Community Spotlight: Olin Jenkins

July 16, 2018, author: Corrine Reed

A few weeks back, we interviewed Olin Jenkins, a Columbia native who regularly commutes by bicycle, and only uses his car to get to church and to commute in bad weather. He is one of the most dedicated bicyclists in Columbia and we were dying to know – Is commuting by bike just something for the ultra-fit and extremely dedicated, or can anybody do it?

How long have you been cycling to get around?

“I’ll give you an abbreviated life story. just like any other kid when I was little my mom and dad got me the typical Western Flyer from Western Auto with the back pedal break and all that. I used to jump ramps with that and ride around the neighborhood, and never had a spare tube or anything…never had a flat I don’t know how I got away with it!!!

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When I was 10-11 I got my first 10 speed a Free Spirit from Sears. The gears were pretty clunky…they didn’t have bike shops back then. You couldn’t just run to Cycle Center and get a tune-up when you needed it. Had to take it back to Sears and make an appointment just to get someone to twist one little thing.”

“When I was 13-14 my uncle,a bike dealer, got a real good bicycle, a Falcon…made in England with reynold steel and all that.. good, reliable 10 speed bike that’s when I started to get serious about biking. In fact I had that bike rebuilt in, I think, 1984, where the guy….he took that bicycle apart….he filed it all down repainted it put the lugs back on put brand new stuff on it…made it a 14 speed and I rode it up until it was stolen in 2010 right in front of the Close-Hipp Building. Someone broke through a U-bolt. They wanted that bicycle!”

So you rode that bike for 30 years!?

“Yeah, about a 30 year span. That was really about the point…that gave me the impetus to start riding a bicycle on a daily basis. It was my way of telling the thief you can’t stop me! As a matter of fact, I started telling people [about the theft] and my first cousin…gave me his mountain bike! I put about a thousand miles on that thing until the bottom bracket wore out.”

Why do you bike?

“For exercise and enjoyment. and the other part of my story, not just because I had a bike stolen, but for 29 years I smoked cigarettes…in college I started having to pull all-nighters. Caffeine didn’t do it so I turned to nicotine and that’s when for a long time I fell out of bicycling because I didn’t feel like it

In 2009 when I started riding the Falcon bicycle I grew up with again, I went cold turkey because state government said, “Okay, smokers, go ahead and keep smoking but we have a new policy where we take 20 dollars out of each paycheck to cover you guys with your health insurance”. So I said I’m on a limited income I can’t afford that, so I went cold turkey and never looked back!

It felt good because within just a few days, I was already feeling so much healthier…There was one day I had car trouble…and I couldn’t drive to work, so I said, “I feel so good, it’s only 2.5 miles, I’m gonna see if I can walk it”.

I walked from [my neighborhood] through [University of South Carolina – Columbia] campus here and it felt great and I did that for 2 days in a row. Then I thought, “what am I doing walking?! I have a perfectly good bicycle at home!!!”

I started biking with the Falcon and then I bought a Walmart bike, a Kent, as a backup just in case something happened, and unfortunately it did! Other folks started giving me these bicycles…now I have 6, which is silly, but I keep a spreadsheet of how much money I put into bikes and how many miles and how much it costs.

Every time I put my key in my car, it costs $11.63…and it costs about 15-16 cents a mile just to drive! For the cheapest bike that someone gave me, it costs one penny per mile. I’ve only put 1 dollar into it for a spare tube!”

So how do you calculate how much your transportation costs?

“I have it all in a spreadsheet. I’ve tracked [and nicknamed] 12 bicycles. I have 6 now, I’ve had one stolen. sold one, and gave away 4.”

What would you want people to know about bicyclists?

“Keep your eyes open! That goes for anyone on the road. I am a firm believer in sharing the road, and always be courteous in all situations…Downtown [Columbia] isn’t so bad, but I wish that people in my own neighborhood would be courteous…they run stop signs after making eye contact with me!

I have a noisemaker. Bicyclists need a bell or a noisemaker of some sort. I have on most of my bikes one of those 110 decibel alarms, they’re loud! They’re really, really good, and…I have never been hit.

The other week there was a hit and run with a bicyclist who was hit and killed. I don’t know if it was a drunk driver or what, but you don’t do that. Everybody needs to keep their eyes wide open. That goes for motorists and bicyclists. I want us all to share the streets for all vehicles and to be kind to each other. That’s the most important thing, I think.”

Any tips for someone who wants to start riding?

“Take short trips. Don’t try to go too fast and don’t feel pressured to go the same speed as the cars…Use hand signals and lights, but don’t go above your comfort zone, that’s where you’ll be in trouble! Take a map, or get in your car and find backstreets that will work for you.”

Amy Johnson Ely

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