Why Bike When You Can Drive?

The genesis of this was another blog, a maiden blog if you will, to promote transportation by muscle, and which was intended to be a self-motivator (http://jbw0123.blogspot.com/). It seemed nutty to drive to a gym to exercise, so why not try to do my bit by abstaining from fossil fuels, at least when the destination is a fitness facility?  Eventually the bicycle commutes expanded to meetings, grocery shopping and other everyday activities.  What better way to keep this project going, and to get in touch with others trying to do the same, than to keep a public diary?

The good intentions, however, began to erode almost from the start.  (1) A friend was hit by a car while bicycling, and spent months rehabilitating.  (2) It was lonely.  No radio, no partner — just rivers, avalanches, tsunamis of cars, roaring past in relentless waves.  It was thought provoking, and depressing.   It began to seem that one person doing her bit was not going to make a difference, no matter what the philosophers say about ripples from a single pebble in a pond. (3) It was socially uncomfortable.  People began to identify me as a bicyclist and to say things like, oh, you are so GOOD.  You ride your bicycle.  Showing up at a nice restaurant with a bike bag, helmet, rain gear and wet shoes felt like, well, showing off.  (4) In the winter, no matter how thick the gloves, my hands turned white from the cold and took a long time to warm up.  (5) The coup de grace, a pain in my back, which spread to an arm, then tingling and numbness in my hand.  The diagnosis:  ordinary-ish degeneration in my cervical spine.  The cure:  physical therapy, and no more biking for the time being at least.

The return to the car was guilt-filled and joyous.  It was so easy, it was embarrassing.  NPR, heater, cup holders, arriving with non-helmet hair and dry socks, all mine again.

On the other hand, there are things I miss.  Biking was a pain in the — but it was also a lot of other things.  It was inspiring.  It made me think about things.  It made me look at my own contradictions, and the feebleness of individual effort.  It brought to mind several other personal attempts at do-it-yourself activities: playing music, sewing, gardening, yoga, seeking out fresh foods from local farmers, cooking without a Cuisinart.  These activities are dwarfed by the modern conveniences that my hothouse existence depends on, yet they are among the most pleasurable, and the things I remember.

In the end, bicycle commuting left me with big questions:  how much does individual effort matter? Is being heroic worth it?  We as a society know we need to make big and rapid changes in our energy sources and usage, and yet, the tsunami of cars continues.  Is this because we have faith in our ability to invent solutions or because we are stupid?  Or worse?

My leanings, despite the bicycling experiment, tilt in favor of individual effort, no matter how small and silly-looking.  So here’s to taking a microscope to what motivates, to the challenges, satisfactions and perhaps necessity of doing things the old fashioned way.


  • From Andy B. via e-mail:

    Julie, I agree with your lively discussion about trying to remain”old fashioned” in our rapidly changing society. The part I liked best was your confession that you enjoyed homely pursuits as well as new fashioned conveniences.. I believe you have more company that you think.

    Questions you asked in conclusion reminded me of a remark from a friend who was on his way to buy organic food. I asked him if this was because of nutrition. He said, “it tastes better”.

    If my home-made rustic bread didn’t taste better than bakery bread, I wouldn’t make it. But TJ’s New York deli rye tastes good too so I eat that also.

    For me, issues of living are framed less around what others think and do, although this is important. It’s more like (to paraphrase) “How do you keep your head when others around you are losing theirs”. Your Yoga and meditation seem promising.


  • “… how much does individual effort matter?”
    I was hoping recycling and sending $50 a year to NPR was going to change the world.

    “Is this because we have faith in our ability to invent solutions or because we are stupid?  Or worse?”
    Probably all three, especially “worse.” But, as you suggest, all each of us can do is make out as large a piece as we can manage and try to make that a better place.


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