Ashley LodatoBy Ashley Lodato

You don’t have to have lived in Winthrop very long to know who Jean-Philippe Combe is. You know who I mean, right? The guy who rides his bicycle everywhere, year-round, rain or shine, snow or sleet, day or night — that guy.

A planetary scientist at the Bear Fight Institute up the Rendezvous, Jean-Philippe says that he has always loved to ride his bike, ever since he was a child. His father was a bike commuter and set a good example; now Jean-Philippe follows suit, riding not only to work, but everywhere else.

And by “everywhere,” I mean truly everywhere he wants or needs to go. Groceries? No problem, the store is not far from his house. Mazama? A lovely afternoon jaunt. The Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena? Europe? Just a longer version of his daily commute.

Jean-Philippe retrofitted a steel road bike into a travel bike by cutting the frame in half and installing couplers, and transformed the bike case into a trailer. When traveling to the airport or train station in Wenatchee, French-born Jean-Philippe simply loads the trailer with a bag of clothes and a laptop and tows it behind him. Upon arrival he puts the bike and trailer parts in the case, and voila! With two carry-ons and one checked bag, he has everything — including transportation — that he needs, anywhere he goes.

To answer the question you inevitably have, yes, Jean-Philippe has a valid driver’s license. He just chooses not to use it. Jean-Philippe concerns himself with both the ethics and science of transportation and has determined that bicycling is the perfect solution for his needs, as well as his integrity. It’s a relatively small mass that needs to be moved around, says Jean-Philippe.

“If it is one person and a few items, it could be 100 kilograms,” he said. “A good bicycle weighs around 10 kilograms, while a small car is 1,000 kilograms. A cyclist carrying a backpack constitutes 90 percent of the moving mass, while the vehicle represents the remaining 10 percent only. In the case of a driver, the payload represents only 10 percent, while the mass of the car is 90 percent or more of the total. In my situation, why would I need to displace a metric ton of metal, plastic and glass just to move around?”

Fuel consumption is another aspect Jean-Philippe considers. “It’s a way of life that includes some consciousness about the environment, sustainability of resources of energy, and economics,” he said. “If I drive a car, I don’t have the choice where the energy [petroleum] comes from, which companies and countries are involved, and who is going to benefit from this trade. With fuel consumption of about 160 kilometers per 4 liters of water [or about100 miles per gallon], I feel freer with two wheels than with four.”

Plus, he just feels safer on a bicycle and likes biking a lot more than driving. “Driving is very boring,” he said, “because I cannot do anything else at the wheel and it feels like a complete waste of time.”

When he’s biking, he says, he can let his mind wander without risking an accident.

“In my job, I often leave work pondering on a technical or scientific question without immediate solution, and wondering whether it can be solved,” he said. “When I ride back home, my mind continues to crank, and I often find new ideas that I can test when I resume work. In that matter, my bicycles have been very important in my professional life, as much as my office desk, even as a student.”

“Choosing not to drive is more than just fun,” Jean-Philippe added. “It’s richer than that. There are many lessons to learn from riding a bicycle that can apply to everyday life. Any memory that is a bit extreme, good or bad, eventually transforms into a great living experience.”

Good counsel from a man who walks — er, rides — his talk.

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