What’s the sweetest experience you can have as a “round town” bicyclist? I’ll entertain submissions, but right up toward the top of any list has to be “passing cars”. When I lived in a more urban setting it was pretty frequent. Rush hour commutes would almost always include a section or two where I could breeze past cars stuck in a line at stop signs or lights. Passing jammed cars may provide the pinnacle of self-righteous, cycling smuggery. “I’m cheap, I’m green, I’m healthy, I’m having fun… and I’m passing you”!
In cycling centers like Amsterdam and Copenhagen people ride bikes primarily because it’s the fastest way to get around town. All the other benefits are just gravy. Here in Nor Cal we don’t have enough traffic for driving to be noticeably inconvenient. And yet, the bike it still competitive on short trips.
Now I say “noticeably” inconvenient because of course it’s incredibly, and euphemistically, “inconvenient”. Using a hundred plus horse power and a thousand pounds of metal and hard plastics to move a single 200 pound person around is of course absurdly expensive and wasteful, not merely inconvenient. The costs to our health the environment, our pocket books blah blah etc, etc… That’s something more than inconvenient. But, as I was saying, driving in a small town like Ukiah isn’t “noticeably” inconvenient because in the moment, it seems easy. Jump in your car, drive in light traffic, quickly find a parking place (free!), and voila, “It’s convenient!”
My greatest blessing called me today. “Where are you? Weren’t we meeting at three?” Oops. I thought we were meeting at three-thirty. Quick apologies and an “I’ll be right there”.
Temptation flirted and winked, should I just jump in the car to be quick? It looks like it could rain any minute. I held strong and jumped on my bike. Imagine my joy as I pedaled down Gobbi St and espied the line of cars waiting their turn at the stop sign! I passed one, two, three… seven, ten… was that really twelve cars I just passed? And another stop sign ahead with more muzzled and hobbled motorists. I admit it, I love to see them like that, all tangled up in their largeness. I lost track of how many cars I passed. My vigorous self-righteous zeal knew no bounds as I pulled up to meet my wife.
We did our depressing banking business then agreed we should head on over to the hardware store. Unfortunately, she was all carred up. I declined her offer to put my bike on the roof rack. It would take longer then to simply ride to the store. So, ready-set-go, and we were off for the half-mile trip to the store. It was a tie. She was getting out of the car when I rode past her to the front of the store where I locked my bike and we walked in together.
In a small town like Ukiah it’s actually a little faster (usually) to drive; but not much. If you’re going all the way across town, biking might take an extra five minutes, a mile trip takes two or three minutes longer, but a half-mile trip is a wash. Most of our in-town trips are less than two miles and on a bike they’re a simple joy.
Moving into town has meant that we don’t have to replace my aging car. We can now get by with only one car. I figure it will save us over five thousand dollars a year, and that’s what I call convenient.