If you’ve been to any event involving any Champaign County bicycling organization, chances are good that you’ve met Sue Jones, because she’s darn near ubiquitous. From ChampaignCountyBikes.org to Prairie Cycle Club to The Bike Project, Sue works behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly. She even helped organize last weekend’s Lincoln Circuit Ride from Champaign to Danville and back. Somehow, she also finds time to ride 100 to 250 miles per week, update her blog (Urbana-Champaign Bicycle Commute) and, oh yeah, work full-time at Parkland.
This article is part of a series profiling members of the C-U bike community. Send me a tip if you know someone who should be interviewed.
Sue came to town about ten years ago from Virginia. “I had some friends that were out here, and I came out to work on a book about the times [multiplication] tables, and what to do when you can’t learn the times tables,” she says. “That was the title of a book in England where the headmaster at a school where I had taught had written, and so I suggested that we translate it into American English so that it could be available to people here. It’s very much a niche-market thing, but now we sell them on the internet, and we made some parents and teachers happy.”
She didn’t fully realize her bicycling potential until she moved to C-U. “I had started cycling in Virginia when I was a teacher,” she notes, “but you don’t have that kind of free time to do lots and lots of riding. And out here, where it’s so flat, so easy to advance at your own pace — when I came out here, I was a Level One rider. I was pretty much, 12 miles an hour, I could do it forever, but when I was freelancing and I had time to just go out and ride, I decided I was going to get to the Level Two group.
“I had been on a swim team, and I’d been pretty terrible even though I worked really hard because I’m all legs. I never really thought about it, that swimming’s the wrong sport for somebody that’s all legs, and bicycling is the right sport. So, I just went out and applied stuff that I didn’t even know was ingrained in me, training-wise, and in a month I had gone from a Level-almost-One to a much stronger rider. I didn’t believe it; if I was still a special-ed teacher, I would probably still believe that I was a slow rider, but then I realized that I sounded just like my LD kids that said, ‘I’m stupid, I know I am.’”
From there on, Sue continued to improve her riding through both the Prairie Cycle Club rides and some friendly online competition. “Last year, due to lots of conspiring circumstances, I did 10,000 miles,” she says. “I did 960 in December. I saw that it was possible and I thought, when in my life am I going to… plus I was having an online contest with this guy, and he went ahead of me, and he was ahead of me until the morning of December 31st. It was great. And you know how online communities are, we were talking it up the whole time, like, ‘I’m gonna get you, I’m gonna get you.’
“And it was New Year’s Eve, and I said, ‘Howard, you can go out and get it, I’m going to go to bed. You might get more miles than me, but I’m tired.’ So he ended up with like 10,006 to my 10,004. And that’s the neat thing, if you can challenge each other to bring out the best, then that’s what it’s all about.”
Since she doesn’t own a car, Jones needs several bikes in tow to make sure she has transportation available. “I’m a horrible mechanic,” she explains, “so I really need a fleet, because when one breaks down, it may be a couple weeks before I can work things out to get it going again. And ten bikes are still not half the price of a car.”
Commuting every day from her Urbana home to Parkland, Jones sees most of C-U’s bike infrastructure shortcomings firsthand. But she has a vision of what she’d like to see happen. “Well, I’d like to see the infrastructure reflect bikes as legitimate users of the facilities. Even people that ride their bikes to get places, they’re very limited. They don’t think of the bike, like, cars rule, basically.
“You’re supposed to have a car. You just — you’re supposed to. And it’s ok to ride a bike if there’s a nice path or if you can find a way, but to expect to be able to ride your bike anywhere, people are like, ‘What? Don’t we have cars?’ And you have a right to take a car anywhere you want to go, and not be slowed down or inconvenienced by something like a bicycle, it should work both ways. You should also be able to expect to get on your bike and get safely and efficiently where you want to go in Champaign-Urbana.”
Sue made an extra effort to recognize “certain folks that are working for the U and for the cities and counties — these guys put in extra time and effort in advocating and doing lots of extra research to stay up-to-date on cycling and multi-modal transportation issues, and that’s really helped make progress in Urbana and Champaign and at the U.”
If there’s anything that defines Sue Jones, it’s her unwillingness to accept limits to be placed upon herself. “Biking is something that has a really easy learning curve. You can get a lot stronger in not too much time. People say, ‘Oh, my gosh, you went ten miles!’ Well, if you go out three or four times, you can get up to that because you just kind of learn how to do it. That’s a good thing for the soul to realize as well, that you set your limits, and then you question them more.”
If you’d like the full transcript of the interview, shoot me an email and I’ll send it on over to you.