Dedicated readers of this blog might be disappointed, but today I write not about politics (as has been a growing personal concern, the last two years) nor am I giving previews of current writing works in progress, but to speak of something entirely different... bicycles.
As one of America’s few individuals who have somehow managed to survive their entire lives without owning either a car nor license to drive one, I have been someone who, until five or six years ago, relied completely upon urban mass transit to get from here to there. This was, no small part, due to my living in a city San Francisco, in which it really is possible to survive- a good long time- try thirty years!- without a car. The BART system is excellent and can take you to most places out of town, however, it will NOT take you down the SF Peninsula, where I mostly grew up, and where I yet have friends. The MUNI bus system of the City is adequate, if awful, but at least an urban musician can get from here to there and gig to gig without a lot of pain and crisis.
That is just not possible where I now live, back again on the Midpeninsula, where a car is as necessary for musical life as it is in Orange County. So that is one (not small!) reason why I placed my musical life “on hold” and have turned to writing. I bought a bicycle in May of 2009, and it’s been my main transportation. I can take it with me on the train, or on the local bus transit, pretty easily. It is not a cheap instrument of travel, (in comparison to my meager earnings under "economic recovery") although it does me well, the only inconveniences are an occasional flat tire, or a need to true a wheel, replace a spoke, or a gear adjustment. Some of these I can manage myself, others I can’t, but I have a good relationship with two local bike shops which serve me well when I need them. As this is my main transportation, it’s always a case of “in and out” for the most part.
What I have found in becoming “a biker” is that there are many aspects of day to day riding which would be easier on the soul if they did not involve as much perceived conflict, as happens to be, with those of the automobiphilic distinction. Cars (drivers, rather) can be so ignorant of the practicalities of bike riding.
Often, drivers will not signal a turn, leaving someone on a bike behind them in need of constant awareness and second-guessing. They will back out without warning, they will cut you off on a turn (again, by not signaling their intention, they leave it to you to be the cautious one) and they often pass you just as you pass some obstacle to your right, leaving you with a “that was a close call!” sense of survival.
I don’t hold much against auto drivers, except from some, their attitude. As if by being someone who chose rather a means of transport three times as risky as theirs I’m somehow “less of an adult” because I didn’t buy into the “oil serf” mentality. Or that just because I am on a bike I am immediately to be placed in their mental pigeonhole along with the extreme portion of the population on two wheels.
I think you might know who I am referring to. These are the weekend warriors, the ones who need to look like whores for a bike company as they flash down the road geared in spandex, their specialized clip-in shoes clack clack clacking as they stride into a Starbucks, whom it seems need each day to prove they are willing and involved in a personal Tour De France, rather than another mundane journey to the office.
Here on the Peninsula, where Google rules the universe, half of Google’s employees are engaged in what a friend of mine calls “Google pony” culture. This involves laying out at least $3,000 for a bike, preferably a road bike with spindly skinny wheels and tires, another $500 for shoes and clothing that scream “I AM A BIKE RIDER!” and another $500 for exactamento accessories like front wheel panniers, seat wedges, grocery racks, helmet lamps, etc, etc. The more money you spent on your bike and your outfit, the more you appear like the automobiphiles who need Ferraris and Porsches to scream “I AM A LUXURY AND STATUS-DRIVEN MANIAC!”
I have never been that type of bicyclist. I am someone who merely uses it for my means of getting from A to B, and do not care to be making a political or cultural statement with my bike, even if just by being on one, I kind of am. I wear what I feel like wearing. That means blue jeans, sturdy shoes that can take the road, and warm outer clothing. What I sacrifice for wind speed I gain in a sense of personal satisfaction that I have nothing to prove to anyone, and owe little, either. I do not take part in group rides, with dozens of folks all competing and riding with slipstream airflow in a mob. These types get well deserved aggravation comments from friends when we pass them on the highway (I guest of their passenger seat) on the local hill-country roads. They always take wide turns and are often two or three abreast as a matter of recreation. Rather uncool, and I see where my friends get their aggravation.
However I am someone who plans on riding my bike to a good old age. It was once said “there are many old bicyclists, there are many bold bicyclists, but there are few old, bold, bicyclists.” The urge to “take it slow” is actually what drives me. I love the normalized, human pace of bike riding. I love the fresh air and the connection to the environment, which automobiphiles excuse themselves and insulate themselves from. I do not take risky chances nor make sudden moves, if I can help it. Because I plan to be riding my bike to a good old age. I have nothing to prove. I just spin.