Full-time biking is the way to go

The author—a full-grown adult—rides her bicycle full-time

The author stops to smell the roses while daughter Lydia looks on.

The author stops to smell the roses while daughter Lydia looks on.

photo by tina flynn

“Bike lanes must be intended to foster immaturity or New York would have chosen instead to create 670 miles of bridle paths. Being on horseback has adult gravitas. Search plazas, parks and city squares the world over and you won’t find a single statue of a national hero riding a bike.”

—P. J. O’Rourke in an April 2 Wall Street Journal piece titled “Dear Urban Cyclists: Go Play in Traffic”

Dear Mr. O’Rourke: Nothing against horses, but I am an urban cyclist, a bicycle commuter. Maybe you were just kidding, but there are plenty of folks who really do seem to believe that an adult riding a bike is either hopelessly immature or just can’t seem to get it together sufficiently to own and operate a car, or both.

Make of it what you will, but I am proudly, happily, officially car-less.

On May 7, it will be one year since my automobile—a white van that my 10-year-old daughter, Lydia, named Whitey—was totaled when a driver distracted by talking on a cell phone plowed into me while I was stopped at a red light. It was one of those proverbial unfortunate-incidents-that-turn-out-to-be-blessings-in-disguise.

I did not replace Whitey, which was my only car. Instead, I spent a portion of the money I received for my crumpled van on a bicycle trailer to attach to the back of my old black bicycle named (are you ready?) Blackie. The primary reason for the trailer is to carry Lydia—who is not yet able to ride a bike, due to some motor-coordination issues—to school and other places, but it’s also great for hauling groceries, six-packs of plant starts and other stuff that isn’t too large. I also geared up with some waterproof panniers and a rain coat and pants.

Contrary to what some car drivers who have given me the “too bad you’re not in a car” look when passing me—often the lone biker on a rainy day—might be thinking, I actually enjoy riding my bike in the rain. Call me immature, but I like the feeling of the rain on my face and the plinkety sound of it as it hits my plastic rain gear. Throw in a puddle or two, and I become a real baby (to the cheers of my daughter).

One of the only drawbacks to riding in the rain, really, is that many businesses are not equipped—with, say, a rack near the front door for dripping rain gear—to deal with us sillies who actually go shopping by bicycle when it’s pouring.

Others will cheer me on, sometimes giving me a thumbs-up when I pass them in traffic. Apparently they understand that I am not gunking up the air with pesky emissions, and that it is actually very good for my health to ride a bicycle. (Add to that the money I am saving by not buying gas, paying for insurance and repairs, etc. Gym memberships also go by the wayside.) Plus, I can get just about anywhere in Chico in 20 minutes or less, and I swear sometimes I get there faster than if I had driven.

There are occasional inconveniences. High on my list are people using leaf blowers who act as though I am invisible and continue blowing clouds of dust and leaves into the street as I drive by. Good thing I wear eye protection. Other pet peeves: Seas of broken glass and cars that drive in the bike lane.

Riding a bicycle as a primary means of transportation can help you get your priorities straight: Let’s see, do I need to go do this thing or that thing, or do I just want to? Getting a ride in a car is an option on occasion, such as if I need to haul my upright bass or purchase something too big to carry by bike. There’s always the local bus, too. If I need to get out of town, I just rent a car.

One of the nicest things about riding a bike, besides how good it makes me feel, is that it’s a return to a more idyllic world, literally. I tend to travel on streets with little traffic, partly as a safety measure when I am transporting Lydia. We say hi to people as we drive through neighborhoods and over the One-Mile bridge in Lower Park. We hear the birds chirping and the rushing creek water, and feel the breeze on our faces. We get to smell all the flowers when they’re in full, fragrant bloom—and see them at a pace that doesn’t reduce them to a blur.