Well-Being on Two Wheels
“Cities need cars like dogs need fleas.”
Lua likes to walk; I like to ride. Pedals and wheels are how I roll (literally).
But my riding is not of the MaMiL (Middle-aged Men in Lycra) variety that requires a fast bike, expensive gear, impractical attire, and head-down determination. I ride a bicycle for fun, for fitness, for transportation, for enjoying the scenery, and for socializing with fellow riders — what I refer to as the ‘beautiful bicycle people’ in my community. They are those down-to-earth everyday stress-free urban, utility, transportation, and colorful beach-cruisin’ cyclists who recognize that local biking is helping people everywhere reconnect with neighbors and their community and enjoy the fun and healthful benefits of simple, free, elegant, pollution-free, human-powered local transportation. "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring," joked Desmond Tutu (reportedly).
There is no better song to convey the feelings of an invigorating bike ride on a beautiful day than Pharrell Williams's Happy:
It might seem crazy what I'm 'bout to say
Sunshine she's here you can take a break
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don't care, baby by the way
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do
Here come bad news talking this and that
Well, give me all you got, and don't hold it back
Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine
No offense to you, don't waste your time
What is it about bikes that make them so universally appealing? Why do they have such staying power over time and never seem to go completely out of style? What makes these simple, elegant, inexpensive two-wheeled wonders of well-being so special among all of humankind’s inventions over the centuries? Is the bicycle an invention whose time has finally come?
Bikes encourage freedom, exploration, creativity, and awareness. They are a connector of people, places, and things, and the facilitator of childlike bliss and feel-good fitness. They promote simplified and slower-paced lifestyles.
The technology-averse Amish would claim that bicycles have great value as simple, practical machines that offer personal mobility and transportation without diminishing the spiritual life or damaging the soul or the planet. And so they have genuine worth as a useful and acceptable invention — they pass the ‘beautiful technology’ test.
Given the many positive personal and social benefits of cycling, it is no wonder that bikes are being used more and more to replace cars for local transportation, commuting, and light cargo hauling, and as a welcome relief from the soul-deadening experience of driving on congested roadways teeming with rude, impatient, angry, road-rage-ready drivers.
Bicycling, like walking, helps the mind relax (like meditation and yoga) and unplug digitally and psychologically for a few minutes each day and provides the daily exercise needed for a good night’s sleep. It also gets the creative juices flowing.
‘Life is like riding a bicycle,’ Einstein famously said. ‘to keep your balance you must keep moving.’ Movement, balance, and bicycles naturally go together.
And there are many advantages to riding a bicycle over driving a car, particularly for short, local trips. For example, riding more and driving less alleviates traffic congestion, lowers air pollution levels, reduces risks of obesity and increases physical fitness, and reduces climate-changing CO2 emissions.
Bike commuting lowers transportation costs — a bike is much less expensive own, operate and maintain than a car. It reduces costs for roadways and parking spaces — six bikes can fit in one car lane and twenty bikes in one car space. It reduces material usage cost — only 22 pounds of metal versus 3500 pounds for a typical car. It reduces energy costs — bikes don't require fossil fuels to operate. Cycling is a far more efficient mode of human powered transportation than walking, facilitates reconnecting with neighbors and rebuilding communities, and is vastly more energy efficient than other common publics transportation choices.
Electric bicycles are now rapidly gaining in popularity around the world as they are immensely efficient, affordable, have a very low carbon footprint, and can be charged using renewable energy. They effectively flatten hills and provide the same exhilarating boost one feels with a strong tailwind.
Commuters on electric bikes travel faster, farther, and have more fun getting to work or to the local grocery store or coffee shop. Utilitarian riders can carry larger loads using powerful electric motor-assisted cargo bikes. Traveling 2500 local miles in a year on an e-bike costs all of about $10 in electricity and $150 in maintenance. Now that's a deal!
When I was growing up, almost half of the kids in America walked or biked to school — in 2009 that number was sadly down to only 13%. Not surprisingly, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over about the same time period. Riding a bike teaches kids about independence. It’s good for them to learn how to get places on their own, ride in their neighborhood, interact with their neighbors and community, and even learn some basic maintenance and repair DIY skills. Physics classes make far more sense to kids who have had experiences using and working on their own bikes.
Though bicycles are still viewed by many in the U.S. primarily as toys for kids, as weekend recreation, or as last-resort cheap transportation for low-income adults, there is a growing awareness of the important role bikes can play in solving many of the health, mobility, and environmental problems we are facing today and in establishing a healthier equilibrium state between humans and their environment.
Not surprisingly, everyday practical urban bicycling is one of the simplest, cheapest, most accessible solutions to many of our current social and environmental ills. This lighter way of living would also place a higher value on leisure and recreation, protection and maintenance of green spaces, and urban parks where citizens could enjoy all the benefits of urban living without needing a car.
These are changes that would contribute positively to quality-of-life and be far less ecologically damaging than activities predicated on the throughput of ever more material goods, an obsessive car culture, and the burning of massive quantities of fossil fuels.
Lua agreed and added,
“And as for bicycles, I’d like to see them replace cars everywhere in cities around the world. Cities need cars like dogs need fleas.”
Kudos to Kalea and her crew — we had made our first landfall without incident and without drama. The passengers had enjoyed a pleasant half-day cruise with delicious food and light, pleasant conversation.
Bob, Lua, and I discussed the plans for the evening bonfire and early departure the next morning. We were quite satisfied with our ability to keep the passengers safe, comfortable, and entertained. But we knew SlimC would not share this same sense of accomplishment. He was not after smooth jazz; he wanted grunge.
Bob knew what he had to do. He would wait until this evening’s bonfire to light that match.