Friday, January 20, 2006

Cycling Sojourn

One thing the long absence of the Sparrow did for me was to get me back on my bicycle. I had been a cycling enthusiast as a teen, back when ten speeds were all the rage and gas was expensive. And I didn't ever give it up entirely, making a rule to ride on errands in town. Then I just pushed my range to the 6 miles it took to get to clients two towns over, thus discovering some of the most beautiful and quiet residential streets of Atherton, one of the priciest neighborhoods in the country. It was a mini-vacation just to ride to work.

Then a new client in the city told me there was no parking at her house, but she was near the train station, so I decided to take my Xootr scooter on the train and ride the four blocks to her townhouse. Having had a taste of being car free in the city, I wanted to try the bike there too. I had already broken the ice by leading a solar homes tour by bike for our San Francisco EV chapter fundraiser and I got a bike map out of the bargain.

For my trip into downtown during business hours I picked only the designated bike routes. What an exhilarating experience it was to be in all that downtown pedestrian and jammed up auto, tram, bus traffic. The bicycle was by far the nimblest and fastest mode of transport and there were surprising moments of quiet empty streets. I didn't feel trapped by tall buildings as I did in a car; I was liberated from seat belts, traffic jams, blind spots and I could see much more. It did feel more dangerous out of the immediate downtown, with cars being so impatient, so I read up on urban cycling survival tips and watched other city cyclists.

Few women ride the city streets. I saw just one commuter on the train, more on weekends in cycling gear. Cycling is chiefly the transport of the poor, judging from those mostly Latino men, I passed on the street. A few determined and well-outfitted guys were my peers. I discovered a whole world of them online. There are more cycling blogs than possibly any other subject after cooking and gardening. The cycling subculture was an articulate and intelligent one, full of imaginative attempts to do everything by bike including moving households. Soon, I too, was an avid cycling advocate.

Usually I would put the bike away with the shorter days, but having gone emission free all summer, I decided to break the night time barrier and just get more lights, flashers, reflective stickers and a high visibility jacket. I rode to my karate class twice a week, which gave me a warm-up before class, so why give up that edge? Riding at night turned out to be easier than I thought. Motorists did see me and give me room. After rush hour, I had the street to myself.

The last barrier was to ride in the rain. For this I had my rain suit -matching royal blue pants and a hooded jacket, contrasting with my bright red gloves. I had to laugh at the reaction of motorists when they saw me. They stopped dead in the street and waved me across even though they had no stop sign. The bigger the SUV, the more they wanted to stop. Finally I just had to cross, so they wouldn't hold up traffic. I felt like they wanted to rescue me from drowning. "Oh my god, look she's out in the rain." It wasn't even a downpour. And there's nothing like rain to heighten the experience of being outside. And that was the best part of cycling. Just being outside. And the whole body, human powered, speedy, gyroscopic rush of it all.


Blogger Davidh said...

I came over here from and found this lovely ode to cycling. In my year off from college (I'm back in Oberlin, OH now) I biked everywhere. I couldn't believe the sympathy i got every time the sky sneezed. I mean really, short of hte increased noise from water spray on main roads, I found the rain a lot more peaceful, quieter and cooler too.


6:49 PM  

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