50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life
By Amy Walker, Matthew Fleming
New World Library Copyright © 2011 Amy Walker
All rights reserved.
Bicycling Is Contagious
Warning! Cycling can be addictive. Before you grab onto those handlebars, before you throw a leg over the saddle and start pumping away at those pedals, be aware: once you start, you may never want to stop. And like anything that looks good, feels good, and does good, you'll want to share it. Thankfully, bicycling is easy and sociable. It feels natural to ride at a moderate pace and maintain a conversation, or just fly in a flock, drifting playfully among your companions. The act of balancing combined with gentle physical rhythm activates brain waves and creativity. The bicycle's effect has even provided a key to understanding the universe: Albert Einstein said of his theory of relativity, "I thought of that while riding my bicycle." This collection of short essays about biking may not bring you revelations of that magnitude, but it was created to inspire you, whether you are new to cycling or an expert.
Without bicycles, my life would have taken a completely different path. I have always been interested in problem solving and making sense out of the world, and when I first started commuting by bike over twenty years ago (I was 16 and riding forty-five minutes each way to my high school), a major puzzle piece of my life fell into place. Cycling clicked. It simultaneously gave me fast, accessible transportation, exercise, and a clear environmental conscience. I knew that if it worked well for me, it could work well for others, too. I noticed there was a movement growing around transportation cycling, and even though I was a bit shy, I wanted to get involved. Finally, in 2000 I met my cycling mentor, Carmen Mills (author of chapter 10, "Notes from a Bicycle Buddha"), who inspired me with her vision, humor, and collaborative spirit. Together, in 2001, we cofounded Momentum magazine.
Sharing what I love is a great way to learn — and I have learned so much and met so many amazing people through Momentum. Most of the contributors in this book were people I met through the magazine, and it has been a great honor to work with them to share our passion for cycling with you. This book does not cover all aspects of cycling. It merely scratches the surface of a rich and fascinating topic. In truth, most of what cycling can offer you cannot be described in words — it must be experienced. But that doesn't stop us from trying! I hope this book will be a starting point for many conversations and two-wheeled journeys, whether they take you to the four corners of the Earth or to the corner store.
In their everyday lives, the contributors to On Bicycles prove that biking is like a juicy secret: it's hard to keep it to yourself. We've decided the best way to introduce this book is by telling you a few of the different ways we've shared our passion for cycling, starting with Jeff Mapes (chapter 35, "Ciclovia," and chapter 41, "A History of Bike Advocacy"), who reminds us that we often share without even trying: "Just striding into work on even the dankest mornings with a bounce in your step and a smile on your face is enough to persuade some people of the value of getting around town on a bike. Or to annoy the hell out of them."
Even moderately experienced cyclists have knowledge to share. We know how to relax into the ride and point our eyes where we want our bike to go. We know how to dress for the weather and which routes to avoid because of hills, potholes, or heavy car traffic. Stephen Rees (chapter 6, "The Environmental Good of Switching from Car to Bike") was a committed cyclist, but he didn't think he knew anything special until other people started treating him as though he did. So he rose to the occasion and shared bicycling stories and information on his blogs and online forums.
Perhaps the best way to share bicycling is one-on-one. When people you know want to start biking, simply accompanying them on a ride and being a sounding board for their excitement and their concerns is helpful. Things might not work out according to plan, but as Sarah Mirk (chapter 38, "Bikes Work") explains, they usually work out beautifully anyway: "I bought a $200, very heavy tandem off Craigslist.org with the hope that I could see my parents bike around on it together. They came to visit Portland on a warm June weekend, and both wound up riding around on (slightly more practical) bikes while my boyfriend and I muscled down the roads behind them on the tandem. We biked a few miles to a restaurant around sunset on Friday night. I thought the highlight of their trip would be the food or the scenery, but my mom gushed about the unexpected and familiar joy of riding a bike for the first time in a long while. She couldn't stop talking about how fun it was to pedal through the neighborhood streets, taking in the sights and the warm summer air."
