Some have commented that it’s amazing that I go to Costco and similar places on my bike. It’s not that amazing!
My point is not that I do amazing things. My point is that all of us can do these things which we think are amazing, and they are amazingly easy. It only takes about three rides to start to feel my strength improving. So I encourage anyone who wants to improve (or is afraid that they’re not fit enough) to start. Don’t worry about how hard it might be. The Nike slogan expresses it: Just Do It®. For me, this means, enjoy it, no matter the outcome.
For me, an activity is worthwhile if I can answer yes to two questions: 1. Do you enjoy it? And 2. Are you learning or improving at it? The question is not whether you excel at it. Excellence might mean doing better than others. I find there is always someone better, faster, stronger than I am, so there’s little point in trying to be amazingly good at it, unless I enjoy trying.
And there are some things that I do badly. For instance, every so often, I’m invited to play a volleyball game. I’m absolutely terrible at it. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t participate in sports that I wasn’t good at, because I didn’t see the point. There’s the obvious point that I won’t get any good at it if I don’t do it, but that point was lost on me as a kid. I suck at volleyball, but 1, yes, I enjoy playing once a year or two, and 2, I learn from it. So it’s definitely worthwhile for me.
Therefore, I encourage you to get on your bike and ride, for whatever reason you may have, even if you think you suck at it. Ask yourself those two questions.
I like to be weird and do unusual things. In the US, especially in suburbia, it’s unusual to use a bicycle as transportation. I got a lot of “good for you!” compliments yesterday as I towed my trailer to garage sales and the supermarket. That’s nice but in a way, I wish it weren’t unusual. I wish more people did it. It’s not as impractical as people think. Friday night, I rode my bike to my rehearsal with Harmonium. I live in Maplewood, and the rehearsal was in Madison, 11 miles away, over rather hilly terrain. I got to rehearsal all charged up and sang well. I have a powerful headlight and taillight, so I felt safe going home on unlit roads. Yet someone in a convertible sports car apparently thought it appropriate to yell out, “What a freakin’ idiot!” as I rode by. Hmm, I’m an idiot for riding a bike while most “normal” people drive cars? Sorry for my radical thoughts, but I think it’s odd that driving cars has become the normal way to get places, even a short distance away. People think one or two miles is a long distance! And it takes no effort to walk that distance. And if it does, something’s wrong with this picture.
So yes, I do have some radical thoughts, too. I propose that driving a 2,000-pound motor vehicle less than three miles is a reflection of life out of balance. Most car trips are less than three miles. If that’s mostly what you use your car for, you could see your damage to the environment as minimal, since you don’t drive much. But I look at it differently. If most of my car trips are three miles or less, my contribution to the damage is of the worst kind. They are, for the most part, unnecessary injuries to the environment and easily replaced by walking, cycling, public transit, ride sharing, or foregoing the trip. (Also, a car pollutes more in its first three to five miles than any other time.)
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t gotten rid of my car yet, and I still drive. I still make some short trips. But the first step is consciousness of this. The second step is taking any step towards reducing unnecessary trips. No need to go whole hog and try to replace the car entirely.
In case you don’t know, NJ Transit allows bicycles on its trains when it’s not rush hour. It also allows folding bicycles on trains at all hours. You may not be asked to fold your bike, but it should be foldable. Lately, I’ve been taking my bike into New York so I get around Manhattan by bike rather than by subway. It takes about the same amount of time, and I have more fun, get more exercise, and I save a bit of money.
This past Memorial Day, on the way to my mother’s place, my wife and I rode through Central Park. Now, I’m not normally afraid while riding a bike, but for a change, I was afraid. There were the type of riders who get on a bike only once or twice a year. And there were so many of them! They seemed to be complacent about how to ride because there were no motor vehicles, as if there was no reason to be cautious. They wove left and right without noticing whom they cut off behind them. This is why bicycle paths can be more dangerous than riding in traffic with motor vehicles! Surprised?
As some know, I teach classes to children and adults on how to ride in traffic safely and comfortably. Safety and comfort are important, and they are the barriers for some to riding in traffic. You can learn it! Once you know how to predict others’ actions and how to be predictable, you can feel safer and be safer. If you’re interested in learning more, please place a comment here or send me a note. Or just stay tuned here.
Read Tom Reingold's last post, Zen and the Art of Cyclist Maintenance, here.