Bikes are Love. Hills are Death.
I originally wrote this piece for a zine I put together in 2006 or so. These days, I actually really want a car, mostly because I’m job searching and in my city, the geographic considerations of how to get from Point A to Point B without a car and without having to take more than two buses is getting aggravating. But I’m going through my old stuff and feel kinda sad that so much stuff is just gathering figurative dust on my hard drive.
Oh, and I have a new bike. (Well, relatively new.) A steel Masi CX. It is much much nicer to ride than my old Mongoose. Although, I rode that Mongoose for more than eight years and never did get a flat, and the Masi gets flats ALL THE DAMN TIME because it is a sissy.
I used to have a car. I gave it away, to some friends of mine who were moving to a commune in Missouri and had no way to get there. After two years of paying $200 every six months to repair whatever new thing had broken, $400 every six months for insurance, $60 a month for gas and the odd $40 traffic ticket, I was broke. I didn’t have any money left for it. People say all the time that they can’t get afford to get rid of their car; I couldn’t afford to keep mine. My friends seemed shocked by my generosity, but really, I was just worried that I was passing my money trouble along to them.
So now I ride my bike everywhere. My bike is a purple Mongoose that I’ve had since middle school. I talked my parents into giving the bike new tires and a tuneup for my birthday (I’ve received the same bike for my birthday twice now), and now I roll along on the most energy-efficient machine mankind has ever devised. (Incidentally, I don’t know what kind of ridiculous armor-plated tires the bike shop gave me, but three years on I’m still waiting for my first flat.)
One day I was trying to figure out how to save some money so I could continue to live in the style to which I have become accustomed (which generally means eating every day or so), and I realized I’m a full-blown bike kid, checking out what other people ride, casting longing glances at the cute bike messengers that hang out on 17th and California, and generally hatin’ on cars, traffic, pot holes, and going uphill. I think of myself sitting in my old car—which was a Nissan Sentra—and all the space it took up, the thousand-plus pounds it weighed, just to get my relatively small ass to the grocery and back, and I wonder, how did I not feel absurd every time I drove that thing?
I loved my car when I had it, and I still harbor a certain affection that no human should ever hold for a machine. It got me where I needed to go to the best of its ability; and if the clutch pedal broke off once and the car stalled out a few times, at least it did it a block away from my house, and not while I was cruising down the highway. But the damn thing just cost too much money for me to love it like it deserved. Now I have my bike, which is a little heavier than I’d like (nobody’s perfect), but I’m way more fond of it than I was of my car. You want to borrow my car? No problem. Here’s the keys. Don’t crash. You want to borrow my bike? Not a chance. It’s mine. You might hurt it.
I like that I can’t do as much in a day with my bike. Actually, I can probably get about the same amount done, but I’m way less stressed because I don’t have illusions about how much I can get done. I like knowing what my neighborhood looks like. I like being able to smell the air and feel the breeze (by the way, you in cars have no idea how bad smog smells. Ew.) Going fast on a bike is so much more fun than fast in a car. I like having stronger legs, stronger lungs. I get to make fun of dorks in Spandex. I get to go faster than cars stuck in gridlock.
And riding my bike is just fun. Except for those first two weeks every year when my lungs are going to explode and my legs are turning to rubber and I think I just might be sick to my stomach if my heart rate doesn’t go down to something approaching normal, then it’s great. And after I bought long underwear for biking to work in 20-degree weather, it’s even better. Now I’ve memorized every available bike lane, and my brain possesses a fairly accurate topographical map of the city which helps me avoid hills (which are death). And I snicker at the indentured servants of Exxon-Mobil, waiting around to pay $3.50 a gallon so they can sit in gridlock every day.
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