Too many people seem to think that cycling, like veganism,
should be an annoying pseudoreligion, with right and wrong ways to do it, a
feeling of moral superiority, and a need to proselytize. Bike commuters,
perhaps the smallest transportation minority in this country outside of people
who dogsled to work, are among the worst offenders. Well, I’m a bike commuter, and
I’m here to tell you there is no right way, it doesn’t make me a better person,
and I frankly don’t care whether anyone else does it. It makes no difference to
me whether you turn a pedal before and after your daily wage-slavery, but I will share a
few observations from a year of biking to work.
- The bus is cheaper. Much. Bus fare: $1.50, and I can carry
my coffee in with me. The bike sets me back as soon as I have to buy that first
cup of coffee in the morning. There’s also the matter of commuting shoes (I am
a pedal snob, and need to be clipped in with the ironically named “clipless”
pedals), rainpants, winter gloves, and an array of lights designed to confuse
motorists enough to notice that I exist. However, my bus is being cancelled, and
the nearest one is a 10-minute walk away, so this economic point is moot.
- It is a most unsatisfying ride. In my case, it’s under four
miles each way, barely worth the time it takes to prepare. The first half is down, there’s a hump over the Dunn Bridge in
the middle, and then a steep climb, all on a heavy bike with a lot of gear I
have to carry back and forth. The Dunn has the charm of a Soviet office block
and detracts from what should be a lovely view of the Hudson. In the dead of
winter I start by freezing and end up in a steam bath of my own making. There are logistics, with packing of lunch, making sure I have phones, carrying all I may need and nothing I don’t. After
every ride there are wipes and birdbaths and much changing of clothes.Any road ride is more enjoyable.
- Staying warm is not the problem. I have a neck gaiter, a
helmet liner and good long-fingered gloves, and wear a layer less than if I
were going to take a walk in the same temperature. Staying dry is more of an
issue, and generally if you wear rainproof gear, it rains inside as much as
outside.I now have rainpants that cost more than any dress pants I have ever owned.
- I used to work in a building full of athletes, and getting
on the elevator while carrying a helmet and perhaps in bike-friendly clothes
(and we’re not even talking spandex shorts) did not raise a lot of eyebrows. I
no longer work in a building full of athletes, and people go out of their way
not to share the elevator with me, even on days when I’m sure I do not offend.
- Rush-hour drivers are in too much of a hurry to fuck with
you. So while they won’t give you an extra inch to avoid horrible potholes or
sunken grates, they’re also not inclined to suddenly lay on their horns, lean out
their windows and scream, or throw things out their windows. Cyclists are the
battered spouses of transportation, and so we interpret a failure to try to
kill us as some kind of love.
- Riding somewhere for lunch is a tremendous delight. Being
able to get to a place that’s not even a mile away but just too far to walk
during lunchtime makes an enormous difference in my day, especially if I get to
sit outside and enjoy my lunch with my wheels. Thanks to CDTA’s bike rack map, I can always
find out if there’s a place to lock my bike, too.
I am not a better human being because of this. Many days, I
ride my bike across the river just to get into my SUV and drive right back over
to pick up my daughter from dance class. I know this makes Al Gore cry, and I’m
okay with that. I am, however, a happier human being, even after a miserable
hot or rainy ride, because I spent an hour riding my bike that otherwise would
have just been more time spent in my car. And an hour riding a bike is better
than just about anything else.