The New Bike

My first bicycle was yellow, with swooping handlebars and a banana seat, and coaster brakes.

I got it the Christmas I was six years old, but wouldn’t learn to ride it for another three years. In the meantime, it would lean against the shed behind the house, while I was content to stay in the house and read my books. I had no particular place I would rather be than on the couch, reading.

Now, I should also point out that I lived on 30 something acres, with a long gravel driveway and no sidewalks or pavement anywhere. Riding a bike on grass is not a fun experience. Riding a bike on gravel is painful, but not as painful as falling on gravel. I was the oldest child by five years. My closest friend lived miles away. I had nowhere to ride, no place to go, and no one to go with.

But once I did learn, I burned up the road. I would ride to the neighbors, I would ride to the corner store, ride to my friends. Ride to the church. I loved riding my bike – right up until I got my license.

I probably didn’t touch a bike again for 15 years. I got one when I lived near downtown Memphis, as it was easier to bike places than to bother with parking, and when I lived in Raleigh, I had several different bikes over the years. I like biking, but I really don’t like bike culture.

While there are exceptions, I don’t like the way people here in the US treat biking as a sport, rather than as transportation. This means that there is little infrastructure for bikers, and it pushes the prices of bikes higher and higher, and because of that, there are gatekeepers and snobbery around the whole thing.

Compared to cars, bikes are cheap, they are easy to maintain, they provide low-level physical activity – the sort doctors recommend as particularly healthy – and particularly important right now, they don’t require any gasoline. We should incentivize them, not make them harder to use or acquire or drive.

I had bought a bike just before the beginning of the pandemic, but it got stolen shortly after the pandemic began. Bikes were hot items in those days. But recently I’ve been looking again, and the used marketplace is a hot mess still, but I found a commuter style bike, new, at a local sporting goods store for what seemed like a reasonable price. I went and got it this morning.

It’s nobody’s idea of fancy. It has a wide saddle seat. Wide handlebars. It’s a 7 speed. You sit upright on it, rather than lean over the handlebars. It has both a chain guard and a kickstand. It looks like something an old man would drive, and something nobody in spandex would look twice at.

In other words, I love it.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m trying to prioritize my health these days. And we live in a part of town that is a short way from grocery stores, coffee shops, bakeries, the pool I belong to, and an independent bookstore. Most days, I drive less than 3 miles. There’s no reason I need to use a car for any of that.

Today I drove it to the pool – what took 5 minutes by car was 12 by bike, but it wasn’t harder. And I saw things I don’t see when zooming along at 45 miles an hour, and got to use muscles I don’t normally use, and used a little less gas, and made the world a little less warm than it would be otherwise.

It started to sprinkle on me as I made my way home from the pool, so I guess I will have to start paying closer attention to the weather. But that’s not a bad thing, either.

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