Other Voices: A lifetime of advocacy for cycling safety


The Town Crier’s amusing “Other Voices” column on cyclists’ clothing (“Bike garb,” Aug. 16) is off-target. Dressing somewhat spectacularly while riding is generally a good idea, as I learned during my 83 years of cycling, riding more than 137,000 miles so far. That includes my rides from Seattle to Boston, and down the West Coast from Canada to Mexico. I also have enjoyed rides in various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Through all that, I have never been touched by a motor vehicle.

Our two sons dragged my wife and me into bicycle racing in the 1970s. When I discovered that the U.S. Cycling Federation’s racing rules were poorly written, I began submitting rule changes that were all adopted, including one that allowed riders to wear shorts of any color, not just black.

In 1979, I completely rewrote the racing rules. I got them approved while concurrently being elected to the federation’s national board of directors. I then was put in charge of all U.S. bicycle racing.

Based on my observation that head injuries were the most dangerous ones in cycling, I began advocating a strong helmet rule. I encountered fierce opposition from those who thought that cyclists should be able to choose whatever kind of helmet they liked. Unfortunately, most chose the traditional “leather hairnet” consisting of thin leather straps with padding inside, which gave almost no protection in a fall. The result was that our insurance rates were soaring, so I kept pushing on that.

In 1984, I officiated at the Olympics in Los Angeles, where I discovered that the U.S. team had indulged in blood doping. After confirming that there was no rule against that, even though the U.S. Olympic Committee pretended otherwise, I got one adopted, which soon spread around the world and eventually nailed Lance Armstrong and his crooked colleagues.

I eventually got a strong helmet rule adopted in 1986, even though I temporarily lost my seat on the national board because of my advocacy. Nevertheless, that rule also soon spread around the world. As a result, thousands of lives have been saved. I am proud of that.

In 1992, I initiated a proposal to form a new national cycling organization, USA Cycling (USAC), aimed at uniting various branches of the sport. Unfortunately, some crooked businessmen managed to bribe staff members into letting them amend the proposal so that a majority of the board of directors would be elected by people with business interests, who made up less than 1 percent of the participants in the sport. I fought hard to block that takeover but failed. They are still in charge.

In 1999, I helped organize a countermovement – the Federation of Independent Associations for Cycling, which focused on regional racing – and served as its executive director for a number of years. However, the crooks running USAC then started prohibiting anyone who raced in our events from participating in international races, including the Olympics, so we sued them. Unfortunately, a judge in Colorado ruled that they could do that, which put us out of business and encouraged more corruption in other international sports.

In recent years, I have managed an underground movement, Reform the Olympic Sports Act, with a number of current and former athletes, and I’m looking for an opportunity to fix this mess. We will pounce when we see a chance.

Les Earnest is a Los Altos Hills resident.

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