Connecting and converting: Finding balance in a busy world

By Jeffrey Stern

We all know them, those friends that appreciate the convenience and simplicity of integrating more bike riding into their daily lives, but rarely do it.

Why?

It’s hard to put a finger on one reason why and pin it down as the end all, be all for all of our once in-shape adventure buddies turned lazy, drive everywhere around town people. Bikes are not just for kids and we all know that. The holistic health benefits from the cardiovascular system to the release of the well known happiness chemical dopamine, make it clear: cycling and exercise in general can be addicting.

C’mon, who doesn’t want to feel happy?

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I can point to many rides throughout my life that perhaps started a bit melancholy. Maybe it was a fight with a friend, a disappointment at work or just general stress from life. Getting out the door and on my bike was the last thing I felt like doing, but was the absolutely necessary thing I needed to be doing. Not only for my heart and my head, but for my general pleasantness around other people. Moods can be contagious after all.

Too often these days, our technology driven society finds solace in a screen – from large TVs, to computers, tablets and phones (the latter getting bigger every year). We’re addicted to hits of dopamine from love through a screen; likes, comments, any type of virtual high-five you can imagine. This hooks us more than how we’re spending the time engaging with the world around us and people in our lives.

I recently read a great story about mountain biking legend Mark Weir in Adventure Sports Journal where he said empathically, “I’ll be out on a good rip with some younger guys and every time we stop for a break, they’re pulling out their phones. It makes me want to pull out my phone, but I don’t want to pull out my phone. I hate my phone. It drives me crazy. I yell at them to put their damn phones away and look at each other. Talk to each other. Communicate with each other. We can’t lose this most elemental form of being a human.”

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It’s amazing to see how quickly generations can change, molded by advances in technology, in some ways for the better, but in others not so good.

The young adults of society want to wander, not beholden to a normal job or one mountain town, but the freedom to point a compass in the direction of something beautiful and just go.

For many of us, the moments in life when we feel most fulfilled are those which find us moving towards something new; albeit a challenge, location or the unknown. Right now, the unknown is the health of the bike industry.

With more and more generations turning away from bikes to their phones and other technologies that absorb our time, where will be in ten years from now?

Stagnation amongst the users with dusty (not from the trails) tires waiting to be ridden needs to be stifled in order to help change the winds. Sometimes the best way to connect with a lost passion, is to disconnect with whatever may be currently consuming us. It’s that first step that can be the hardest, but nothing beats the wind in your face heart pumping joy of a spin around town. Except maybe bringing a friend along with to enjoy the ride. Screen time can wait, just get out and ride. Even if it’s just to the grocery store, on the cruiser bike, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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Secrets of an Oakland super-commuter

Words by Morgan Fletcher

Morgan Fletcher lives in Oakland, California, in the hills above the city. He works in San Francisco’s Financial District, as a manager at a software company. The 46-year-old Philadelphia native is in the office about eight hours a day, but he’s in front of a computer, or a mobile phone, working the shoulder hours of the day. It’s probably a nine-hour day, on average. His daily commute is a phone-free, laptop-free zone. So is the ferry. —Ed.


When I leave the house for work is often impacted by other duties, as father and husband. I’m a parent to two teenagers, and my wife works. In my perfect bike commuting day, I’m up at 6 a.m., on the bike at 7:30 a.m., down the hill eight miles and 1,000 feet to the Jack London Ferry Terminal. I’ll ride the ferry with my friends to the San Francisco Ferry Building, arriving around 8:45 a.m., and get to the office by 9 a.m. My office is a short distance from the Ferry Building, less than a mile, but traffic and architecture in that part of San Francisco are dense, so it does feel like a bit of a journey. I’ll step away from my desk at 5:15 p.m. After socializing on the ferry—I always sit outside, and I always see some of the same friendly faces—I’ll be at Jack London Ferry Terminal by about 6:20 p.m. From there it’s anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes home, depending on whether I go the short or long ways. My morning commute takes me through narrow, hill-side, quiet roads down to big, busy streets, and the pattern is reversed in the evening. I have some grass and dirt options, to escape the asphalt, and my route to the ferry in the morning is creative.

The primary challenge of bicycle commuting—like anywhere else—is safety. The Bay Area has a very dense population, separated from most destinations by water. Everyone is in a hurry at commute time, distracted and late and completely self-centered. This all makes sense. No one’s looking out for the other commuters, and most of the cars have a single occupant and you, whoever you are, are in the way. As a bicycle commuter with over thirty years of experience riding to school and then work, I’ve developed a sense for how to safely navigate my commute. I’m a law-abider. It’s rare that I’m so late for work or home as to feel the need to not stop at a stop sign or red light.

