Friday, November 2, 2007

Why I bike

(Cross-posted at Rocbike)

I’ve been cycling off and on since forever, but when I started working within two miles of my home, two years ago, I began to bike more frequently. It seemed ridiculous to get in my car and contribute to the melting ice caps, all to go a distance that I could get to just as quickly on bike as by car. That led to running errands, visiting friends, going food shopping, all on bike. Since my 45th year challenge, I’ve stepped up the cycling even more. It all started when Pat from the Rochester Bicycling Club wished me a happy birthday, and suggested that I should bike my age in miles.

I thought, I can do that…in fact, I probably could have done it that day (which was my 44th birthday), but it undoubtedly would have hurt. I’m going for the low-pain ride…so, in addition to the daily cycling, I’m going for longer and longer rides on the weekends. My goal is to do the 45-miler over Thanksgiving weekend.

But there are other reasons that keep me biking, beyond the first motivation of cutting my carbon footprint and the second of celebrating this turning point year, in which I can finally feel myself relaxing into the sheer unpredictability of life.

I keep biking because it connects me to my neighborhood, my community. For example, I take night classes at the University of Rochester, also only two miles from my home. Most of my classmates (like me) are full-time employees and part-time students. They say that they don’t really feel that connected to the graduate program, because they drive in and drive out, often in darkness…straight from the parking lot to the classroom, and back again.

On the other hand, I bike up Mt. Hope Avenue, alongside the Genesee River, past the UR tennis courts and apartments, past the library, and behind the academic quad to my classroom. On this ride I think often of my former father-in-law, now gone for fifteen years, who worked at UR for many years. When I first met him, he gave me a tour of the campus and told me its history. I’ve forgotten most of it, but I do remember that where the campus stands was once a golf course. I often picture that golf course and think fondly of him, one of the most loving and ethical people I have ever met.

On Halloween, I saw undergrads in costume heading out for the night on the UR bus, graduate students in the library (probably oblivious to the fact that it was Halloween), and on the way back, I biked parallel with another student heading from campus to our neighborhood. (Actually, I passed her going up the hill on McLean, and since she was half my age, this made me quite pleased with myself.)

It really does make me feel connected to be on my bike, instead of ensconced and climate-controlled in a car. And to be perfectly honest, there’s nothing like bike commuting to give you that slight, “I’m so cool AND I’m doing the right thing” tinge of self-righteousness. I might be overtaken by the self-righteousness if I weren’t having so much fun noticing the changing of the seasons and feeling the strength in my body that comes from propelling yourself rather than letting a motor do it.

And speaking of strength, I’m also noticing a huge leap in my strength and endurance. My 20-mile bike ride last weekend felt like nothing, even without padded bike shorts! (For more on the significance of that last detail, see Hubris.)

As the weather turns cold, I’m wondering if I can maintain this level of cycling throughout the winter. For one thing, I have to dress “professionally” for my job, and carrying the layers of clothing needed to change into, along with the layers I’ll need to wear, feels like a bit much. For another, money put into the current bike to outfit it for winter is money that can’t go towards an XtraCycle next year! I’m counting on the RocBike community to give me the right tips and help me keep the motivation to keep it up!

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