Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved riding a bike. That helped since my parents weren’t the kind to shuttle me around. “You can walk” was the common response whenever I requested Mom’s Taxi Service.
In my childhood existence outside the ‘burbs of Washington, DC., I could walk most places, or ride, including as far as the high school, or over to the mall.
When I went away to college, in Richmond, Va., it was too much of a hassle for me (and most of my fellow students) to deal with the complex array of parking permit regulations or street cleaning days or even remembering where your parked your car in whatever rare spot you could find. In my case I was simply too much of a starving student to add gas, insurance, fees and maintenance to my list of other expenses.
So I rode my bike everywhere.
Happiness of a cold nose
I remember after I “grew up” and had kids it seemed the only way to get around was in my car. I walked some, but mostly I was loading toddlers into car seats and running errands. Even though I didn’t mention it much, I found that I missed not only the joy of the bike ride, but, if you can believe it, I also missed the honesty of the elements and what they did for my perception, and maybe even my character.
Back in college, when I had to ride my bike two miles in rainy forty degree weather to get to the local natural foods store, it was a slog for sure. But boy did that hot soup taste better afterward for all the effort.
Most of my adult life I’ve lived in cities or small town cities, making walking, bike riding, or public transportation for tasks doable. With a few years exception, it’s been this way for me. But the issue wasn’t access. It was will.
I didn’t ride my bike anymore, nor did I always walk, even when things were in easy enough of a distance to do so. There’s always some excuse. Not enough time. What if there are creeps about? It will mess up the way I look. To say nothing of the entire cultural paradigm in the US being one where car use and car style equal freedom, speed and status. Suffice it to say that there was always an out.
Yet I really missed the feel of a nice bike ride. And I truly missed the sense of simple purpose, accomplishing a task with my own body power. It made me more fit, and gave me more time to think. And I was definitely aware that walking or biking used less fuel, helping me to make less of an impact on the mother ship.
Back to the land, er, the road
This past October my husband gave me a bike for my birthday. I’d been using his “boy bike” for the past couple of years for our country lane joy rides together and for the occasional errand. But his bike always felt wrong. It just wasn’t fitted to my body. So he got me a Specialized Vita Step Thru, which meant I could wear dresses when I bike. That was a big deal for me. I like to bike in style.
Then he outfitted the whole thing with front and back panniers, grocery bag style, so I could do our shopping. A wicker basket on the handlebars brings back the charm. And I can seriously load the bike with a week’s worth of groceries.
Don’t mind me, I’m just on my bike
The bigger issue for me seems to be which grocery store to go to. Where I live now, in Staunton, Va., doesn’t have a big downtown grocery. Not even a mid sized one. We’ve got great small independent grocers, but they don’t always have all that I need.
The one I like is furthest away, and unfortunately is along roads where bikes are rare if not seen as an outright nuisance. I sometimes feel I’m taking my life in my hands over there. So I try to rationalize that if I go to a closer store, to the more upscale shops where prices are higher, I’m saving money on gas. But what I really wish is that more folks would bike not only because they’re going to need to in a lower energy future, but because it’s healthier for people and the planet and there’s safety in numbers.
At the same time, changing a car culture before the gas gets so expensive that we’re forced to change isn’t easy.
All dressed up with someplace to go
But maybe some of you will embrace it. Apparently bike riding is becoming a much more widely practiced mode of transportation in the US, and not just among kids and college students. Among workers. Maybe even shoppers. Oh, we’re nothing like the sensible folks in Europe who are not only thinner, but who ride more and use a lot less energy in general. But we can start to make some changes.
To me the ticket is finding a way to make it fun. I’ve grown obsessed with the Tweed Ride phenomenon. You’ll love it, too. It started with those clever, rakish chaps in London and hopped the pond to us.
Cities, localities, people sponsor these “tweed rides” wherein you bedeck yourself in autumnal tweedy finery and bike en masse with the peeps in your hood all of whom are also dressed up in wooly suits and bias cut camel hair skirts. It’s so cool, so beautiful, so fun, so refined dahlink! And there’s nothing wrong with putting on the dog.
Check out this awesome photo gallery from wornmagazine.com of a recent Tweed Ride in DC. I love it!
You can bet my Transition group here in Staunton will be sponsoring a tweed Ride for the Shenandoah Valley this fall. I can’t wait. Yes, I already bike in heels. But I could use some friends. Like you.
You look lovely in wool!
–Lindsay Curren, Linday’s List