I love biking. We-ell … okay, I love the idea of biking. Especially commuting by bike — bikes as transportation, rather than solely for recreation. It’s the most energy-efficient form of transportation yet devised! ((Roughly every other article I’ve read about bikes, biking, bike baskets, commuting by bike, ebikes, biking in heels, the various competing schools of helmet usage thought — even things only tangentially related to biking — mentions this fact. I think it’s some kind of secret code within the cycle chic cartel.)
Because (of course) I love the aesthetic. Bicycles are so sleek and lovely! They come in pretty colors!
And you can have a basket! And put flowers in it! Or — even cuter — puppies! (Wait, why would you? That seems like a bad id– but who cares; it’s on Pinterest! So people must do it!)
I also love biking’s benefits. It’s environmentally sustainable! It strengthens your largest muscle groups! And lots of smaller ones, too! Cardiovascular health! Lots of Vitamin D!
But I don’t love the hassle and the in-crowd snobbery — the I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-on-a-Schwinn, big-box-store-bikes-are-the-scourge-of-humanity, I-hate-all-these-poser-hipster-fixie-brats (and so forth) bike forum snobbery. I’m too old for high school, guys. I was too old for that sh*t even in high school.
And to be honest, I don’t much love the sweat.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with sweat. I’d far rather be able to regulate my body’s temperature through automatic processes than not. But … it’s hot in the summer here. People-dying-of-heatstroke hot. Also, we live in a very sprawl-y iteration of suburban sprawl, so getting around without a car is a heck of a time commitment. Spending that much time outside doing nothing is bad enough; spending it pedaling furiously and dodging potholes is, of course, much worse. No matter where you’re commuting to, you’re going to show up looking and smelling a bit worse for wear than if you take an air-conditioned car.
So on the upside, biking is: pretty, responsible, healthy, pretty, economical (potentially — sure, you don’t pay gas, but it’s not like people just give you those basket puppies. And floaty floral dresses. And what about sunscreen? Oh, right, and the bike itself. Bikes are not cheap. Especially if you listen to the big-box-brands-are-the-scourge folks). And it’s also pretty. Did I mention that already?
On the downside, sweat, time, money — the basic downsides to most pursuits, really. But you already know I’m giving it a go. So the question is, how to actually bike more, now?
- Only bother taking the Cantankerous out in the blissfully perfect weather I apparently require; glance at her wistfully as I get into my car the other three hundred and fifty days of the year. It’d still be more than I’ve done thus far.
- Go full spandex. Padded undies, clipless (?) shoes, etc. Start giving unsolicited status updates of my bike miles for the week. In addition to my new lovely cruiser, I have a hand-me-down road bike from the early 90s that I must conclude was an Inquisitor in its last life, considering its glee in torturing me, wrists and back and unmentionables; maybe I’m just not riding her right, or she’s not adjusted correctly. Maybe it’s a thing that gets easier with time. Tough it out; this is the way grownups bike around here, after all. There must be something to it.
- Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Go for a short trip (on either the Inquisitor or the Cantankerous) as often as I can, but don’t sweat it if I can’t. Put the Empress on the back (I’ve done this twice so far; she thought it was the Best Thing Ever) and go for a spin around the neighborhood. Go as far as I want, then back, then go farther the next time. Try a milk run; the grocery store is only two and a half miles away, for crying out loud. Get used to the weather — it can’t be that bad. Can it? (Though judging by this week, YES. Yes, it can. But still.)
I mean look, people do it. If they can, I can.
But … they don’t often do it here. That’s the thing. And I think the reason is more than just sweat and snobbery.
I was watching a video about the infrastructural changes a Netherlands city I’d never heard of has made over the past forty-odd years, changes that have resulted in 50-60% of the trips taken within it being made on bicycles. Fascinating stuff. (Look, normal people use the internet to watch porn. I watch discussions of municipal policy. To each their own.) My daughter caught some of the Groningen video with me; her wide-eyed comment was, “We can use our bikes to GO places!”
It brought me up a little short. Yeah … we can. Sort of. Maybe. I mean, practically speaking, we’d both need a lot more practice and strength (and sunscreen) but it’s possible. But changing the idea from me biking on the road to actually get somewhere to her doing it — even when she’s riding a bike not a trike, and is covered in Kevlar, and has a security detail — makes an enormous difference to me … because people are kind of scary. Around here especially. And it seems that most of the 4x4s on our shoulderless roads bear serious grudges against any vehicle without a motor.
There’s a meme I found while I was trying to decide how to illustrate this point — which I’m not going to post, because I have (privileged-person, pompous-sounding) issues with sharing photos of others’ victimization, issues which I’m sure I’ll belabor at some point — that’s a photo of a car smashing into a group of bikers, with bodies and bikes and water bottles flying in all directions. The captions are things like “OMG SO MANY POINTS” and “PUT YOUR SEATBELT ON I WANT TO TRY SOMETHING.”
I’ve joked about that kind of thing too, especially in my angsty teenage days. Movie and video game violence is fun, and often really funny. Largely because it’s fake. Also, humor is one of our safest refuges from an inhospitable universe. If you can laugh at something scary, like death, it has a little less hold on you.
But that image — the bike crash in the meme — wasn’t photoshopped; the driver pictured was passed out drunk at the wheel and cannoned into an amateur bike race. He killed a man named Alejandro and hurt ten other people. And I had to go to the second page of Google to find anything for the image other than “Crash Hilarity” or “LOL I hate bikers!”
I’m trying really hard to find a way to conclude this post light-heartedly, but I’m not coming up with much. I guess what I’ll do for now is bike in my neighborhood with my daughter — on either her bike or the back of mine — or take our bikes to a paved trail when I get around to it. I’ll save the biking-as-transportation experiments for when I’m on my own, at least for the foreseeable future. And just hope nobody’s feeling homicidal those days.