Since their beginning, bicycles have inspired artists to share their visions. In 1913 Marcel Duchamp mounted a bicycle fork and wheel upside down onto a stool, spinning the wheel occasionally. "I enjoyed looking at it," he said. "Just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in the fireplace." Two years later, when Duchamp began making what he called readymades (arrangements of manufactured objects presented as art), he decided that Bicycle Wheel was the original readymade. Bicycle Wheel is also said to be the first kinetic sculpture. Later Duchamp said, "I'm not at all sure that the concept of the readymade isn't the most important single idea to come out of my work."
Like Duchamp, many of the authors of this book have had bicycling and bicycles as their creative muse. For Ulrike Rodrigues (chapter 11, "How to Help a Bike Shop Help You," and chapter 21, "Folding Bikes"), biking has always been a solitary, freeing activity. "I've really never wanted to share that. But what I have wanted to share is my love of how the world looks from the seat of a bicycle. In 1999,I returned from a life-changing three-month journey of solo cycling the back roads of Thailand and Laos. The stories wouldn't stay inside me; I had to share them with Momentum readers and in my Mitey Miss blog. More than ten years later, I still have a hard time keeping them to myself."
Bicycle dance is a form of expression that reflects the young urban cyclist's sensibilities and physicality especially well. Writes Lori Kessler (chapter 45, "Designing Our Cities for Bikes"): "My sharing of bike love stepped up several notches when I joined Vancouver's B:C:Clettes, an all-women bicycle-inspired performance group! We rock streets and dance floors and create performances that celebrate bikes and inspire community engagement in DIY 'red, black, and shiny' outfits. Performing allows me to engage in the bicycle community and to spread the love to a wide range of audiences, from local farmers' markets to workshops for Brownies to rock-star street parties in Portland and Los Angeles."
Bicycle clubs are fun and the epitome of sharing. I've met a lot of friends through monthly bike club rides to visit and explore our cities together. If you don't find a club that fits what you're looking for, you can start your own. Shawn Granton (chapter 30, "Travels with a Bicycle") not only has artistic talent but also is a keen student of our environment and its history and is possessed of gentle leadership abilities. He started a roving bicycle club called the Urban Adventure League (http://urbanadventureleague.blogspot.com), with the purpose of amiably exploring civic geography — and his ride posters are outstanding!
Sometimes your mission is very straightforward. Like Bonnie Fenton (chapter 37, "Bike-Friendly Workplaces," and chapter 50, "Disappearing Car Traffic"), you may simply ascertain a need and a way to fulfill it: "Having worked on cycling advocacy in Vancouver, Canada, for several years, I'd heard lots of people say they would love to cycle but were afraid of traffic or didn't know how to get started. It was clear there was a need for education. In 2005, the stars aligned, and I wrote a funding proposal for a grant to start a commuter-cycling skills course. We gathered together a group of eight amazing instructors — who understood both cycling and teaching — and began offering classes in 2006. We trained hundreds of people to ride their bikes safely and confidently in traffic and received some incredibly gratifying feedback from our participants. The courses are still going, and getting them started is still one of my proudest achievements."
In an effort to understand others and make sense of the world, Elly Blue (chapter 31, "Women and the Benefits of Biking," and chapter 43, "Safety in Numbers") first felt compelled to share her love of bicycling after her first Critical Mass ride: "I couldn't understand the hostile way Portland police officers treated the people on bicycles. It was the first time I realized that transportation is completely intertwined with cultural assumptions. I've spent the past six years learning and writing about the concrete ways that bicycling and culture affect and change each other."
Sometimes we share because we want others to understand us. Says Dan Goldwater (chapter 36, "Bike Party"): "As Americans biking across rural Sichuan province in China, we were constantly greeted by smiles and shouts. Buses of big-city Chinese tourists would pass through this mountainous countryside every day, but a cycle tourist was hard to comprehend. Why would rich Westerners use a bike when they could afford a car or bus? Despite countless Chinese cyclists, we found ourselves often explaining the immersive joy of experiencing cities, towns, and countryside by bike."