The secondary challenge is darkness. I do not like bike commuting as much during the winter, and I hate Daylight Savings Time. I spend a lot of time cold, dark and wet on my bike, in the winter. “Real bike commuters” keep riding through the winter. Bleh.

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Photo from the Bicycle Times archives.

The benefits of commuting are so many. I get great exercise, I get to train for my favorite activity, which is bicycling! I have time away from screens, grumpiness, drama and doubt, where my body and brain are energized and moving with a purpose, so that my thoughts can flow for tens of minutes at a time uninterrupted, and I can think and feel the wind on my face.

I’m burning the good food I ate, and not the dollars in my wallet, and I’m not making my expensive car an even more depreciated asset when I’m bike commuting.

I’m not frustrated in traffic, but flowing through two great, big cities efficiently and with style while I commute. I see things that others might not see, moving at just the right speed, with no walls around me.

I get to take a boat across the most beautiful bay, below bridges and among container ships, and I get to talk and laugh with friends while I’m doing it. I sometimes take the BART train; the ferry is vastly superior. I arrive at my destination happier and more refreshed than when I left. The sunsets are incredible.

Since I’ve never been a car commuter, I tend to be very economical with my bike spend, while at the same time being an absolute bike snob. I love bikes, and I’m always one bike away from having the right set of bikes. I buy parts used, do my own mechanical work, and take advantage of deals when available. We still drive enough, with kid transport and my wife’s commute, that I’m keenly aware of what a car costs to maintain. I’d guess I’m ahead by maybe $5,000 – $7,000 a year. Hard to say.

I’m always happy to have company, but there are very few people with whom I can share the bulk of my commute. I roll out from the ferry in the evening with a group of friends, and also some strangers. This “critical mass” of three to five riders provides some safety we wouldn’t have as single riders, especially when it’s dark and we have lights on. This first mile from the ferry is a good time for conversation, providing we’re paying full attention to the cars, pedestrians and bikes around us. Sometimes I’ll run into a friend on the longer climbs and the longer ways home, and we’ll ride together. I like the time alone on the bike.

I’ve hit deer twice on my bike commute home. Both times were at night. The first time, I stayed upright and the deer went flying. The second time I wasn’t so lucky, and we both crashed hard.


This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times 36. Check out more of our commuting content here and sign up for our email newsletter to get fresh stories delivered to your inbox every Tuesday! 

 

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Two Wheeled Musings

Words by Paul De Valera

My bicycle is my best friend, my only true ally in this world. My bicycle will never betray me. Though it may break and throw me off into a bush or get a flat and make me push it now and again, it won’t ever work toward my undoing — not intentionally, that is.

My bicycle is always there when I need it, and as long as I take care of it, the bike will take care of me. By using my bicycle, I get to go places, see things and travel under my own power. Powering myself makes me empowered. My mind becomes sharper and my body stronger. By using a bicycle I become a better person, a stronger person. The bicycle is a stalwart companion when all of my human interactions have failed me again for the umpteenth time; when tears race down my face as I pedal to the top of a mountain, each pedal stroke has a leveling effect, bringing me back to balance. All the sense of loss, hurt and anger created in this world are pedaled out. My bike is propping me up when, if left alone to my own strength, I would be in a fetal position.

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When I’m troubled, the bicycle unravels mental and emotional knots, helps to solve problems and keep me even-keeled. There could be times when you can’t articulate what is wrong, but your bicycle won’t care; it will just be a good friend to you and take you on your way for as long as you need. It has eternal patience. When my father died and I was sobbing out of my head with grief, I shunned the comfort of my family and got on my bike. I rode and rode and even pushed up a few peaks. As I kept pedaling, I processed my whole life experience, and before I knew it, I felt better because I had my best friend ever to lean on: my bicycle.

Every other morning, I try to get up and to the top of the mountain as the light of day is just glancing over the horizon. There is nothing like getting to the summit of a lonely peak and being greeted by a sunrise; it never fails to put a smile upon my face. While you can try to sum up life in trite little pithy sayings that can be slapped on a bumper sticker, these little things here on my bike are really what, to me, build up a good life worth living. And while I can’t remember every sunrise, I can remember the place it takes me, and that is what always brings me back.

There is a tree that I like to ride to; it’s a lonely tree on a fire road that has become my quiet place. When I get there I just take a moment to soak in the quiet. I don’t need to stay long — just a taste is all. The sounds of traffic, phones, endless talking and noise to no end will always be, but for now, right now, it’s just me, my bicycle and my quiet place.

