Have bike, will travel—and help a worthy cause along the way

For 13 days this summer, Leonard Lodish and his wife, Susan, pedaled their way across China, doing their best to keep pace with the Chinese college students along for the 900-mile ride.

Even for the Lodishes, who have been taking long-distance bike trips for years, this trip wasn’t an easy one.

"It was the hardest physical 13 days of my life," admits Lodish, a Wharton marketing professor and lifelong biking enthusiast.

But he says all the pain and effort was worth it—and he’s got the money to prove it.

The trip helped the Lodishes raise $90,000 for the ALS Association, the group they have been working to raise money for since the 1990s. That’s when Lodish learned his cousin, Dr. Jules Lodish, had been diagnosed with the disease.

Ever since, the Lodishes have been using their bikes to help the search for a cure. In total, the couple has raised more than $400,000 for the ALS Association, and they aren’t done yet.

More trips are likely to follow, Lodish says. "It’s got too much momentum to stop now," Lodish says. "I feel a real responsibility to keep it going."

Lodish says he’s loved bicycling since he was six, but remembers his mother not letting him take long trips when he was a child. He’s certainly made up for lost time. Since he and Susan took their first long-distance trip for ALS in 1996—a cross-country journey from Los Angeles to Delaware that took 45 days—the couple has also taken their tandem bicycle to Europe, Australia, Argentina and Scandinavia.

Along the way, they have seen their group of supporters grow significantly—and Lodish, a Wharton professor since 1968, who is now Samuel R. Harrell Professor of Marketing and vice dean of Wharton West in San Francisco, admits he’s put his marketing savvy to use in the effort. "I’ve been using my marketing techniques to generate supporters, and it appears to be a worthwhile effort," he said. "It seems to be getting better each year."

ALS needs the help. The disease, which gradually robs its victims of the ability to control their muscles and eventually leaves them paralyzed, has no cure. There are only limited treatments to help slow its advance.

Dr. Lodish, meanwhile, continues to battle the disease. Though he’s on a ventilator and can only communicate though a computer, Lodish says his cousin—an oncologist in Bethesda, Md.— has retained his wit and sense of humor.

Like most ALS patients, his mind has been unaffected. "His mind is still sharp," Lodish says. "That’s part of the tragedy of the disease."

With his cousin serving as inspiration, Lodish says he and Susan will continue their work—and keep peddling.

The next trip will happen as scheduled. He’s just not sure where. "We’re always looking for suggestions," he says.

Originally published on October 7, 2004