Biking always terrified me. The fear was born at the beginning – I didn’t learn how to bike until I was seven years old, which to me was always horrifically embarrassing. I got my first nice bike when I was around ten from LL Bean, I loved it (dude, it was pink) but I didn’t really have anywhere to ride it. I lived out in the country surrounded by a combination of dirt roads perfect for my brothers’ BMX bikes and paved roads full of crazy traffic that I wasn’t allowed on. So I rarely rode. I quickly grew out of that bike and I never got a new one.
My first week in college I realized that Dickinson had a bike rental program. Awesome! Especially since I didn’t have a car. My new roommate and I decided to take a ride to Walmart with a new friend to get some decorations for our room. I forgot that it had been nearly a decade since I’d pedaled anything. The second I swung on to the crappy rental I realized how awkward I felt. I completely wiped out on the way there. That’s probably on the list of my life’s most embarrassing moments.
It took me a over a year to swallow my pride and start riding again. My roommate left her mountain bike with me when she went abroad and I spent a summer using it for morning rides, up to an impressive (to me at the time) 12 miles! I fell in love with biking. The cool mornings on the bike, watching the sun rise over the Pennsylvania hills, are some of my best memories from a somewhat lonely summer. Though I hated riding in town, stop lights and traffic scared me. Carlisle wasn’t exactly bike friendly.
But I had to give the bike back and I couldn’t afford a nice new one. Over the years I cycled through a series of really awful free road bikes that ruined my short-lived love of biking. Broken brakes, crappy gears, and frames that didn’t fit me caused frustration. I biked a few blocks from class to class but I turned to running for exercise.
My frustration with biking and hatred towards my bikes made me the worst bike commuter ever. At a time when I was learning the most about sustainability I was the worst at saving gasoline. When I finally got my car to college I used it for everything, too afraid my bike would break, overestimating the difficulty of biking to do my errands. I constantly felt like a hypocrite, but I was stuck in a negative cycle: I told myself the bike couldn’t do it, I told myself I couldn’t do it, and therefore I never did. It took moving to Durango for me to overcome that negativity.
We moved to Durango with one car and no bikes. In our first days in town we knew we had to get bikes or we’d never be able to get to work. Luckily, our sublet was only two miles from town where our new jobs were. By the amazing grace of the universe and Alan and Glenda I inherited Glenda’s old Miyata from the 80s. It’s the nicest bike I’ve ever owned – I absolutely love it. With this bike I’ve rediscovered the love of cycling I fostered that summer in college. Last week I went on a breathtaking 30 mile ride through the valley.
But commuting is still really hard for me. I’ve been biking each day to work at a restaurant in town, but we just signed a lease on an apartment further away. Additionally, I got a second job that’s six miles in the other direction and I’ve been driving to it when I know I could be biking. I make a lot of excuses for myself, mainly ones that involve my being tired. This weekend I got my car back (because I have amazing parents) and those excuses are going to be a lot more convenient to make…
Yet, I’m in the best shape of my life, I certainly could handle 18 miles of commuting each day (when I work both jobs) if I really wanted to. But it sounds like too much. Maybe it is too much. But I won’t know if I don’t try, and usually I surprise myself with what I’m physically capable of. Plus, it’s essentially free exercise, right?
Making lifestyle changes can be really difficult. This is my most difficult sustainability challenge right now. What’s yours? Do you bike to work?
PS. Rob Greenfield makes a lot of good points on why biking is better than driving in this article. Everything he says makes a lot of sense and a lot of it is hitting home this week as I’m paying out my ass for car repairs, registration, and insurance, even with my dad’s help. Cars are expensive. It would be really, really nice to not need one. Maybe someday I’ll earn that luxury.