And sometimes that initial need to be understood becomes a lifelong vocation. Todd Litman (chapter 4, "Cycling for Health, Wealth, and Freedom") recalls: "My career as a professional transportation planner and policy analyst started with my love of cycling during college, which led me to managing a bicycle shop and becoming a local bicycle activist in Olympia, Washington. Being in a capital city, I was asked to be the state legislative representative by the League of American Wheelmen [now League of American Bicyclists]. In that capacity I was often responsible for explaining why bicycling should receive the same consideration as other transport modes. I recall once, after arguing with a motorist who honked at me, creating a list of reasons why bicyclists deserve to use public roadways — that we are not freeloaders, and we provide many benefits. I produced a fact sheet that summarized these benefits. This motivated me to return to collage as a graduate student in order to better understand these issues. My master's thesis was a comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of different modes of transport — a generalized application of my benefits-of-bicycling fact sheet, which I've continued to update [www.vtpi.org/tca]. The rest is history."
As the bike economy grows, sharing a love of biking is becoming part of our everyday employment. As Momentum editor Sarah Ripplinger (chapter 24, "E-bikes Offer an Extra Push") relates: "So many amazing stories cross my desk at Momentum magazine that demonstrate how cycling is changing lives and making cities stronger and more people-friendly. Often, when people find out what I do, they share with me their stories about biking in their cities or ask me if I would like to go for a ride with them sometime."
And even if biking is our job, sometimes we still give a little extra, as Aaron Goss, owner of Aaron's Bicycle Repair (chapter 15, "The Case for Internally Geared Bicycle Hubs"), relates: "I feel bike love when I do something for free, whether it is tightening a kid's quick-release skewer before he boards the chairlift at Whistler or oiling a homeless person's chain. If I can keep one more person on a bike, the world is a better place!"
Sometimes it's just part of being a friend. John Greenfield (chapter 34, "Earn-a-Bike Programs") says, "Years ago I dated a very cool woman who unfortunately had to spend lots of time in her car for work and didn't get enough exercise. I tried not to be pushy about bicycling, and she took the initiative to buy a bike so we could ride together on dates. She even wound up joining me for the AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago, though I was worried she wouldn't be able to complete the 400-plus-mile journey. But she was determined, and she did great. Near Baraboo, Wisconsin, as I reached the top of a roller-coaster hill, I realized she was still less than halfway up, struggling in the afternoon heat. So I turned around, rolled back down, and cheered her to the summit. She later sent me a nice thank-you note recreating the scene with stick figures and the caption, 'You helped me reach my goal!'"
And then there are times when magic happens, as in this story from David Hay (chapter 40, "The Individuation of the Cyclist"): "My oldest daughter took to biking very well, but my youngest daughter took a lot longer. Her reticence became chronic. When she was 8 years old, I asked her to come for 'a walk.' Knowing she wouldn't go if I brought her bike, I did not mention it or bring it along. What she didn't know was that I'd stashed her bike in some bushes at the park. When we got there, I feigned surprise at seeing the bike in the bushes and speculated that it must have been stolen and ditched in the bushes. She laughed and agreed to give riding a try in response to what I characterized as an 'omen.' There was a man playing congas at the park. He was playing in short intervals and would stop and start. I convinced her to ride on her own for only as long as the drummer played. Up to that point, his bursts hadn't lasted more than a few seconds, so my daughter regarded the challenge as reasonable. She got on the bike, I push-started her, and for the first time the drummer continued playing long enough for her to cross the entire park! I ran after her, and when she and the drummer finally stopped, we fell to the grass laughing with excitement at her triumphant first ride."
Biking can hold magic moments like these for anybody who rides. We hope you will enjoy this book and that it will inspire you to ride your bike more. We believe that bikes can help make the world a better place, and we're grateful for the opportunity to share our love of biking with you! (Continues...)
Excerpted from On Bicycles by Amy Walker, Matthew Fleming. Copyright © 2011 Amy Walker. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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