Few teenagers would turn down a car.
But Bethesda resident Ben Jacoby isn’t your average 18-year-old and that is exactly what he did a year ago.
“When I was 17, my grandfather had bought my siblings cars and he said, ‘Do you want a car?’ I said, ‘No, I want a nice bike,’” Jacoby said.
It was a good choice; Jacoby has gotten a lot out of that Blue Ac1.
Aside from being his primary mode of transportation, the competition bicycle has been his partner this month in an international cycling challenge. Jacoby, who is vegan, said he rides his bicycle everywhere he goes unless it requires him to get on a highway because it is good for both his health and the environment.
Of the 44,017 worldwide participants in the Strava Cycling Base Mile Blast, which challenges athletes to ride as many miles as they can during the month of January, Jacoby currently sits in eighth place. The field includes many professional cyclists.
Strava is a website that connects cyclists and runners from across the world and allows them to share, compare and compete with each other’s personal fitness data through mobile phone and online applications.
Athletes can track their rides via iPhone, Android or dedicated GPS devices to analyze and quantify their performances, according to the site.
“It’s a pretty big community. What you do is you take a device and go out and bike or run and it will track you by satellite, where you’re going and how fast you’re going and when you’re done, you go home and upload that activity and it will take your activity and compare it to everyone else who has run or biked the same area,” Jacoby said.
The Base Mile Blast is one of a series of challenges Strava presents to its members. Jacoby said it appealed to him because it was unlike anything he had done before.
The Top 10 alone includes cyclists from the United States, Australia and Guadeloupe. The cyclists have combined for 7,727,965 miles. In 21 days (as of Monday), Jacoby has accounted for 1,891.4 of them.
He has averaged 100 miles per day, which includes rides through cold, rain and snow — most of the top competitors live in warmer climates — and on Jan. 10, he rode a personal-record 213 miles. He has spent up to 13 hours a day on the move.
“What I love about this challenge is that I’m competing against people I would never get to compete against. I did this for me, to be able to say, ‘Hey, I did that.’ At the end of the day, maybe there will be a lot of people impressed if I can win and that would be great, but at the same time, if I come in 10th or if I come in fifth, I can still be really proud of myself and look at how many miles I rode, look how much I got out of the house this month [and] all the experience I got doing something I’ve never done before that’s so far out of my comfort zone,” Jacoby said. “It’s really satisfying to go out early in the morning and ride as many miles as you can. It’s tough, but at the end of the day when you go to bed and have ridden an incredible amount of miles, it’s really rewarding.”
What started out as a hobby — a way to and from school two years ago — has developed into a passion. Jacoby has even delved into bicycle mechanics and learned how to do most of the maintenance on his own vehicle. He said understanding how all the parts work together has helped make him a better cyclist.
In 10th grade Jacoby began riding his bike six miles to and from the Nora School in Silver Spring, he said. His father, Michael, who competes in triathlons, presented him with a way to turn his interest in cycling into something more. The younger Jacoby is entering his third triathlon season this spring.
His participation in such competitions and Strava, the elder Jacoby said, has had a positive impact on all aspects of his son’s life.
“Ben hasn’t had the ability in the past to have such an ambitious goal and figure out what he needs to do to get it done. He’s learned how to be dedicated. He’s learned that to get results you’ve got to put in some hard work. I think it’s really cool to see him have a goal and go for it,” Michael said.
The younger Jacoby said while he is unsure whether or not he will pursue cycling, he is certain the sport will be a part of his life as long as his legs can turn the pedals. He doesn’t have a car, after all.
“I love riding my bike everywhere I go. For me, it’s the best way to get around, even if it’s more difficult [than a car]. It’s taking care of my body and the environment at the same time,” Jacoby said.