Saturday, August 08, 2009

Biking Everywhere

We have some friends. Let's call them Mr. & Mrs. Bicycle. They bike everywhere...literally. They have no car, and they live here in this city. They are happy, well-adjusted people with real jobs, and a child. There's a second child on the way, too, by the way. They don't flaunt their no-car status. In fact, it's kind of hard to get them to talk about it. They just live like this, and I completely admire them.

I'm not sure what attracts me the most. Of course, there are the environmental benefits of riding a bike, rather than driving a car. The kind of car driving I tend to do is the absolute worst - city driving, stop and go, quick trips here & there with lots of turning the car off & restarting after a quick errand. I've been aware of this for some time now, though, and it hasn't compelled me to do a whole lot about it. (For which I feel somewhat guilty.)

There are health benefits, too, to be sure. One certainly burns more calories and builds more muscle on a bike than in a car. It actually occurred to me how funny it all is, actually, when you think about sit down and have the car carry you half a mile to the grocery store. Half a mile was easily in the daily or several-times-daily repertoire of our ancestors.

But, still, the health benefits are not the most compelling.

About a week ago I went to Mr. Bicycle's house in the afternoon along with Vespera. She helps him run a bicycle repair and refurbishing business/charity out of his garage a few afternoons a week. Mango & Mane came along. I went because I had a trail-a-bike type apparatus to give to Mr. Bicycle. We all stayed because we'd biked all the way over there, and, well, it seemed like a comfortable place to be. We got our hands dirty repairing a few bikes. Vespera dug right in, knowing exactly what to do and where everything was kept. All kinds of people, from up and down the alley and all through the neighborhood stopped by. Some already knew Mr. Bicycle, and some came to ask a favor or buy a bike because they had been referred by someone else. A few came to practice their Spanish or teach a few words in Somali. It was unhurried, even leisurely.

Yes, that's it. Mr. Bicycle is never, ever in a hurry. In spite of the fact that he must plan all of his trips with extra time for biking (though he is fast), he's somehow never frantic. Maybe, just maybe, cars contribute to our hustle and bustle, hurried lifestyles. We can get somewhere more quickly so we squeeze more into the day and wait until the last possible moment to leave for anywhere. Even I, as planful as I am, often feel hurried, though I'm notorious for being on time or even early. The truth is, being early requires hurrying, too.

Mr. Bicycle said something when we were there in his alley the other day that rings so true, too. He said that he hated the winter until he started biking in it. Imagine that! Most of us, even here in hardy Minnesota, might agree to a 3-season bicycle experiment. But to bike in WINTER? Minnesota Winter? I wouldn't believe it, except that last year all the kids & Mango got snowboards, and I went out on skis, and we had fun in the Minnesota winter. I had been looking on-line for ways to beat the winter blues in MN, and I read somewhere that if you're going to live in the winter in MN, you have to embrace the winter, you have to get OUT into the winter and enjoy it. And how true that we can often find something to embrace when we just stop struggling so hard against it.

Next to not being hurried, I find that I enjoy the simplicity of biking. Mango told me the other day that the bicycle is the most efficient human-powered machine ever invented. That attracts me somehow. If you get around Minneapolis much, you'll see that many people have turned this bicycling simplicity into an art form. Bicyclists are inventive and creative in the ways they find to convey themselves and carry cargo. Very creative, and, yet, still so simple...homemade, backyard solutions. Anybody can learn to fix their own bike. Most people will never learn to fix their own car. And fixing a bike takes a few minutes, maybe an hour. Putting a new transmission in our car took all day.

Mango uses the word "freedom" when talking about riding a bike. He talks about how biking is "coloring outside the lines." It's outside the box, maybe even outside the rat race. It doesn't confine you to following google maps to get to your destination. It frees you from consuming the world's resources, unplugs you from the grid for just a little while. Biking allows you the freedom to stop and say "hello" to your fellow commuter, to not just move from "one climate controlled environment to another" (Mango's words again), but to actually experience the world and interact with it. Biking means being out in the world in a way that you cannot be if you're commuting in a car.

This is what attracts me. It's the simplicity, the living and breathing of real life, the interaction with the world and fellow human beings.

I also love it that Mane sleeps really well at the end of a "biking" day.

So what am I doing about it? As a homeschooling experiment, Mane & I are going to keep track of the errands we run, the places we go every day, and where we could go bike. We're going to keep track of how much we use the car, and how much we use it when we didn't have to use it. It isn't to make anyone feel guilty. It's to raise awareness, to play with the possibilities, to increase our dependence and our freedom. I have blocked out an hour and a half each morning on my extremely flexible homeschool schedule for getting out and getting active. Building biking into the plan will hopefully turn it into a habit...and then a lifestyle.


  1. i love this! i'll be watching with much interest...

  2. Completely unrelated to your lovely post, what are you doing on Thursday? Tae is taking his first trip to mommy's homeland.


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