November Cyclist of the Month

Name: Jing-Hui ‘Alex’ Zhang
Job: Civil Engineering student majoring in Transportation at UW
part-time at Shannon & Wilson
part-time tai-chi teacher at North Seattle Community College
Age: 36
Commute: bikes an average of 10 miles daily

As noted by our nation’s obesity rates, the protestant work ethic handed down by John Calvin encourages hard work and consumption over hard play and leisure. The inherent conflict between work and play is well known to cyclists: the expense for new lightweight, titanium parts, a plethora of bike types and other trick components to accessorize cycling can have an inverse relationship to the time it takes to properly train and enjoy cruising Washington’s backroads.

Many of us enjoy the same fantasy: a garage full of two-wheeled wonders appropriate for every occasion. But the dilemma: how to work enough to afford AND enjoy all of our toys at the same time.

Jing-Hui ‘Alex’ Zhang arrived in the States from Beijing in 1997. Not knowing the traffic laws, to get around, he invested $5 in a used Bianchi touring bike – not the most glamorous transportation vehicle. Soon afterwards, he took a mechanic job for Charles Hadraan at Wright Bros. in Fremont, where he worked for about three years.

During his apprenticeship, he test rode many customer bikes. After a vehicle accident injury, he started biking more often to stay in shape and keep healthy. As he learned different riding styles, Alex upgraded to better bikes and started a personal collection.

Today, Alex thinks (he cannot rightly remember) he owns 16 bikes and 4 frames. His favorite bicycles are a late 80s Eddy Merckx Century and a Merckx Corsa Extra. For commuting, a Marinoni Turismo with fenders, racks and full set up is a favorite. To keep his hobby affordable, he builds up all of his own bikes.

Where does Alex obtain his classic steeds? “Second hand stores, yard sales, Recycled Cycles . . . even Goodwill.” He found his most unique bike, a 1960’s Italian-made Capri with Columbus tubing and Campy components, at a second hand store on Aurora. He also enjoys an early 80s Colnago, and two 1960s cruiser bikes: a Firestone and a two-speed Schwinn Stingray.

Some day, Alex would like to own a Titanium Eddy Merckx or a 1980s DeRosa; he likes the classic looking road bikes vs. the new carbon looks. Alex has owned Torreli aluminum and carbon bikes, but sold them because steel is more comfortable. His collection has grown too large to fit in his garage, so bikes overflow into his bedroom and living room.

Alex really enjoys a routine 70-80 mile loop to Marymoor Park along the BGT, then to Issaquah and around Lake Washington. He also enjoyed the 25th anniversary Group Health STP: “the support was awesome, and it was well-organized.” One of his worst riding memories was the first day of RSVP in 2004 when it rained all day Friday.

As a civil engineering student, Alex is now interested in biking because it is not only healthy for him, but healthy for others, and often more efficient than driving, which he does as little as possible. “Biking is convenient and good exercise, and good for the environment.”

“China is changing…people are buying cars because they make more money…traffic congestion and pollution create more problems. Traffic in China is so bad these days, it is dangerous to ride a bike.” He remembers riding safely on quiet roads without a helmet – not the case today. Many people are overweight because they do not exercise regularly; biking regularly would help solve our environmental problems and reduce obesity. We know better, but we still produce more pollution.”

When he graduates, Alex wants to improve the safety of biking on the road. “Many cyclists are afraid to bike on the road because many drivers are so aggressive. But if we can make it safer, more people will want to ride.”

Some people wonder why someone would own a stable of bikes when only one can be ridden at a time. Has Alex’s collection become an obsession? Has his obsession become an addiction? Alex admits that he has too many bicycles, and is selling some models. However, to Alex, the lug work and other detail on these cycles is pure artwork. And he points out that others must feel the same way since some Wright Bros. members own even more bikes!