HERE ARE FIVE simple reasons why Jason Atkinson is more badass than you liberal dweebs: He's an Oregon state senator. He's a Republican. He's a bike racer. He shaves his legs, which shows a profound sense of masculine confidence. And he once got shot by a gun while repairing a friend's bike (there was a loaded gun in the saddlebag).
Now he's (tentatively) back on two wheels after that 2008 accident—but even when he's been kept off the roads, the Southern Oregon legislator has never quailed from a fight for bike rights statewide.
Senator Atkinson jumped into the absurd 2007 debate over requiring extra brakes on fixed gears and, more recently, tried to boost bike funding from its measly one percent of the state transportation budget.
MERCURY: How does bike advocacy jibe with your Republican ideals?
JASON ATKINSON: I fell in love with bicycles when I was a kid, long before I knew what Republicans or Democrats were. I was lucky in that I had a modest amount of talent in racing bikes, which took me all over the world to race. When I got into politics, I didn't see bikes as a partisan thing at all. I've been very supportive of everything from velodromes for economic development to jumping into the middle of the fixie debate a few years ago. I think people don't really understand what bicycle culture is.
What do your colleagues get wrong about bike culture?
Well, like, when we got around to doing the fixie bill, no one knew what a fixie was. I don't think a lot of folks have a full grasp of the health benefits of biking. I'm not going to pick on my fellow politicians on either side of the aisle. If you ride a bike, you get it. If you don't, you usually don't.
How do you pitch bikes to fellow conservatives?
I've enjoyed letting Oregon know that we are one of the top cycling states in the country. We have a huge cottage industry in frame manufacturing, the top component manufacturers are from here, the top clothing is from here. I ride a Land Shark, which is made in Oregon by an Oregon bike builder. Cycling is a huge economic driver. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle think that bicyclists don't pay taxes but that's ridiculous. I pay taxes. Just because you have a bike, it doesn't mean you don't pay your fair share of road takes.
If you could write your ideal bike bill in Salem, what would it be?
In Salem, every bike issue that comes up is very Portland driven. They have to do with like, traffic laws. I think we should have velodromes in our state. I think Oregon should produce an Olympic gold medalist in cycling. I'm from Southern Oregon and Southern Oregon understands what bicycles are all about. We get it. Drivers are friendly, drivers give you room. We have some of the finest mountain biking on the West Coast. We have charity rides down there that are crazy huge.
If biking is so popular in Southern Oregon, why do you think there's a perception of biking as an urban, yuppie pursuit?
I don't know. It's probably more of an urban/rural divide than anything else. I think the culture of cycling is going through growing pains in its perception, that's all. It's much more mainstream than people think it is.
There's a lot of vitriolic right-wing arguments against bikes all over the internet. How do you feel when you read those?
I'm the wrong guy to ask, because I get beat up in the newspapers all the time. I've just learned to ignore it. But you know, there's just as much vitriol on the right as there is on the left. For all the many years I've been in politics and cycling, there's people on the left who will never trust me because I'm a Republican. They think, "Oh, he can't really be real because he's a Republican." I just roll with it.