I’ve always loved to ride a bike. My father taught me how to ride a two-wheeler when I was four years old, and I loved it then. One reason might be that it was the one athletic pursuit my father taught me. He didn’t teach me to throw or catch or hit a ball. He admonished me to take up tennis, but he didn’t teach me.
I love rolling easily and zigzagging for no reason. I also like climbing hills vigorously. I like to go down them fast.
I get a great satisfied feeling when I get somewhere under my own power. Even when I ride one mile to see a client, it puts me in a good mood, and I feel good about myself. There are many obvious benefits to using a bike for transportation, and I reap all of them: I get exercise, I save money, I have fun, and I might be doing my part to help save the planet.
I didn’t ride much for a period in my life. After I moved to the suburbs, I didn’t know how to fit it in, since the distances are greater. I felt more rushed, even though life is slower out here. (I grew up in Manhattan and lived there until I was 26 years old. I was in Boston for three of those years.) Feeling rushed made me feel as if I had to drive everywhere, though I wasn’t always happy about it. For years, I’d tell myself I wanted to ride more, but I didn’t know how to do it.
I took only an occasional leisure ride on weekends, sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends.
Then about three years ago, I decided I really had to do something. Every time I got on a bike, I felt my lungs and my mind clear, and it was something so good for me that it shouldn’t be a scarce opportunity. I decided I’d ride and work on smoothing away all of my lame excuses for not riding.
Number one was time. Riding takes longer than driving. But does it?
I needed exercise. I was feeling stiff and achy too often, and I wasn’t getting any appreciable exercise. If I was going to ride or join a gym or something, how could I do it? I didn’t have any extra time!
I was working at a job ten miles away. And I realized it’s pretty easy. All I needed was a little bit of determination. It took 30 minutes to drive to work. It took 60 minutes to cycle there. (I was a bit out of shape.) So the time cost was 30 minutes.
Well, if I were to join a gym, would I go? Would I drive there and feel stupid for doing that?
Cycling to work cost me 30 minutes, but for that cost, I got a 60 minute workout. Hey, I’m saving time! All I have to do is take it as a “given” that I need exercise in my life. So by combining exercise and commuting, I get more for my time. Add to this the fact that I enjoy it, and it’s a big win. I didn’t ride in every day when I started. It was about once a week, but that’s better than never.
I also wanted to do errands on the bike, like shopping. Again, I don’t have to be extremist about it. If it’s cold and snowy, I can still drive. But even in good weather, it takes determination to ride when driving is just so easy. I paid attention to the little messages in my head as to why I didn’t feel like riding. And I wiped them away, one by one. I’m still working on it. I’m not anywhere near car-free yet, but I’m becoming “car light.”
The key to this is knowing what to wear and bring and having them ready and near the door. Then I would pay attention to what I forgot or how I was uncomfortable in the weather. In the winter, when I got cold, I asked myself, “What specific part of my body is cold?” Then I would alter my outfit to address that. All it took was gloves, some carpenter’s goggles, and a huge scarf which is big enough to use as a sweater. The rest is just regular street clothes.
I use a kiddie trailer if I want to carry a lot of cargo such as groceries or a Costco run. It’s surprisingly easy to pull, even when it’s well loaded. I barely feel it. I did a Costco run, filled it with all sorts of supplies and pedaled it home. I took only small streets and no highways. It’s only 4 miles from my home, and there are no significant hills between. And get this: I did it after dark, in the winter. So if you’re thinking of doing errands with your bike but that sounds too ambitious, you can do it in the daylight in the summer. You’ll be there and back before you know it. And you’ll be amazed at how much fun it is.
Nowadays, if I drive somewhere and realized that I just drove less than three miles, I feel silly. Most car trips are under three miles, and it’s the most wasteful type of driving. That’s how long it takes for your car to warm up, so it pollutes the most. And driving is often unnecessary for short distances. Walking a mile is easy and quick. Cycling three miles is easy and quick.