear a helmet and convincing closed-minded adults to ride to work.

Marla teaching kids in the Baltimore area about bike safety.

PFB: What do you say to people who start the argument, “Well, I respect bikers and all, but they need to obey the laws! It makes me really mad when they blow stop signs.?

MS: There are always some bad apples. There are also uneducated and ignorant cyclists that don’t even know that they are required by state laws to obey all signs and signals. On the other hand, we see plenty of drivers bending laws?rolling through stops or speeding on the highway, which police don’t always enforce. Cars breaking laws may not be as obvious as a cyclist breaking the law at intersections, and when they do it’s often socially acceptable (i.e. speeding).

PFB: Conditions for bike riders are probably drastically different in Costa Rica. Which place do you prefer?

MS: [In Costa Rica there are] slower motor vehicle speeds on dirt roads?many more bicyclists use them for transportation?and slacker laws (no helmet laws there). It is nicer, hillier and more relaxed in general. People are not really in a big rush and when they are driving fast, it’s just rallying for sport! Most drivers wave to cyclists because we all know each other in this small town.

If you?re down in Costa Rica or cruising around Baltimore, look out for Marla. She?ll be riding!

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