Bicycle: A literal and figurative vehicle for change.

Since April of 2010, I have been riding my bicycle almost everywhere I go. Occasionally I have borrowed the car, or hopped on the bus instead, simply because it was that cold, wet, or snowy, but I have largely been going to school via bicycle, even in the dead of winter.

Part of the decision process was that I wanted my wife to have transportation while I was in school during the day. I began biking to school for summer block last year, in what was usually an 8 or 9-mile round trip. I often wouldn’t come straight home, but instead would visit one of the local bicycle shops, Racer’s Cycle Service. There I met Racer (that’s actually his legal name, as I understand). Racer organized a group ride on Tuesday nights, going up to Squaw Peak Landing, along a road that varies between a 9 and 14% grade. This is very steep, and none of the riders waited for anyone– it was a bit of a race. I was dead last, every time. My poor legs didn’t have the stamina to keep up the sort of monumental effort it took to move upward so quickly (these guys were fast). The trail has an elevation gain of roughly 1600 feet, over about 4.2 miles, not including the ride to the trail, which is a very gradual slope that is almost imperceptible, at least most of the way.

It took me 40 minutes the first time I went up that trail, and it took me 35-36 minutes on my best time– but it was great cross training for the Logan Marathon that I did in the fall. Coming back down that road, we would fly, traveling at speeds I’ve never reached on my bicycle anywhere else– probably close to 50 mph (roughly 80 kph). Racer and the others always beat me by at least 4 minutes. I think that Racer was impressed that I stuck with it– week after week, dead last, with the hill practically wiping me out by the time I got to the top. Here I was riding a commuter/cyclocross/touring bike, while everyone else had some high-end, sleek bike that was at least partially carbon fiber.

Toward the end of Summer, in late July, I was hit by a car. I also had an accident coming down Squaw Peak road. Both of these made me rethink cycling. I decided that despite an auto collision that could have been much worse, and a solo accident that left me with internal bleeding which formed a hard lump in my side that stuck around for about 10 weeks, that I wanted to keep biking. The solo accident that bruised my side really badly was only 6 or 8 weeks before the Logan Marathon, and I wondered if I could keep training. But I was out the next evening, running a fiver with Ben. He thought the bruise was ghastly, but I felt much better after having run– especially the following day.

Later that year, after the evening group rides were over, it got cold, and icy, and snow, and wet. I decided in the fall that I wanted to ride through the winter, and I began looking for ways to prepare my bike for the arduous activity. I needed knobby tires for my commuter– which, although a little unusual, has become far more common with the advent of Cyclocross. Racer actually just gave me an old, halfway worn out tire that he wasn’t going to use, nor likely sell, which I put on the front wheel, for better steering traction. I put my fenders on, and cleaned the bike thoroughly  (I didn’t anticipate being able to clean it until the end of winter– too busy with school/ cold outside). My first ride in the snow was intense; I went 12 miles or so, down to Provo, and back up to Orem– most of the time I had clear roads, or would avoid riding in snow on days that it was really wet.

Riding in the cold was awful. I intend that next winter I have little windshields for my hands– even gloves couldn’t keep the wind chill out. Most of the time, my 180 ear muffs and my leather jacket would do the trick– on the coldest days I had to wear a hoodie under the leather jacket. Let me tell you, leather jackets are the best for keeping out wind chill.

After Christmas break, I was working in the writing lab, and a student came in. His name was Zac, and he was studying blue collar and white collar work, Marxism, and politics in general. We looked over his proposal for a conference paper, and I found myself very interested in his views. I ran into him later in the hall, and started talking to him– I found out that he was way into bicycles and interested in education, too. Education is a big deal to me, and we talked just about anytime I ran into him for a couple of months. We’ve become good buddies at this point, and I’ve joined the Provo Bicycle Committee, which Zac organized for the purpose of promoting tolerance and awareness of cyclists of all-kinds, as well as a love of bike culture. I love the bike committee, and I really like talking to Zac and learning about what’s going on in bicycle circles, both here in Provo, and elsewhere.

Fun times. Let’s talk about the changes that happened

Change 1: Even here in Utah, I went through the winter without using the car much. Between the bus system and my bike, I got everywhere I needed to go. I now believe that year-round cycling is possible in more places than I would have before. I decided that wherever I live, I want to be within 35 minutes of work via bike.

Change 2: I spent more time exercising this winter. I run three times a week, and usually after thanksgiving and before Valentine’s Day, I have a hard time keeping it up– especially because none of my running buddies (I’ve tried running with 4 different people) want to in the winter either– so I’m less motivated. This drop-off makes it harder to get going in the spring. This spring I took even longer to start up again, because I was so busy with school and work, but that’s beside the point.

Change 3: In the winter, it’s dark a lot– I had to get lights for riding at night in Autumn, and riding in the dark with lights is an interesting experience– it makes me think about traffic and cycling in new ways, although I haven’t thought all that through. I did read an article about a guy without lights who was hit and killed in the winter, which made me even more wary.

Change 4: After my auto-collision (low-speed, probably him at 4-6 miles an hour and me at 10 or 12), I decided that it was important that I learn carefully the traffic laws, and figure out how to be safer. I think the accident was a 50/50 fault, and the guy was pretty accommodating (he volunteered to help pay for a new rim, so long as I didn’t sue him– which I really didn’t want to do anyway). I became interested in bike safety and bike culture.

Change 5: I became converted, to a full-time cyclist, after meeting Zac and learning what it was he was doing for the community, as well as what communities in various places do for bicycles and how they benefit from bicycles (Amsterdam, Portland, Boulder Colorado). As Zac says, the bicycle is a literal and figurative vehicle for change– and I’m sure he stole that from someone else, but I now know that it’s true.

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