PBS's 'Pedal America' Needs Another Season (at Least)

A week or so ago I spoke with Ira David, the host of Pedal America, “the only national television show in the United States that educates and inspires viewers to re-discover the travel, environmental, and health benefits of recreational bicycling.”

This show was launched with a big splash at the National Bike Summit earlier this year. Ira and I were talking about how we can compliment each others efforts. (I was initially contacted by an intern, who probably sent the same overture to a bunch of bike blogs.)

Pedal America is trying to raise pledges for a second season, and you can pledge on The Pedal America Kickstarter Page.

Pedal America Episodes
Ira David in Sedona, Arizona | Photo: Pedal America

So I was on the phone with Ira, and in my mind I’m thinking, Please don’t ask, Please don’t ask…

He asked.

“Have you seen the show?”

“Well, not exactly… I mean, I tried to find episodes online. Um… We don’t get TV at my house.” Which is true. We don’t get cable. But if I were to put an antenna on my roof, I might get a couple of channels.

Normally I wear the no-TV thing as a smug badge of honor. It’s stealth smug; I won’t mention it unless I get backed into a what-shows-do-you-watch conversation.

But in this instance, I got some idea what it’s like when a pro-cycling non-cyclist gets asked, So, do you bike to work? And the excuses flow like water.

No, but I’ve really been meaning to give it a try. It’s just that my tires are flat, and…

So Ira sent me a top-secret, password-protected video URL, and I got access to three episodes. The first one I watched was “‘Women of Red Rock’ "“ Sedona, Arizona,” because Sedona is just down the road from where I live. (No, that’s not the top-secret URL.)

The show is good! It’s the antidote for all of the urban-obsessed, youth-obsessed, risk-taking-obsessed, tattoo-obsessed depiction of cycling that only motivates my eyes to roll.

The Sedona episode only gave me one eye-rolling moment, and it had nothing to do with the depiction of cycling: It was when Ira and Jan Sullivan are discussing Sedona’s energy vortexes without a hint of skepticism. Moments later they refer to the actual evidence-based geology of Sedona (formed by an inland sea 280 million years ago). And the word they used was “unbelievable.” I shouted at the computer, No it’s not unbelievable! (By “unbelievable,” I’m sure he meant “really impressive” and not, “I’m a young earth creationist.”)

The show has a lot of helmets and spandex and information about cycling for recreation, but there’s a subtle advocacy message just below the surface: Bikes are legitimate transportation, cycling is for everyone, and good infrastructure makes it even more so.

There’s a scene where Ira is riding with Dave Singer, Sedona’s “Bicycle Coordinator.” Dave is explaining how to navigate through a traffic roundabout on a bike, but the bike lane ends just before the roundabout. Dave says what you do is signal to traffic that you are going to leave the bike lane, and then you “take the lane,” as you enter the roundabout.

I shouted, Yes! at the computer. I forgive you for inadvertently seeming to dismiss the science of geology!

Pedal America‘s first season reaches 87 percent of households with public television. It’s a positive mainstream image of cycling that more people need to see. It’s not heavy handed on the advocacy (like I can be sometimes), and there is zero percent snark.

The show made me want to try the trail they rode through the red rocks to reach the supposed vortex. But because I’m already a cyclist and an advocate — and because I don’t do TV — I am not the target audience for this show. But I’m happy to know that it is finding its way into American homes — the same way I’m happy that soda fountains also dispense fresh water if you know where to find the lever.

If you’d like to see another season of Pedal America, you can pledge to their Kickstarter campaign, call or write your local PBS station about the show, and you can find them on Facebook or Twitter — and tell them what you’d like to see.

To find out when Pedal America is playing on your PBS station, visit the Pedal America page on American Public Television.



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