After talking it about for close to a decade, I bought a bike.
I used to bike everywhere. Then one day I stopped. If memory serves my tire got stolen and I never bothered to replace it. Life got busy and I drove.
This summer I went on a work retreat to Sun River. The house we stayed in had a garage full of bikes. I got on one and immediately knew I would buy a bike as soon as I got back to Portland.
That was two months ago. I got a pretty basic road bike. Nothing fancy.
My plan was to bike around the neighborhood and work up to riding to work in a week or two. I biked to work the very next day.
Being on a bike again after so long is exhilarating. The weather has been nice, I work just shy of 4 miles from my house, and the morning is mostly downhill.
I’ve biked to work roughly 4 out of every 5 workdays since.
But it wasn’t until last Friday that I became a real bike commuter.
Last Friday a driver told me to fuck off.
Rather than get into the tit for tat I’ll say I could have accommodated him, but choose not to. And after traveling in front and then beside him for 6 blocks he told me to fuck off just as he was turning and I was going straight.
It was not a heat of the moment fuck off. It was a now that I’ll never see you again, I will tell you to fuck off as I veer the other way.
I did nothing.
This might not surprise folks who know me. I’m not known for losing control.
But it surprised me, because like many even-keeled people when I do get pushed over the edge I freak out.
Getting yelled at by a driver while on a bike would normally be one of those situations.
But it wasn’t.
He was an aging once handsome probably on his second marriage dude in his late 40s smoking a cigarette racing home in his once cool now falling apart early 90s sedan.
So immediately I could feel a little superior.
He was slowly killing himself with cigarette smoke and stress while I was getting exercise.
His car was polluting the environment while my bike was not.
But I said nothing, smiled actually, when he told me to fuck off for a very different reason.
I was having fun. And he was not.
And that is what any group, company, governmental body or lobbyist involved with promoting biking to work or biking to work should focus on.
Biking to work is fun.
Yes it’s good for your body. But you can’t guilt trip someone into exercise. They have to want to exercise.
And you can guilt trip people about destroying the planet until you’re blue in the face, but people are selfish. As a progressive lefty who went bike free for 10 years, I can tell you from personal experience it doesn’t work.
You can throw doom and gloom, statistics, images of obesity plus dying streams and trees and all it will do is make people think they should bike. But they won’t.
Because fear and guilt might motivate someone to skip a second helping of dinner, but it won’t make someone go to a bike store that feels like a foreign land with it’s own customs and language and shell out hundreds it not thousands of dollars for a bike and then actually ride it much less ride it to work.
People who want other people to bike should focus on how much fun biking is, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
At least it has been during a wonderful balmy Portland late summer. Check back in with me this winter.
Extra thought: because I write ads for a living, but am increasingly teaching students how to write good ads instead of writing ads myself here’s a good share the road ad.
Open on a driver bitching about bikers. Cut to a biker bitching about pedestrians. Cut to a pedestrian bitching about drivers.
Or you could have pedestrians bitching about bikers, bikers bitching about drivers and pedestrians bitching about drivers.
Doesn’t matter how you do it. We all hate each other, at least in the heat of a stressful commute. That’s a fact.
But here’s how you do it. It’s the same person driving, biking and walking. He or she goes from walking to biking to driving.
Because we all do two, if not all three of those things, and when we go from one to another real quick we realize how absurd it is to get mad at people who are doing the thing we were just doing a little bit ago.