Tree-Hugger Tuesday: Let’s Ride Bikes!
Prior to 2009, the last time I rode a bike, I quite literally thought I was going to die.
There was no shoulder. It was pitch black and cars were flying past us. I was blinded by headlights! I could see nothing! Were these drivers really playing Knock The Haole in the Dirt?? Despite having grown up on bikes as a child, I hadn’t been on one in about a decade when I rode with a friend on a beer run while living in Hawai’i. At the time, the only vehicles at our disposal were government rigs, in which we were not allowed to transport alcohol (a bit of information I was
less concerned about unaware of the year previous, when I drove from Livingston to Gardiner, MT, with a keg in the back seat). Being about 23, we needed alcohol. Hence, my terror-filled ride of about two miles from my house to the grocery and back. Did I mention there was no shoulder that I remember and it was dark??
After that ride, I was cool with not riding bikes again, well, ever.
Cut to my drive to work in early spring, 2009. I was solidly in the Buy Local camp, had a brand-new composter, and was working on diminishing various aspects of waste in my life. When I realized… that shoulder is about eight feet wide…
Maybe I was just too amped up on all that composting and local-food buying, but suddenly that dark terrifying ride seemed a distant memory – and an eight-foot shoulder? What was my excuse for not commuting by bike again?
Yep. Didn’t have one.
Look. I know biking can be really intimidating – from riding in traffic to simply getting on the damn thing. I know there are also logistics, such as where do I ride? What do I wear and how do I get my stuff to work? What do I do when I get to my office and I am a sweaty mess?
Honestly – I can’t answer those questions for you. I can, however, challenge you to look closely at all your reasons, and determine which ones are actually excuses.
To help, some motivation:
- Decrease use of fossil fuels:Not only are you burning fossil fuels in your car, a shit-ton of that energy goes into extracting, manufacturing, and transporting the fuel you end up buying at the pump. Prius owners? You ain’t off the hook either. Hybirds still create pollution, electric cars are the only ones that don’t, and both have energy costs in manufacturing and transporting.
- Decrease pollution:According to the EPA, the average car (“passenger vehicle”) on the road emits about 5.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This will, of course, vary depending on the fuel, the fuel economy of the car, and the number of miles driven per year. Cars also release other pollutants like methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydro fluorocarbon (HFC). While volume emitted of these is much smaller than for CO2, these gases have a much greater global climate change potential, on the order of hundreds and thousands of times times higher.
- Save money on gasoline and car maintenance: On average, it costs about 20-30¢ a mile to drive your car in terms of both gas and maintenance (but does not include things like taxes or insurance). My commute is just under 20 miles/day – saving just under $20/week. If I bike five days a week from May – September (usually I bike weather-permitting, which can be March through December), I save $40o. Bam.
- Exercise instead of commuting: Yes, of course, riding in traffic can be stressful – but I also get the endorphins of exercise as a trade-off, and the enjoyment of my ride. In addition, I don’t have to waste time at the gym and I get outside!
- Reduce traffic: Since images speak louder than words:
- Look really awesome: What, spandex shorts with a built-in diaper aren’s super cute? Bike helmet ain’t sexy? Ok, ok. So some things I can’t help!
So take a quick look, as with everything else we talk about on Tree-Hugger Day, at your “reasons” for not leaving your car at home. Are they legit, or are they excuses for not giving it a try? I mean, google maps can tell you biking routes, and does your work have a shower available to you? How strenuous will that ride be, and are there back roads to make it easier?
I know one of the biggest issues is the intimidation factor. Maybe you were like me and hadn’t been on a bike in a long time. Maybe you aren’t sure how to get where you’re going. Maybe you don’t know how to go about finding a good bike.
I know how you feel. It was how I felt. What did I do? I turned to my friends.
I asked those I knew biked to help me think things through, and for advice on a good route to work. They also put me in touch with the best bike shop in the area, where the great staff helped with my first bike purchase, and maintenance since. I also wrangled a couple of girlfriends to start learning to ride too, and we toodled around the neighborhood together until we got in the swing of things and I felt comfortable commuting on my own.
I think this part, the friend support, was really key to not only get me from inspired to doing, but also to make me more comfortable and to take the intimidation edge off.
In addition, keep in mind that you don’t have to jump on the commuting-by-bike train to make a difference. Many of the trips we make in our cars are short and local – think about making those on your bike instead! You could make a big impact this way, as cars (including hybirds!) have the lowest fuel efficiency stopping at stop signs and stop lights – in other words, those local, short distance trips! You can therefore make a big impact on shorter trips that may be less intimidating and you may not have thought about.
You also don’t need to spend a lot of money. I have what I can a “mom bike” – you might know them as an upright bike:
Her name is Norma Jean. She’s dark blue and goes well with my bright pink helmet. I actually spent more than I needed to – you can easily get a good bike for a couple hundred dollars or less. In addition, maintenance is minimal. Grease up the gears, keep the tires filled, and get a check-up in the spring. Done.
Yes, of course there are some additional things to take into consideration – such as, yes, biking can be dangerous. Yes, you can get hurt – even if you’re nowhere near anyone else or a single car (last spring I fell over because I was trying to buckle my helmet while barely moving – so, yes, quite literally fell over, and hurt my shoulder… and my pride). But, hell, what in life is without risk? You just really need to take it slow, become comfortable over time. If it’s been awhile, take your time – there’s no rush. I spend practically an entire summer re-learning to ride before I felt confident to commute on my own.
The bottom line is that, for me, leaving my car at home most of the summer is a bit like composting – it just warms my little heart. In addition, I save time riding my bike over going to the gym. Finally, I’ve come to really enjoy my rides – which is less than I can say for my car trip every day in the winter.
So. Who’s with me? Let’s ride bikes!