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One day it will be gone. Even though I’m strong now, one day I won’t be. I burn, yet one day I will be burnt. I intend to ride long hours into my long years, but I will not be blowing past carbon fiber wonder bikes uphill on a 44-pound cruiser forever. The day will come when I can’t ride like I used to, and the day will come when the trail is just a memory and no longer a daily plan. So I ride.

Ultimately, it comes down to love. Riding a bike, for me, is love, and I can never love enough. One day I will be old and wrinkled; I will have lots of white hair and many, many well-used, well-loved bicycles with scratches, rust and bald tires. But I will know that I did what I did out of love. I will look back at all of those rides without regret. So never make an excuse to not ride; make an excuse to go. You’ll never regret the choice.

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Tips For Happy Riding

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in the Rivendell Bicycle Works Winter ’04-’05 catalog. I happened upon it and enjoyed reading it, and figured it was worth a share.

Words by Grant Peterson. Photos by Helena Kotala & Evan Gross. 

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Learn right away that the front brake is the most effective one, and never lock the front wheel in dirt. Learn how far you can lean over without scraping a pedal. Learn to keep the inside pedal UP when you corner, and learn to ride safely in all conditions.

Signal your approach to pedestrians, especially if they’re old, and a bell is better than “On you left!” If no bell, try clacking your brake levers. If all you got is “On your left!” that’s fine.

At least one ride in 10, go without your sunglasses and gloves. Sometime next month, put some double-sided cheap-style pedals on a good bike and ride in non-cycling garb. Carry an extra tube you can donate to somebody with a flat tire and just a repair kit. If you’re a guy, don’t try to be a mentor to every female cyclist you ever meet.

Don’t ride in shoes you can’t walk through an antique shop in. Don’t wear clothing that makes your sweat stink even more. Don’t think you’ll go faster in a significant way if you and your bike become more aerodynamic.

Put a $20 bill inside your seat post or handlebar and hold it there, somehow.

Don’t ride until you’re confident you can fix a flat. If you ride more than one bike, have a set of bring-along tools for each one. Learn how to remove your rear wheel (put the chain onto the small cog, etc). If you ride in a group, bring food for you and somebody who forgot to.

Go for a one-hour ride underdressed sometime, because it’s good to be really cold on a bike every now and then. Never blame your bike or your health or anything else if you’re the last one up the hill or in to the rest stop.

If your brake hoods are black, wrap your bars with a different color tape. Never let your chain squeak.

If you pass another rider going up a hill, say more than “Hi.” If you see another rider approaching you from the rear, trying to catch you, let it happen. Fun is more important than fast. Don’t put any cyclist up on a pedestal, except Lon and Freddie. Sometimes, bring normal food on your ride. Shoot photos on your rides and give them away.

Feel comfortable mixing high tech and low tech, old and new parts and technologies, and don’t apologize to anybody for it. Compliment other people’s bikes, especially if they’re new. Buy the cheapest helmet that fits well. Try seersucker shirts for hot weather riding, and long-sleeved ones are best. Don’t underestimate fig bars. If you get a new widget and like it, don’t “swear by it.”

Don’t always shop in price and never ask for discounts at your local bike shop. Every time you go into a bike shop, spend at least $2, and if you ask a question and get good advice, spend $5 (get a cable). If you buy a rack, don’t ask for a free installation. Don’t assume your bike shop is making money.

Ride only when you feel like it. If you know a fast new rider, don’t say, “You really ought to race…” If you see a stocky woman rider, don’t suggest she race track. Have at least one bike you feel comfortable riding in a downpour. Ride in weather than keeps other cyclists indoors.

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Never keep track of your pedaling cadence. If you have a normal loop or ride, count the number of times you shift on it; then the next time you ride it, cut that in half and see if it makes any difference. Learn to ride no-hands and to hop over obstacles, but not simultaneously.

Never hit a pedestrian. In traffic, be visible and predictable. If you have several bikes, set them up with different equipment….but always ride in the saddle you like best. Don’t try to keep up with faster descenders if you’re not comfortable descending.

Never apologize for buying something that’s not quite pro quality by saying, “I’m not going to race or anything.” If you buy a stock bike, do something to it that makes it the only one exactly like it in the world. Don’t think it is important to match front and rear hubs or rims. If you borrow somebody else’s bike, for a short test ride or a long ride, say something nice about it.

Always bring a pump. Build at least one wheel. Wear out something. Don’t ever describe any bike, no matter how inexpensive or dilapidated, as “a piece of crap.” If you get a fancy bike assembled by somebody else, allow them a scrape or two, especially if the bike is really expensive.

 

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