Wednesday, October 12, 2016


 Recently I ran across a book titled “Cycling” (subtitle:  “Philosophy for Everyone.”)  And it’s full of a good number of essays, memoirs, and such, expounding on the various authors’ views about bicycling, what turns them on about it. Halfway through the book though I was a little bit more than turned off by the tone taken by a good many of the writers, who seem to be into bicycling as “racers.”  I think you know the sorts of bicyclist I mean. you often see them every morning on their daily commutes, dressed in their flash Spandex with the various company-whore logos splashed across the ass and the chest, their heads down as they force themselves forward as though the ride to work were another Tour de France, or something.
Nearly all of those people also drive cars, which is something they’re not ashamed of, but somehow cycling to work looking “like a pro bicyclist” helps them assuage the guilt that might come from their not using a bike to get around, everywhere, which , thankfully, there are a few essayists in the book who take the time to defend. I mean you could say that about most bicyclists on America’s roads- that they also own a car, and they will use it “when necessary.”
Unlike those types, though, I am not that sort of bicyclist. I do not rely on the proposition that “new endeavors need new clothes” and I am not into the idea of making a commute to my job (as a school crossing guard, defending the children of ultra-rich Los Altos, California, from the even more maniacal and demonic drivers who take up the other two lanes of traffic on the Foothill Expressway) another race for the finish. I wear what it is, whatever, I choose for my daily wear, since there’s no need to shower and change into “real world clothes” when I am in the “real world” enough as it is already.
I am also not so infected with the need for “speed” as are three fifths of other Americans, which also includes a high percentage of the drivers, almost uniformly. When I go someplace n a bike, I take the time to take my time. If I need to be somewhere on time, I take the time to be sure I’ll get there on schedule, but being on my bike, I really don’t care to ever be in a rush about things.
There are qualities of bicycling that are transformational, and one of these is the ability to look at the world going past your wheels, being in the world as you travel in it, un-insulated from it by tons of steel and glass. As a person on a bike, I like  the fact I am going slower than all the cars. I like the human pace of being on a bike, of not being part of the rat race, of being closer and more in tune with my surroundings, less caught up in the bullshit of the “human game.” I will get there when I get there, and not before. So why not smell the roses? Why not take the time to look at the houses, the gardens, the trees, the various things which are nature  despite man’s desperate rush to reinvent his environment in his own image?
In the old days, Indians would travel the length and breadth of their lands seeing, noticing, taking into account all the various differences in their trails. By the time they had walked ten miles, they knew every rock and tree on their way. This is one of the things bicyclists have over cars. When we are up and riding we are much more influenced by the different textures of the roadway, to a degree travelers in autos are not. A three inch rock or a  seven inch broken tree branch in our path  may present no problem to a car, but for us could mean a spinout or even a flip. So we have to notice these things. We notice the dead squirrels, the skunks, the possums, raccoons, birds, and pets and other fellow Earthlings the cars left as road kill in their wake. Maybe we reflect on them, maybe we don’t. But we are much more aware of them than were the drivers who sent them to eternity.
Riding a bicycle is one way to help defeat the awful guilt of having a “carbon footprint” which is in any case inevitable for any people who live in our society. Yet a bicyclist’s is just that much less. Regardless, like I say, two thirds of the other “bikers” on the road have their own automobiles, which they will revert to in times of inclement weather. Unfortunately I have no such luxury. The job I hold as a crossing guard demands me to be there, rain or shine, and this of necessity demands I ride in whatever weather is out there. I have rain gear, which has vastly improved my morale over the years I rode without so much (rain pants having been the best and biggest agent of change.)  And yet there are times when riding in the rain, itself, can be a “pleasant experience”. After all, one can only get “so” wet. At such times the best thing to do is surrender to the idea of being wet, and act accordingly. Splash that puddle! Excelsior! But it’s also few people who would face the weather in such fashion. Even the kids going to school who on sunny days ride their bikes are riding past me in their parents’ cars when it rains. There are a hardcore few who continue on whether it’s rain or not, but for the most part, the number of kids I need to cross diminishes by a factor of five on a rainy day.
