If you’re going to say something about yourself and your bicycle, it’s polite to let the bicycle go first. That’s what you do for your friends, right?
Therefore: My bicycle and I have been in the news a bit lately.
First, I have to create an infinite loop of self-reference by telling you that a post that first appeared on this blog has been picked up by NPR’s Bill Chappell for his blog. He asked me a few questions, then amplified the story, which you can find here. That brought a bit of traffic my way. Here’s a bit of Cleveland bicycle traffic, courtesy of Shawn Mariani.
Second, the Civic Commons radio show and podcast invited me on a show about bicycles in the city. They had B&K Bicycles owner Neil Kauffman, Akron transportation planner Curtis Baker, Bike advocate Diane Leese (whose spectacular Outspoken Cyclist radio show can be heard on WJCU), and Earth Day Coalition Transportation Program Manager John McGovern on to talk about issues, and they had me on to tell them what it’s like to ride a bicycle in Cleveland. You can find all that here.
To save time in my little monologue, I didn’t note that on most mornings, the first thing I do after breakfast is take my daughter to school—and I do that in a car. Neither did I note that most people who ride their bikes a lot also own cars–a fact that often gets lost in the confrontational dialog between motorists and people who ride bikes.
But here’s what did get on the air–which you can hear in context with all the rest of the people who contributed to the show.
I roll out onto Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, and the noise of the city is my soundtrack. Over my left shoulder I hear the cars coming up behind me. I flick in and out of sunlight in the shadows of buildings. I pass cars and busses. Cars and busses pass me.
There’s movement all around, and I am part of it, balanced on two wheels. This is why I ride my bike to work: It’s about speed and balance, the physical experience of physical laws. A bicycle is a gyroscope that takes you places.
There’s no separate bike lane on Detroit but the traffic is calm. If you ride a bike a lot, you get to know the different moods of traffic like Eskimos get to know different types of snow. Cars in a hurry take I-90, or Clifton. Detroit’s neighborhood traffic is less hurried, less stressful. Which makes it perfect for bikes.
I ride down the street with the cars. We mingle in a friendly way. I take the lane when it makes sense and give it up when I don’t need it. Mostly I yield to cars at cross streets, but when they give me right of way, I look the driver in the eye and wave a thank you. I wave to fellow cyclists, too, many of which I see routinely: Erika the barista, Shannon the nanny, Darren the architect. When I get Downtown, I don’t have any trouble parking, and I never get parking tickets.
I don’t think about the gas I don’t burn, or the cost of foreign oil, at least not in association with my bike. To me, biking to work is about the joy of movement, and about being in control. It’s a truly conservative form of transportation in that cyclists are self reliant. No bus schedules. No loan payments. I get out what I put in. If I want to get there a little faster, I just push a little harder.
Public conversation about cycling is typically about confrontation—cars against bikes, either in tragic accidents or pressing for more space on the roads. That’s what makes good news stories. Confrontations like that certainly happen. They happen just between people in cars, too.
But what I tell people about riding my bike to work is that day after day, month after month, nothing happens except that I get where I’m going and have a good time on the way.