“Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world.”
~ Grant Petersen
I love my bike.
I bought him new in 1986 in Pacific Grove, California—a perfectly normal Peugeot boy’s mountain bike.
I named him Pete, because my grandpa used to say, “Whoa Pete,” as a type of expletive anytime he meant, “Slow down/take it easy.”
Since then, I have gradually pimped poor Pete into the perfect granny-cruiser bike, because I was built for comfort and not speed.
I ride all year (except in snow storms, because well, there’s that “comfort” thing again). I ride in dresses/skirts. I ride in the rain. I ride to work, to get groceries, to run errands, to still my mind, to meditate and just for fun.
I have a saying: “When in doubt, pedal it out.”
I use my bike time as a way to work out my personal issues. When I’m feeling out of sorts or stressed, I just jump on my bike and take a few laps through my neighborhood or go over to the bike trail that runs next to the river, or pedal for miles and miles in my worn out flip-flops—always slowly.
When I get on my bike, I am a kid again. I am that first-grader on my Schwinn with the blue sparkly banana seat, high-rise handlebars and training wheels.
Jump a few years forward to when I had my first ten-speed, and my best friend and I lived a few miles apart.
In the Summer, we would plan our bike route via dirt roads between her family farm and mine (avoiding the blacktops as best we could), coordinate leaving our respective farms at the same time and agree to meet in the middle somewhere.
Being in West Texas, we’d see each other coming from a long way off down those flat, straight, dirt roads. She always brought her little transistor radio. It dangled from her handlebars by its strap, bouncing around as we navigated those dry, treeless, washboard roads in the heat.
We biked slowly along, talking and laughing, listening to the radio, singing to our favorite songs.
I still love riding my bike just for the joy of it. In fact, every time I’ve tried to work on this post, I am overcome by a need, a longing, to jump on my bike and hit the road for a while. I’m beginning to wonder if that longing will ever go away.
Yesterday, while riding my bike home from downtown, a woman said as she peddled past me on her bike, “You look very peaceful!”
And in the proverbial split second, I realized it was true and was glad I could honestly say back to her, “I am.”
It made my day to be perceived as peaceful on a slow bike and not just slow on a slow bike—my own realization that I truly was peaceful was just a bonus.
When I ride my bike, I like to pretend I still live in Berlin (or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter), where riding a bike is not seen as trendy, green, fashionable—but rather as a meditation, a real means of transportation, a way of life.
I could be like all the other speedy bikers that pass me and get there quickly, but I don’t want to ride fast. I want to enjoy the ride, the scenery. There’s a reason I choose beautiful, scenic routes to work, even though they might not be the shortest routes.
There’s a reason I ride through the cemetery sometimes, slowly, looking at the names on the tombstones, enjoying the peace and quiet, giving trees high-fives as I pass underneath them.
There’s a reason I don’t dress like an alien to ride my bike—the bike shorts, space-age helmet, wild, bright zipper bike shirt, weird bike shoes.
Everyone passes me—old ladies (okay, I’m an old lady, so “ladies older than me”), children, guys on skateboards; because, as I said, I bike slowly and have, in my many years of riding this very same route into town every day, only passed four people.
I know it is only four people, because it so very rarely happens.
Three of them were cruiser bikes and one young guy was pulling an obviously heavy trailer. I pulled up next to him at the stoplight downtown to say hello, instead of lining up behind him as convention said I should.
We exchanged “good mornings.” And then he asked if I wanted to race, he thought that was the reason I pulled up next to him. He asked if I was planning on revving my engine, and he mimed the downward twist on his right bike grip—like a motorcycle accelerator. We laughed.
I am in really good shape. I work out in some form every day, because it heals me to do so, because it makes me happy. So I have the physical capabilities to be like the other, type-A, American bike riders who have to get there as quickly as possible, so they can then be stressed out there too, or those who have to pump as hard as possible to work off that extra piece of cake from last night.
But I don’t want to. I want to continue to enjoy my ride—enjoy the scenery, the air, the colors, the sunlight through the trees, the seasons, the Earth, the “biking” part of biking.
I hope you will try riding a bike too. Not because it will save you money (it will), not because you will be helping to save the Planet, not because it’s easy (it is), not because it’s trendy to be green and everyone else is doing it too, not because you will get to go buy all of the latest gadgets and thing-a-ma-bobs for your fancy new expensive bike (you don’t need), not because you never have to look for a parking space—but because it’s fun and freeing.
It’s the closest you can get to flying while still on the ground.
Whatever you do though, do it greenly—and have the courage to do it truly greenly and not just trendy greenly.
Meaning: Use what you have first; shop thrift stores after that. Use that old plastic milk crate in the garage for your bike basket. Buy a refurbished bike, but only if you don’t already have one. Don’t buy unnecessary biking clothes and/or gear until you give it some time and figure out what you really need.
And for gawd’s sake, we do not want to see your junk in spandex/lycra!
You don’t need that sh*t to go biking. Just jump on your bike and go.
If you’re new to biking, here are a few things to think about:
~ Start simple. Just ride your bike around the neighborhood on good weather days.
~ If you decide to start biking to work, do a few test rides on non-work days to see how long it takes and what you’ll need to get you and your work stuff to work on time.
~ Search online for ideas and information; there is a wealth of info out there—from bike styles/types to how to ride a bike in a skirt.
~ You don’t need special biking clothes/gear to ride your bike. Again, keep it simple and truly green.
~ If you progress to riding in the dark, make a small investment in lights. I use the small, really inexpensive, LED ones, and they work fantastically.
~ If you decide to invest in a rack, panniers or a basket, there are plenty of options. I just zip stripped (after drilling a few strategic holes) a big, collapsible, plastic basket (that I’d had for years) to my rack on the back and have successfully used that system for years. I keep a few small bungees attached to the basket, and I’m ready to haul just about anything. This is the exact basket I have on mine, and I notice they come in different sizes. You could use any type of crate. You could also simply use a backpack or satchel.
~ You might want to think about a set of fenders at some point. I have a set of cheap plastic fenders that I have had on my bike forever and that work wonderfully. You don’t necessarily have to get an expensive pair. I like them because they keep my clothes from getting spattered with dirty water in the rain.
~ Some ladies who wear skirts have chain guards and/or skirt guards on their bikes. I have never had to use these, as I usually tie a loose knot in the hem of long, full skirts to keep them up and out of the way.
~ If and when you get ready to get out of your neighborhood, check on bike laws/rules in your area. For example, do bikes get to treat stop signs like yields, or must they obey the same rules as motor vehicles? It is important to know and follow the rules, not only for safety, but also because bike riders everywhere are counting on you to set a good example, proving to motorists that we deserve a place on the road.
~ Most of all, be truly green and have fun.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Mark Roy/Flickr