I know that the weather is a major determining factor for many when riding a bicycle. Maybe you peer outside, see the hint of rain clouds, and start battling your bicycle riding spirit with indecision. Or maybe when the sky has opened up and is dumping rain, you don’t even consider the bicycle.
So why do I enjoy riding in the rain? Am I dedicated or just a bit nutty? While riding in a recent deluge, I had a flashback to my childhood. I grew up on ‘Smart’s Mountain’ about a 30 minute drive from Ukiah of which 7 miles were a bumpy dirt road (muddy and slippery in the winter). This is the kind of road that requires 4-wheel drive vehicles if you’re going to make it home after a day of pelting rain. It is a wild place, and with that wild comes the frontier-like, backwoods life. You’ve got to be tough to survive in the mountains, ready and willing to face every challenge sent your way.
My dad was a teacher at Ukiah High School which meant that we made the trek into town everyday. And I mean everyday. I had perfect attendance year after year. And it was more than just some extreme dedication to school, it was that mountain spirit. The spirit that nothing is going to stop you today. If it had been down pouring rain all night, we would have shovels in the truck. If it had been rather windy, we would have the chain saw and axes in the truck. If it had been snowing, we would have chains. And did we use these tools? We most certainly did! On those days, when we went up against Mother Nature’s power, it was an adventure. It was fun. It was the way.
Living in town now, rarely replicates those adventure-filled days of my youth. Except of course when we are graced with a most excellent down pour. If it hadn’t been raining cats and dogs the other morning, it would have been just your usual bike ride to work where you pedal along enjoying the changing light of the morning, birds singing, blooms springing, and dodging the occasional uneducated motorist. What I hear most from folks is their concern about me staying dry in the rain. And as I arrived in a UHS classroom that morning, I noticed I was dryer than most of the students seated before me. They of course had parked their cars in the parking lot and then walked the short distance to class. They were soaked! And I was dry! I of course outfit myself for the adventure with waterproof pants, jacket, boots and panniers which reminds me of the quote: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Thanks to my trusty clothing, my adventure riding was fun and I got the chance to feel that mountain spirit once again.
We all have the mountain spirit in us somewhere. It is only a matter of reminding yourself. Long ago, this mountain spirit was the way of all. And once again, it will be the mountain spirit that prevails. It will be this spirit that mobilizes communities to prepare for the transition of peak oil and to ride their bikes in the rain! You have this spirit in you and when you join me on a rainy morning ride, you will realize that you had it all along.
What an inspiration! Making safe and comfortable riding spaces is the key to growing rider participation!
Anniversaries often provide a good opportunity for reflection. Over a year ago and with the help of Susann Carlo, the bicycle brainstorming began. We recognized that there was a real need to develop a bicycle community here in Ukiah. Ukiah is small and relatively flat which makes it an ideal town for bicycle commuting. Susann had witnessed the development of bicycle infrastructure in New York City and the increased ridership that followed. And I had experienced the wonderful bicycle community of Arcata, Ca where going by bicycle was simply ‘the way’. We could do this here in little Ukiah right?
We found a newly formed Facebook group called Walk & Bike Mendocino which was created by Dan Gjerde of Fort Bragg, Ca. Would that name work for us too? While bicycles were our focus, we certainly wanted to see improvements in the walking infrastructures too. So, using the Walk & Bike Mendocino group name, we created the Ukiah First Friday Community Bike Ride and held our first ride on March 5, 2010.
After Eric pulled his sign around town and we posted a few fliers we had about 15 riders show up. Wow! 15! Not bad for our first event! First Friday ridership varied each month depending on the weather but rain or shine there was always someone there to represent the spirit of Ukiah’s building bicycle community.
And now, Walk & Bike Mendocino is moving full force ahead with the Mendo 2 Mile Challenge which will officially launch in May 2011. So join us for a First Friday Ukiah Bike Ride, see how amazing it feels to ride a bicycle again and launch yourself into this incredible community.
Tom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a “suit” – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative – You betcha! He is also a board member of BikeWalk Virginia, a pro cycling and pedestrian group in Virginia that raises raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles. Tom’s lawyerly blogging can be found at http://vabizlawyers.com/author/tbowden/
I’m a registered Republican and I consider myself pretty conservative—so what the heck am I doing, you may wonder, writing a column on a bike advocacy blog? I’m a bike commuter, and I chair the Advocacy Committee of BikeWalk Virginia. What I am going to share is essentially the same approach I will use to try to make sure the Old Dominion does right by its cyclists and pedestrians, and gives us our fair share of the transportation outlays that always seem so car-centric. Our General Assembly is about to go into session, and I will be doing what I can to advance a pro-cycling agenda.
So, speaking as a right wing cyclist, here are some thoughts on how to talk to Republicans, Conservatives, TeaParty types, and even libertarians.
Don’t assume they’re all hostile to our cause.
