Bike Issue: The joy of commuting
Why the bicycle is a brilliant invention
On a balmy spring night recently, I was locking my bicycle to a rack near downtown Chico when a fellow pulled up next to me to park his bike. Like me, he was well-outfitted for night biking: strong headlight, red flashing taillight.
“Nice night for riding, isn’t it?” I ventured.
He smiled broadly: “Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I have no desire to get in a car.”
I knew how he felt. I bike around Chico at all hours, but there’s something truly delightful about riding at night, especially during the warm months. Traffic is light, frogs and crickets are making their nighttime noises, and it’s fun to zip past houses shrouded in darkness but with light poring from their windows and try to imagine the lives unfolding within.
I have a 10-speed Bridgestone road bike that I bought about 20 years ago. The gear system and brakes aren’t as good as those on a new bike, but they do the job, which I guess is why I’m still riding the thing. That and a certain amount of confidence that, if I lock it up when I park, nobody will think it’s worth cutting the cable to steal it.
Truth is, I love this bike. It’s both an extremely efficient tool that can get me to where I want to go almost as fast—and sometimes as fast, or even faster—than an automobile, and a great source of joy, a sensory experience unlike any other.
I live in the vicinity of Pleasant Valley High School and work downtown, so I have a commute of about two miles each way. I follow several different routes, for variety’s sake, but I have two favorites.
One takes me south on Madrone, across the pedestrian bridge over Lindo Channel, straight into Lower Park. From there it’s a beautiful cruise through the trees along Big Chico Creek to downtown, past mothers strolling their infants, longtime married couples walking their dogs, and joggers out for their morning runs. Rare is the day when I don’t see a friend to greet. And by the time I get to work I’m wide awake, the blood is flowing, and I feel great.
The other route, which is about five minutes faster, cuts through neighborhoods south of East First Avenue and enters the park at the freeway. It passes by my friend Jasper’s house and workshop, and I often find him there prepping for work—he makes hardwood floors—and stop to chat. When you’re on a bicycle, stopping to visit a friend is easy to do.
Of course, the pleasure of a bicycle ride is dependent on how open to it you are. If your mind is busy thinking about the day ahead or fussing over something in the past, you won’t enjoy it as much. I find that if I tell myself just to listen to the sounds around me, I have a better ride. Listening is easy these days, what with millions of birds singing their lusty come-hither songs. I sing right along with them.
Another important element in enjoying bicycling is having the right clothes, especially in winter. I don’t ride in rain (I have friends who do, though), but I enjoy riding in cold, as long as I’m wearing a good pair of gloves, a warm coat and something protecting my ears, either a hoodie or a pull-down cap. As any skier knows, the sting of cold on the face is quite pleasant as long as the rest of the body is warm.
Every now and then, I ride for recreation, heading out into the orchards or to the river for a good workout ride, but mostly I use my bicycle as a tool to get where I need to go in town.
I’ve had a couple of spills and some scraped knees and elbows over the years, usually because I wasn’t paying attention. Nothing serious, though.
To me, the bicycle is one of the most brilliant inventions of all time. After all, it’s just 25 pounds of metal and rubber, wheels, frame and gears, but it can move me through space at a quick clip with great ease. That it also keeps me healthy and makes me happy is, well, pretty amazing.