Cycling: Reconnecting to My City & Myself
19 Thu, 2010 § 5 Comments
I first began driving less & bike commuting as another means to stay fit while saving money & decreasing my carbon footprint. This simply seemed practical as biking is the most “fuel” efficient means of transportation; I did not understand the recreational joy cyclist found on the road. One ride later, I got it.
Few things feel as freeing as being out on the road…open, exposed…feeling the air…my own body propelling me forward. It is a time to slow down & really see the world I live in. I have developed a deeper connection to the city. I notice places & people that are otherwise a blur as I zip by in a car. I am able to explore & feel more at liberty to randomly take a side street I have never ventured before. I have found quaint neighborhoods this way & small, local shops that are usually overshadowed by massive conglomerate chain stores. I am able to enjoy where I am. Ok 😉 not always, but I try.
I have talked to many people who would love to trade in some of their car commuting for biking, but are deterred by the process: “it takes more time”, “too much planning is involved”, “route finding seems overwhelming”, “too many possible obstacles”, “need an ‘expensive’ bike”. It seems unrealistic for them to pedal rather than stick to their vehicles on roads with which they are familiar.
You know those dreaded backed-up intersections & traffic jams that make you cringe as you approach? I generally coast right through or easily find a detour. That travel time people are so concerned with stretching? Mine is not lengthened by much: my 15-20 minute vehicle commute to the office becomes only a 20-30 minute bike commute depending on traffic lights. Plus, I have already sweated at least twice for the day. Not much more planning is involved, & I become more efficient & effective with my time [truly productive rather than just busy]. As with anything new you endeavor, that overwhelming sense is soon replaced by familiarity & assurance. Obstacles do arise, like flat tires, fallen chains, etc., but I know many bikers who can take care of these & be back en route in mere minutes.
You do not need an expensive bike. I started commuting on a mountain bike & soon added road tires [made such a difference]; eventually I landed a vintage Schwinn road bike for $5 that took only $70 to fix up [made an even bigger difference]; finally, after the Schwinn was giving me more grief than not, I seriously upgraded to Cannondale’s Synapse Feminine 5. Yes, of all my bicycle flings, my new Cannondale takes the cake, but I managed without it for quite some time — years in fact.
Biking has not been restricting.
Biking has been LIBERATING.
I can slow down & really see things, or I can push it & fly. Initially a road snob, I am now anxious to experience more freedom on my bike & have been drawn to the trails more & more [though I am still adjusting to the technical aspect of mountain biking].
Not only has biking made me more socially connected to the city & nature, but I have also realized an incredible sense of social RESPONSIBILITY.
On a bike, exposed, I am not privileged to the anonymity which motorists often take advantage. In a car, if I blow through a red light or cut someone off, will this person ever see — or recognize me — again? Likely not. On a bike, I stand out; I am probably seen by the same people almost daily.
I have also realized a couple other facts people seem to glaze over once familiar with driving. 1. Driving/cycling requires constant attention in order to react immediately to changing variables [ie. road, weather, other commuters, animals, pedestrians, etc]. 2. Vehicles = 2 ton Death Machines [& there are a lot of them out there].
While texting, applying makeup, changing the radio, talking on a cell, daydreaming, etc., people seem to forget the average car weighs 3,000-4,000 pounds; & trucks — which scatter much of SLC’s roads — range from 7,000-13,000 pounds. Just because many of us have been driving for years & can now do it on auto-pilot does not mean that we should. Seeing this from the standpoint of my bike saddle has made me truly grasp the potential damage — & mortal consequences — vehicles can inflict. Biking has made me a more alert, “aware” commuter — on my bike as well as behind the wheel.
In the saddle, because I am more aware of my surroundings & others, we connect.
I do not know what it is, but you cannot not wave, nod, simply smile or otherwise acknowledge other cyclists as you pass. When was the last time you found yourself smiling at a fellow motorist simply because you shared your automotive ways? 😉 What about making eye contact with a passerby walking his dog? It just does not happen.
I also connect with local business, many of which even give support by offering cyclists special deals & discounts for bike commuting. Check out www.BicycleBenefits.org for participating vendors in your city.
Most of all, cycling is empowering.
Each pedal stroke…each breath…every twitch of my muscles…brings me closer to my destination. I value my body even more as it drives me forward. 🙂 Am I slimmer, more toned since I have been biking? Probably. Photos seem to suggest this, but I am not obsessed with these aspects. My focus is on how my body feels:
Strong & Capable
Do I love every aspect of commuting on my bike? Not always. For instance, the curse of the headwind, which I always seem to have even if I was just biking the opposite direction only an hour ago. Is it difficult to find the motivation when it is cold? Yes. When my whole body is tired? Oh yeah. When I have 8 sets of sheets to carry? Uh, yikes. Some days it is not feasible; most, it is.
Anything challenging is worth putting energy into; from it, I reap even more.
What do you love about biking? Do you have struggles or hesitations? What other ways have you connected with your city/surroundings & your own body?