Athar Khan: The Columbia Bike Guy

Athar Khan may be the most recognized person in Howard County. I would bet that more people could recognize him than could recognize the president of the Columbia Association. Maybe even more than Ken Ulman.

If you regularly drive in Howard County, you've seen him on his bike -- perhaps even wearing his trademark mohawk hat, or the Uncle Sam hat pictured above.

In an earth-toned suburb that can sometimes feel bland and homogenous, people tend to notice Athar. They honk. He waves, usually with a big smile. There's a Facebook fan page for him. It's approaching 5,000 members.

Maybe there is hope for Howard County's "interestingness" level yet.

This site seeks to spread the word about interesting people and things in HoCo. And Athar (pronounced, "a-TAR") is nothing if not interesting. Here are some things you might not know about him:

1. Sure, he bikes. But any idea how much? He is approaching an estimated 60,000 miles to date. He has dreams of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records. He is already on their radar.

2. He was diagnosed as OCD nearly 20 years ago, a condition with which he struggles -- to some measure of success.

3. He has, at one time or another, been on many medications. But he says that biking is more therapeutic than his doctors or the pills. So he bikes.

4. Athar is one of the most well-read people I know.

5. He has an incredible memory. He does not think he has a photographic memory, but it is pretty amazing nonetheless.

6. He was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 1972. Here he is at age one:

7. He is nonviolent to a fault. In fact, he avoids even saying violent words. For instance, he refers to firefighters instead as "fire stoppers". He worries about the insects he steps on unintentionally, and would never step on a bug on purpose.

8. Sundays, you will find him at Maiwand Kabob in his home village of Harper's Choice, eating their delicious Afghan food.

9. He recognizes how hard he has to work at his life, compared to people whose brains are wired more normally. This sometimes makes him angry, and that anger can manifest itself as cursing. I have cursed at my own problems, which are of far less magnitude than Athar's.

10. Because of this, Athar reports that he has been banned from The Mall in Columbia for an entire year. He still has 11+ months to go on his sentence. He can tell you to the number of months and days until he is allowed to return. Athar's banishment is part of a disturbing trend of removal from the mall for Howard County's less mainstream people. The people at the mall claim this is strictly behavior-related. But a reporter for the Washington Post was removed from the mall for even trying to talk to someone about the issue. I find that very worrisome -- and decidedly unColumbian.

11. On the other hand, Athar is welcomed at the various branches of the Howard County Public Library. You can often find him at the Central or East Columbia branches.

12. Athar gets his bikes serviced at Princeton Sports, on Little Patuxent Pkwy. I do not know if there could be a better endorsement for a bike store in Columbia. (Sixty. Thousand. Miles.)

13. He dreams of watching a space shuttle launch. He knows there are not many left, and this is a concern.

14. He rides his bike in the worst days of winter, too. He is committed to its healing effects.

15. I did a photo package about him for The Baltimore Sun in 2005. Upon publication, I was concerned about the flippancy that was edited into my captions by the people on the copydesk. I felt I should avoid him out of embarrassment after it ran. I needn't have felt that way -- Athar did not mind. You can see the package here.

16. In 2007, Shayne Weyker did a three-minute documentary on Athar. It's pretty cool:

So now you know Athar Khan.

Next time you see him, roll down the window. Tap the horn. Say 'hi'. If you run into him in the library (or, at the mall after a year from now) introduce yourself and shake his hand. He always shakes hands twice, repeating the gesture from him to you.

He's a good guy. And interesting, I think you'll agree. We're lucky to have him as a neighbor.

Tags: Miscellaneous, DITLO