Why I ride a bike

Self-righteousness. Don’t you just love it. There are many many ways to cultivate it. The rules are simple. You find something that you enjoy. Simultaneously you discover/convince yourself that it is also good for you. Therefore it is good for everyone. You proceed to parade your newly found endeavour while lecturing everyone in the vicinity on why they should be doing the same.

We all know these people. We ARE these people from time to time. It’s a thin line between advice sought and unsolicited, between a genuine enthusiast and being a self-righteous wanker.

Those of us who are proponents of urban biking need to be aware of it as well. A surprising amount of snobbery can be attached to a simple act of pushing the pedals. “Look at me: I am hip and cool, I am fit and active, I care about the planet and my carbon footprint… Unlike you…”

So instead of telling you why YOU should start riding a bike I am going to tell you why I do it. Some of the reasons may resonate with you, some won’t. You may even come up with a few reasons of your own.

  1. FREEDOM

Nothing comes close to that feeling of jumping on the bike, revving up the pedals, finding that sweet spot when you get to your cruising speed where the effort is minimal, the bike flows along, the air moves past you and you take that first deep breath. It normally takes me 30 seconds to get to that feeling of momentary giddiness. There is something about biking that goes against the A to B mentality that driving a car instils in you. For some unknown reason this humble 2-wheel object comes with an inbuilt sense of adventure. On your way to work? I may try a different route today. Riding past a new piece of street art (common occurrence in post-earthquake Christchurch)? I stop and take a quick picture. A delicious smell of coffee on your Saturday cruise? Oooh, let’s pull over to try this new café. What is that music coming from the square? Quick turn to see what’s happening. The river bank bathing in sunlight? Stop, put your bike down, sit on the grass, chill.

Where does this spontaneity come from? Is it just a character trait (or flaw, depending which way you look at it)? I don’t think so. When I drive a car I certainly don’t get the urge to deviate from my designated route to smell the roses. There is something very utilitarian and grown up about driving a motor vehicle. Not to mention that a spontaneous side trip may involve parking considerations, U-turns, dealing with one-way streets. No wonder when I ride a bike I feel a bit like this:

wonderwoman on a bike

  1. ROAD RAGE, or lack thereof

When you ride a bike it always goes at the right speed.* The corollary of that is that a car never goes fast enough. You know how it is. You drive at the speed limit then you get stuck behind a learner driver. Or an old lady takes FOREVER (3 seconds) to get around the corner. The traffic lights have conspired against you to make you late to the supermarket (!). Helloooo! The light has been green for like 2 seconds! Are you colour-blind??? And there was that person on a bicycle that made you slow down while they were in YOUR LANE passing the roadworks. Your blood boils. You squeeze the steering wheel and accelerate demonstratively like you are on set of “The Fast and the Furious” at the first opportunity. I am sorry to admit that I turn into that unpleasant person when I drive too.

Amazingly, I find biking free of any hint of road rage. I even slow down deliberately when it’s a particularly nice day and I am not running late.

*Does not apply to road cycling. The right speed for road cycling is the speed you keep to maintain a designated training heart rate + 5km/h which allows you to overtake non-serious bike users while holding your breath until you are way in front when you can start panting again. 

A neat study conducted in Portland, Oregon, shows that bike commuters rate highest in the overall markers of wellbeing. Interestingly, traffic congestion had no effect on the overall wellbeing of bike commuters however was negatively correlated with the wellbeing of drivers and bus commuters.

Personally, I would suggest that while riding a bike in heavy traffic makes me more alert and vigilant about own safety, it is more than outweighed by the involuntary smugness one experiences when passing rows of miserable-looking drivers stuck in their metal contraptions at peak hour.

 

Let's just say you do not want me behind the wheel of a car.
Let’s just say you do not want me behind the wheel of a car.
  1. RELIABILITY

Having lived in Sydney for many years, I have learned to apply the rule of the Black Swan to driving into the city: one unexpected event (The Black Swan) like a truck accident on a highway in a different part of town is bound to send ripples of downstream consequences which will always affect my driving time negatively. When you live in a big city and drive a car you almost never get somewhere faster than you expected. Christchurch residents tend to be on the whinging side when it comes to traffic congestion: it seems that increasing your daily commute by 20 minutes due to roadblocks is practically an outrage. As an ex-Sydneysider used to being caught on M5 for a couple of hours on the way home or have a random Harbour bridge shutdown throwing the whole system into chaos, I frequently have the suggestion to swallow a concrete pill just on the tip of my tongue to the indignant Cantabrians. However, there is one other solution apart from moving to Invercargill: ride a bike.

Biking is way more reliable than driving. Depending on your destination, it may take you shorter or longer than an average car journey. But the time variation between your bike trips will be minimal. You are now impervious to various Black Swans which affect motorised transport. The only unexpected event you might encounter is a puncture but even that is very rare.

I get a kick out of being able to get to my destination without relying on anyone or anything. Sure, I am still in need of a bicycle but most of the effort comes from me and my legs.  Surprisingly, I see quite a few Gen Y/Millennials who are quite happy to be chauffeured by their Mum way past the age that I would consider acceptable. Is it because they cannot be parted from their smartphones? Or is it a general inertia and lack of some independence streak?

Interestingly, in Christchurch I see quite a few middle-aged and elderly women on bikes. They look happy. And why shouldn’t they? The bike, after all, was an essential part of women’s emancipation movement contributing to change of dress (goodbye enormous meringue skirts!), independence of movement, and opening of physical pursuits that were considered unfeminine prior to that time.

 

Read this book!
Read this book!

Apparently, one of the concerns of the conservative crowd was that sitting astride on a bicycle saddle will make females a little, ahem, too “happy”. Hence, wannabe cycling women in the late 19th-early 20th century were warned they will get multiple ills, from infertility to constipation.

 

These ladies look way too happy...
These ladies look way too happy…

So here you go. These are my top 3 reasons why I ride to work, shops, cafes, park, friend’s place, and supermarket. And guess what? If you see me riding past your car in the pouring rain, huddled up in my raincoat, gloves and with my drybag – don’t feel bad for me. I am still probably having more fun than you are!

Other reasons why I ride:

  • I hate looking for parking
  • I save money on petrol
  • It satisfies my inner greenie
  • Incidental movement after a whole day sitting at work
  • I come up with my best ideas while on the bike
  • My boyfriend thinks it’s hot

 

Photo credits:

http://bikeholic.tumblr.com/post/100946682280/youve-got-to-love-those-vintage-photos-of-the-men
https://www.flickr.com/photos/bicycleposters/5523613090/

Title image:

http://www.vintag.es/2014/11/22-interesting-1950s-classic-photos-of.html

This is not a sponsored post.

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