Melanie Grubman San Anselmo, California
Youth bicycle advocate and freelance superhero, age 27
"I was coordinating a bike-advocacy program called Safe Routes to Schools, which promotes carpooling and cycling. And I met a guy named Ethan Hughes who used to be an artist for Marvel Comics and wanted to combine his creativity with his belief in service and love of biking.
"So he decided to design a superhero outfit, do a bike trip across the country, and offer his help to people along the way. Other cyclists loved the idea and joined. Fifteen people went on the first trip in 2000, but since then it has really grown, and now there are over 250 of us! We even have a Superhero Hotline people can call to request a rescue. In Asheville, North Carolina, we cleaned up a riverfront and turned it into bike lanes. In New Orleans, we did demolition work and cleanup projects. Near Vancouver Island, we helped organize a citywide celebration.
"We buy bulk organic food ahead of time and haul it with us on bike trailers, with tents, sleeping bags, and so forth. We roll into a city, people scatter in costume, and we go to the Chamber of Commerce and City Hall to ask what needs to be done.
"Usually, the initial reaction is 'Who are these guys?' since we have all this stuff on our bikes and we're wearing capes! Once we explain and they see that we are hard-working people who just want to create better communities, they are amazed.
"At the start of a trip, everyone picks a superhero name. When we find other great people who are helping their communities, we award them a superhero patch. We also give out superhero coloring books to kids. My superhero name is Rabbi Yikes, and I wear a hot-blue biking miniskirt with a sparkly rainbow cape and rainbow leg warmers.
"We want people to see that biking is the most fun way to get around and also the least harmful to the environment. And when people see that we have biked across the country, they figure it's easy and entertaining for them to at least bike to work. Fun is a better motivational force than guilt." --interview by Orli Cotel