My trip up to the job involves four miles of steady, uphill grind climbing. Twice a day. Of course, that eight miles up means a fast cool eight miles back down. But my aging knees have begun to protest. The current bike I‘ve ridden for the past seven years hereabouts is a rather heavy British-made Raleigh mountain bike- the Mojave 2.0. It qualifies as both mountain and road bike, but I have adapted it or commuter use, since mountain biking, like racing, is a bit too outré for my personal tastes or style in riding. I am going to be retiring good old “Pony Boy” real soon, however, in favor of an electric bike. Which will make a difference, one would hope, in the manner in which I am able to endure those eight miles up everyday, and hang onto this crossing guard job, which despite its close proximity to the “cars vs. peds” and “cars vs. bikes” wars, is nonetheless a stable income, even if it isn’t quite the hours I’d prefer (I have a night job, so all the bases do get covered.)
As for the cars vs. bikes wars- I have found that, despite the advice from many bike authors, it’s best not to maintain much eye contact with the “road cagers” and “oil serfs” except when absolutely necessary. When they  are pulling out, of course, I want them to see me, so I always ding my little bell just so I know that they saw me. And at times when making headway against left turners. But for the most part, eye contact seems only to increase the road rage on both sides of the game. They probably don’t even think people on bikes are “real people”- at least, that is a sentiment I have seen expressed in more than one anti-bike newspaper opinion letter- but for the most art, it’s been working out OK. The only accidents I have been involved in were both the fault of the driver- one ran a red light, the other "didn't see me” as I started to cross a junction near some train tracks- but for the most part, it's true, nobody wants to collide with anyone else on purpose, and I am always super-cautious as can be in so far as :riding defensively: is concerned. I never make aggressive moves, nor do I tend to test yellow lights or roll on stop signs. After all, I need to be consistent, don’t I? I couldn’t work in traffic safety and fail to attempt to set a good example for others.
There are a few pet peeves I have with both drivers and other bikers. One of them is the "hot dog” syndrome. This usually involves a “racer consciousness” bike coming up on my left to pass me, but making no noise about it. Whoom, they are just there, and they gave no warning! And they just have to get somewhere faster, no doubt. Although these types are just as hung up with speed as the drivers are. There’s assholes in cars and as many on bikes, apparently the spread is even throughout the road populations. And just like the status players with fast foreign sport cars, there’s the status players on bicycles. You can spot them a mile away because they are the ones who needed new clothes before they got on their bikes. But their bikes are always racer drop-bars, titanium wheels, ultra-lite carbon fiber frames, and usually cost them somewhere in the neighborhood of five grand. Back when Facebook went public and gave their employees giganto dividend bonuses you saw a lot of brand new bikes showing up on the street. Around here, workers in the high tech industry have their own interior office cults devoted to road racing, and form little cliques and clubs to indulge it (we call this type “Google ponies,” around here.)  And usually they all also own cars. SO they can’t be accused of pro-bicycle lifestyle activism with any degree of sincerity, for the most part. Nope, it’s all on a par with “keeping ahead of the Joneses” so to speak.
And we have the “new clothes” issue. God help me if I eve get into a suit of spandex with a heap of bike shop logos plastered all over it! Nothing in the world looks worse than an over fifty, overweight  male with a muffin top crammed into a pair of lycra bike shorts. These were obviously contrived for bicyclists in their twenties and thirties, and even then thirty or forty is usually pushing it. There’s no way to hide the flab the wrinkles or the obvious fact you were out of shape when you started and you’re going to still be pushed out of shape once you squeeze into those ridiculous things. I could never take that route. I wear what I am wearing and the hell with it! No pretending to be Lance Armstrong, or part of the weekend warrior club. The bike is my everyday transportation, no more or less, and I am going to keep it that way.
All things considered I am glad to ride my bike and not spend a penny on auto maintenance or insurance. my failure to do so, of course, sets me apart from the “real” people, but, that’s a distinction I don’t mind so much as yet. Yes, being a performing musician has suffered since I left the city for the country-suburbs, without a car, there’s not the same ease of toting an amp to gigs as there was when I had a cab or a bus to hail and that was that. But my conscience is still clean and that means a lot. I won’t be the one you can pin the ass-tail on for being hypocritical about my carbon footprint, not  just yet, anyway. Even if I were to one day surrender to the oil-serf lifestyle, even then I would only use a car to get to a gig, or to visit friends a long way off (and so doing, save myself a plane ride.) Bikes are great. You are closer to the real world you live in, you are in some ways, closer to danger, you are doing something about, rather than acceding to, those problems human society digs itself into. And for the time being, that’s the gist of my thoughts on Biking.

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