Tim Johnson: Leaving a legacy far beyond racing

April 11, 2014

by Rachel Walker


Tim Johnson during the 2012 Ride on Washington. (Image: Jamie Kripke)

It’s one thing to climb through the ranks of professional athleticism and reach the top. It’s another to use that hard-won podium to advocate for a worthy cause. Tim Johnson, one of the best male cyclocross riders in the country, is doing both.

In 2011, Tim organized the Ride on Washington to raise awareness of bike advocacy. The ride traveled from Boston, MA to Washington, DC, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for PeopleForBikes. This year the ride moves to the Midwest; Johnson will lead the first Ride on Chicago in late May, which goes from Kansas City, MO to Chicago, IL.

“In 2010, I attended the National Bike Summit, which I hadn’t even known existed, as a guest of Richard Fries,” says Tim. “I realized there was a clear disconnect between the racing and advocacy communities. Our goal with the Ride on Washington, and this year's Ride on Chicago, is to raise awareness of bicycle advocacy and its efforts nationwide among the racing community.”

By educating racers, who spend countless hours, days and months on roads, about the efforts to improve safety for bike riders and pedestrians, Tim hopes to bridge the gap between the two cultures. The ride raises money for PeopleForBikes, and in turn, local projects nationwide.

“Bike racers spend lots of time out on the roads training and racing, but typically aren’t aware of the effort it takes to put in just one bike lane or path,” says Tim. “It takes years of work. We appreciate it and would like to help.”

Energetic and inclusive, Tim is an ideal spokesman for the cause. At 36, he has managed to parlay a professional cycling career into an adventurous, world-traveling enterprise.


Tim during a cyclocross race. Hup hup! (Image: Todd Prekaski)

A New England native, Tim raced mountain bike, cyclocross and road bikes growing up. He turned pro in 2001 and joined the Cannondale team in 2006. Highly favored to win the 2014 CX Worlds in February, Tim suffered a race-ending crash.

That didn’t stop him from heading to Tokyo the following week with wife and racer Lyne Bessette, and then flying to Quebec City for some R&R. Of course, when you’re a professional sufferer, R&R is not synonymous with umbrella drinks and sandy beaches. Translation: he’s been skinning up mountains and skiing down them.

It’s all in a day’s work for Tim, who embraces the art of slogging through hard situations in search of athletic accomplishment and a clear mind. Not that it’s always easy, he says.

“One of the hardest things I push through each day is just getting out the door,” says Tim. “I'm a social bike rider, so the long solo hours of training are often the toughest challenges for me. I'd much rather get out on the bike with friends and do my ‘work’ during the ride we are doing.”

Surprisingly (or not) that can make group rides with Tim a little stressful—for everyone.

But that’s easily remedied with separating work and play. More than anything he wants to share his love for bikes with anyone who is interested in the sport.

“Bicycling has given me more than I could have ever imagined, taken me places far away and has introduced me to great people,” he says. “And I’m lucky to see time and time again that bikes aren't just for racing or training on. They're for moving, for transportation, for recreation, for work. They are for everyone.”


Tim (right) chatting with a friend during a ride. (Image: Dave Chiu)

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