I’ve been a bike commuter on and off for twenty years. But it wasn’t until I began posting about it on Facebook recently that I began to realize that maybe biking is more for me than just transportation to and from work. I know that bike commuting impacts my daily life (I’m definitely grumpier when I have to drive), but is it possible that the simple act of riding a bike has also influenced me in other ways?
I started bike commuting back when I was in graduate school in the Boston area, motivated partly by the fact that I had no money and partly because driving, parking and everything associated with cars is a PAIN in that city. I biked to law school a lot, but I took a break during the long years of managing babies and daycare pick-up for young children. Although I don’t consider myself a serious cyclist, I have returned to steady bike commuting now that my children are older.
I have to admit that, living in Minneapolis – America’s most bike-friendly city, I have it easy as a bike commuter. It is only a 4 mile commute to my office downtown, with most of the ride in a dedicated bike lane (thanks to the 2008 economic stimulus package for cities). We even have a shower in our office building. While I don’t ride in the ice and snow of the Minnesota winters, I do bike commute almost every day from late March until early December.
Everybody knows that there are obvious benefits to bike commuting. Riding your bike to work increases your physical activity, thus helping you drop pounds, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improves your mental health, etc etc. There is an environmental benefit as well in terms of reduced emissions. While I can’t do anything about my carbon footprint when I travel internationally, I can do this one small thing when I am at home. And, of course, there are economic benefits:
October 10, 2012: The financials are in! By bike commuting for 5 months, I saved more than $700 in gas and parking. (There’s probably a way to calculate the calories burned, too but that’s too complicated for me.)
Upon reviewing and reflecting upon my Facebook posts, however, I think I can identify some other benefits of bike commuting that are a little more intangible.
I have learned to be a little more organized. Bike commuting require some planning. I have a stash of work clothes in my office and a collection of shoes under my desk. Shopping when you have to transport things in your bike panniers really forces you to plan ahead. Many a time, I have felt like a Parisian, peddling home with a baguette in my bike pannier. Other times I have kind of pushed the limits…
July 17, 2012: I’m getting to be an expert bike commuter. Tonight I rode home with two bottles of wine and a litterbox in my pannier.
I definitely notice a lot more about the world around me. I think it may be the combination of the need to watch out for cars and the time to reflect, but I have become a bike seat philosopher.
April 29, 2013: I saw some interesting things on the bike ride home from work tonight: old guy strolling cheerfully down the street in his boxers and fedora; lady going for a walk with her cat in a Baby Bjorn; guy singing at the top of his lungs while driving a black Cadillac convertible, MN license ISLAM4U; guy tossing hot sopapillas out of his apartment window to delighted passers-by on the sidewalk below; lady biking with her little-dog-Toto (whatever breed that is) in a Camelbak; and a lady in a motorized wheelchair racing a lady pushing a baby in a pram, both laughing hysterically.
I guess spring brings out the crazy in all of us!
October 15, 2013: I’ve noticed that people in convertibles smile a lot more than people driving regular cars.
I feel more connected to my community. You interact with people much more when you are on a bike than when you are in a car.
October 2, 2013: On this gorgeous fall morning, the cop directing traffic near the Convention Center called out to me as I passed him, “Have a good ride, miss!”
October 3, 2013: I am chronically late, always rushing to get to the place I was supposed to be 5 minutes ago. So I had to laugh at the guy who called out to me as I passed him on his bike, “Slow down there, girlie! You’re gonna get yourself a speeding ticket!”
There are certain characters along my bike route that have become familiar to me. People that I once would have zipped by without noticing are now friendly faces. There’s a tall homeless guy who wears a gray polarfleece jacket regardless of the weather. I pass him walking near the Convention Center most mornings and he shouts a hello. I can tell by his accent that he is from West Africa. There’s a kid who goes to Whittier Elementary who I have ridden with several times for half a mile or so on his way to school. He’s saving up to buy a day-pass to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America. There is an elderly Somali gentlemen who raises a hand to salute me every afternoon near the Horn Towers. And then there is Gandalf in Boxer Shorts, a grizzled old guy with a long flowing beard who generally strolls down Blaisdell Avenue wearing nothing but boxer shorts and dress shoes.
May 23, 2013: I spotted Gandalf in Boxer Shorts again on the bike commute home. Then, one block later, a new character – Smeagol, Tan and Extremely Cheerful!
Is it possible that bike commuting has made me into a more compassionate human being?
October 1, 2013: This morning, I stopped and helped a kid who took a wrong turn and got lost while biking to school. So I was in Good Samaritan mode, see. On the ride home, I stopped to help an old man lying face down on the sidewalk. Imagine my surprise when it turned out he was just taking a little rest between sets of push-ups.
Nope, I guess not.
October 11, 2013: If I were a”Spiritual Healer” (which admittedly, I am not), I do not think I would choose to solicit customers by standing in front of the White Castle on Lake Street and darting out to the the bike lane when the light is red. Also, I would be a little less judgmental when the bikers refuse to take my “Spiritual Healer” card. And I would definitely not say to them, “Ohhh-kaaaay. Your loss!”
Of course, bike commuting is not all smiles and sunshine.
October 3, 2013: On this misty morning, the whole city smells like wet dog.
October 7, 2013: This morning, I rode over a banana peel in the road and almost fell off my bike. Much funnier in the cartoons than in real life.
October 8, 2013: Strong winds on the ride home tonight. Once or twice, I was standing up and peddling as hard as I could but literally going nowhere. I felt like I was in the cyclone scene from the Wizard of Oz. (Cue the Wicked Witch of the West theme song!)
October 10, 2013: I was biking home from a lovely event on a perfect fall evening under a canopy of majestic elms, gloriously ablaze with color … when a bird pooped on my shoulder.