It’s half past seven on a Thursday morning,
and while most of us are still putzing with the coffee maker to get a jump on the day, Cincinnati attorney Al Gerhardstein is just finishing his morning bicycle ride to work.
Gerhardstein’s law practice, Gerhardstein & Branch, is best known for taking on civil rights cases. Last June, Gerhardstein won a monumental lawsuit he filed on behalf of a gay couple, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, seeking to have their marriage recognized by the State of Ohio. The case ended with the United States Supreme Court ruling same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Gerhardstein has also taken on cases dealing with prison reform, police brutality and abortion rights. He fights for underdogs professionally. In his spare time — which he has, believe it or not — he often raises money for nonprofits that work for the rights of the oppressed. Last year, he rode a tandem bike with his daughter, Jessica Gingold, from New Orleans to Cincinnati by way of Ferguson, Mo. on a tour he dubbed “Pedaling Justice.” Gerhardstein and Gingold, a law student and juvenile justice advocate, raised money on their trip for Cincinnati’s Ohio Justice and Policy Center and the Northern Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center. They stopped in Ferguson to discuss Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement.
Bicycling is something for Gerhardstein that has transcended its use as a simple stress-relief valve; he has woven his rides into the fabric of his social justice work. Last week, Gerhardstein took some time to explain its importance to him and his family.
CityBeat: What is your daily commute like to your office downtown?
Al Gerhardstein: I live in Kennedy Heights, and I’ve been riding from my house to the office, 10 miles each way, for six years. I don’t ride every day because it doesn’t always fit with my plans, but most days I do. My son, Adam, works with me and he also rides. We have a bike locker in our office and a shower so we can clean up after the ride. Our building is being sold, so we are going to be moving to a new office in the Carew Tower in June, and we have already made arrangements on where we can park our bikes and shower.
CB: How did you first become interested in cycling?
AG: You know, I have been into cycling my whole life. I really got into it when I was in New York City attending NYU. I had moved from a farm in northeastern Ohio and I didn’t like the idea of being inside all day. I just get stir crazy if I don’t get outside. That’s why I like this ride from my home to my office. The ride down Madison Road with the blooming trees and flowers, you really get to smell spring. Of course, riding through New York isn’t like that.
CB: How does Cincinnati compare to riding in other cities?
AG: I’m pleased at the recent developments. I like the sharrows and the bike lanes. And I really like the bike share (Red Bike). Our office has two memberships and it makes it easy to hop on one and ride to court. I think we’ve made a lot of progress.
CB: There are some riders who are hesitant to commute by bike because of traffic dangers. What should they know about cycle commuting?
AG: Drivers aren’t universally thinking about the cyclist next to them. You have to be careful, especially if you are at a stop to the right of a car — that driver isn’t necessarily thinking that you are going to keep going straight ahead and they may turn right into your bike. Following the traffic rules helps. In New York, my goal was to get from one place to another without ever stopping. Now, I will say that my kids have embarrassed me into being a much better rule follower. That totally reduces the risk.
CB: You rode a tandem bike on your trip from New Orleans. How do you like riding tandems and what sort of bike do you ride for commuting?
AG: My daughter is my long-distance tandem partner. I love the tandem, especially for a tour. We get a splitter for the iPhone and we can both listen to the same music or the same audiobook. Also, we only have one bike to maintain. I just love the tandem, especially as I get older.
CB: Why do you ride?
AG: You know how some people meditate or collect their thoughts with yoga? This is the way my head is cleared. My mind is working, but it’s also going blank. If I don’t ride for a few days I feel like a slug. This is a way to integrate nature into my indoor life.
CB: Why do you enjoy long tours?
AG: It’s great to learn history along the way. And you have experiences you’d never have any other way. Especially in the South — it’s another world down there. When we rode along the path of the Underground Railroad (in 2009), there were a lot of people who had never seen a tandem. There were a lot of dogs, too.
CB: Where do you hope to see cycling go in the Cincinnati area?
AG: There is a whole group of people that will not cycle on the road. They just don’t want to compete with cars. So, the push to get trails into the city is very important.
CB: You’re 64-years-old and very active. How do you think riding and the exercise helps you as an attorney with focus and energy?
AG: I keep a little pad and pen in my bike shirt. When a great idea hits me, I pull over and jot it down. Just having a mind space without a screen in front of me has helped me be more creative. ©