What makes you think cycling isn’t conservative? Of course it is! It conserves energy, it’s individualistic, and it’s anything but new-fangled. So they should be receptive. So don’t let campaign posturing turn you away—all elected representatives have cyclists in their districts, and all of them would probably like to claim they brought dollars to their district or state. Remember, “pork barrel” projects and “earmarks” are words to describe the money that goes to the other guy’s district instead of yours. When the dollars flow to your own district, it’s “I’m just doing my part to see that the good taxpayers of Cahoolawassee get their fair share of federal tax dollars!” (Translation: get back more than the taxes they paid). “This bike trail/bike lane/bike factory/whatever, will bring hundreds of jobs to our fine state/city/county!” You’d be amazed how fast a politician from either side of the aisle can smell a parade and immediately get out in front of it, and just how flexible their logic can be.
Key points to keep in mind, and use as needed:
Cycling is an exercise (literally) of a fundamental freedom – freedom of movement. Although not explicitly defined in the Constitution, it is derived from the “privileges and immunities clause” as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920). (You were warned: I am in fact a lawyer). This is why you don’t need a passport to enter New Jersey.
Cycling is efficient. True Conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight.
Cycling has a glorious history of entrepreneurism! Think: Wright Brothers, Schwinn, and Trek. Lots of senators and representatives probably had paper routes. America invented the mountain bike, BMX and freestyle. Thomas Edison may have been the first freestyler!
Here is what turns off conservatives:
Over the top rhetoric. Don’t marginalize your arguments with statements, like: Everyone should ride a bike, give up their car, live green, etc.
Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what they should do. And when you stop and think about it, you probably don’t either—that’s why you ride a bike, right? (To be fair, conservatives have done their fair share of telling other people how to live their lives, but pointing that out will not win you their support.)
Calling drivers “cagers.” Remember: their moms probably drive cars.
Ranting that oil companies are evil. Maybe so, or maybe they’re just incompetent. But what the heck does that have to do with it?
Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American “car culture.”
Global warming, Climate Change or Climate Disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like Global… whatever the heck they call it this week.
Refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens – at least not consciously.
Here are some positive things you can do and say:
If you must meet a conservative face-to-face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage – you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth. Note: Some business suits actually contain trace amounts of Lycra and Spandex.
Remind them that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the MORE room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour. The less concrete, the more money for deficit reduction, tax cuts—or for bike projects in their home districts.
Use numbers. Here are some I find persuasive:
A study in one community showed that properties located near bike paths increased in value by 11% more than similar properties not near such facilities.
The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimates that the bicycling industry supports 1.1 million jobs and generates $17.7 billion in tax revenue each year.
A 3% reduction in traffic can result in a 30% reduction in traffic congestion.
Cycling reduces heart disease and other costly health problems – blunting the need for expensive health care – regardless of who pays for it.
The total maximum annual cost of bike commuter credit: less than $75 million even if every existing bicycle commuter got it – Total subsidies to drivers and transit users: $4.4 billion
Cycling generates $133 billion annually in economic activity
$76 billion a year on health care costs related to physical inactivity – Bike/Ped infrastructure can reduce this
$164 billion a year on health care costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths – caused by cars
$64 billion a year on health care costs of asthma and air pollution
Cycling is patriotic. Americans have won twice as many “Tour-day-Frances” in the last 30 years as the French themselves. The score is 10 to 5–and that’s not even counting Floyd Landis, or subtracting the late Laurent Fignon (who confessed to doping shortly before he died; take him out and it’s 10-3).
Cycling can make a serious dent in our dependence on foreign oil. A huge portion of all petroleum fuels go to automobile transportation, of which only 15% is related to getting to work, while 90% of all trips are less than two miles. Enabling even 10% of even those short trips to be on a bike or on foot can make a real reduction in demand for oil imports.
Make it clear that your are not suggesting that everyone can or will ditch their cars and ride bikes, but just that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.
If you are bold enough, and can pull it off, you can say catchy things like:
“You can take away my bike when you pry my cold dead hands off of my handlebars.”
“Go ahead, make my day – let me ride my bike.”
So. Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): Cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank–it pays big dividends at low risk. It’s as all American as Mom’s apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?
Why do I think my story is important? Because as a prospective Mendo 2 Mile Challenger you might be thinking, “but I can’t do my grocery shopping or take this load of stuff to Goodwill or take my kids to school.” I ask you to challenge those thoughts and learn about the power of bicycles. Am I implying that you can only succeed at the 2 Mile Challenge if you have a cargo bike? Do you need fancy gear and special bags? No! You can be successful with a card board box strapped to you bike or bags bungeed to the side. You can make any little thing work and besides, it looks cooler and it’s cheaper. Mostly, I just want to show you how much you can do with a bicycle!
For me and my sweetie Eric, 2010 felt like the Year Of The Bicycle. We’d taken the ’2 Mile Challenge’ years earlier when we lived in Arcata, transforming from car dependent travelers to the glory of foot and pedal travel. And with this personal challenge, we replaced the habit of driving with the habit of walking and bicycling. At first, it seemed daunting to change the driving addiction but the thought of driving soon left the mind. Now when I have a destination to get to, it doesn’t even occur to me that I could drive (even when there’s ‘inclement’ weather)! So for us, since we’d already made the transformation to full time bicyclists, we decided to challenge ourselves anew and see what more we could do with bicycles. We already owned a ‘BOB’ trailer but there had to be more hauling potential out there right?
Eric sold his truck which enabled us to purchase a new cargo bicycle (Yuba Mundo) and a large bicycle trailer (Bikes At Work trailer 5 ft. long by 2 ft. wide). The following are photographs showing how we used the hauling capacity of bicycles during 2010 and took another step away from fossil fuel use.
After looking at the photos, you’ll realize that going by bicycle doesn’t mean you have to go without. You can take anything and anyone with you!
I have an alarm that goes off every morning at 6:30 AM. I don’t set it and I don’t need it, but it goes off Monday through Friday like clockwork (which it’s not). It’s the guttural roar of my dependable neighbor’s truck. Since I’m old, I remember when cars and trucks didn’t make so much noise; before the advent of the “high performance” muffler. But again, I date myself – they’ve been appropriately renamed “pipes”. That’s truth in advertising, ‘cause they sure don’t muffle.
Bikes make noise, but not much. There’s the sound of the wheel on pavement, the chain on cog, the clatter of the freewheel, and for most of our bikes, the various pings, scratches and rattles of deferred maintenance. Most important, however, is the sound of the joyful bike bell. Is there a cheerier noise on this planet?
Cars are getting louder and louder and the quietest car, the Prius, will soon be fitted with a noise maker because it’s just too darn quiet! “It’s dangerous! You can’t here it coming!” Might I suggest that making the other cars quieter would bring the noise of the Prius into an audibly detectable range? Nah! If we make cars loud enough, the blind can drive too. Driving by sound is much safer than driving by brail – isn’t that what those little dots on the road are for?
Occasionally, I see someone riding their bike with headphones on. I’ve tried it, but found it rather disturbing. I’ve talked to riders who feel like it’s unsafe because they can’t hear what’s coming. That’s probably true – at least to some extent – but I don’t think it’s what bugs me. I think what bugs me is the way it disassociates me from the sounds around me. Wearing headphones makes riding a bike a more car-like experience. It insulates you from your surroundings. Not a good thing.
When I was a kid we would attach a card to our bike frames so it clattered in the spokes. Nothing stopping us from doing that now. We could even outfit the card with amplifying pipes (“loud pipes save lives!”).
If our bikes made a lot of noise, we could plug our ears with headphones, and we wouldn’t have to listen to the noise we inflict on everyone else. Just like car drivers! Cool. Very adult.
If that’s being adult, then I’m going with the child-like option. I not only want to be able to hear the uplifting cheeriness of my bike bell I want to share it. When I first started riding in town, I would ring my bell whenever I rode past a bike rider’s house, but I quit because I thought noone noticed. Then, the other day a friend said, “you never ring your bell when you go by anymore”. Oh, joyful noise! Let’s make a pact. We’ll all ring our bells when we pass the homes of people we know ride and we’ll fill our community with the sound of quiet transportation. Click here to start now.
on biking and beekeeping
JANUARY 6, 2011
When it comes to winter cycling, I’m no trailblazer in my family. My grandfather, who’s 84 years old, cycles year-round come rain or snow. He lives in Romania (where I was born and lived when I was younger) and he has owned the same bike for as far back as I can remember.
Although he owns a car, he uses his bike for everyday errands like grocery shopping, going to the outdoor farmer’s market, paying bills in town, and riding over to visit friends. He drives when needing to go to other cities but prefers to bike when simply going around town. He prefers it to walking because it’s faster and – although he might not admit this – he prefers it to driving because it allows him to hop off and say hi to people every other block. My grandpa is what one would call a ‘social butterfly’ and you can’t walk or ride anywhere with him without stopping every few minutes to greet an acquaintance or talk to a friend.
In his former life, my grandfather was an accountant. Once he retired, he simply couldn’t sit still so he took up beekeeping. He’s been a successful beekeeper for the past twenty-some years and I can only vouch for it: he produces some of the best honey in town. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve being chased by bees and chewing on honey-soaked beeswax.
My grandfather has been married to my grandmother for over sixty years. He has a joie de vivre that I can only hope to have when I am their age. His has an energy that comes from having spent a life outdoors, pursuing the things that make him happy, and never letting life idly pass him by. He’s not deterred by numbers (his age, the temperature outside, the number of minutes it takes to bike rather than drive) when it comes to living in a way that feels good.