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How Bikes Boosted My Life
Here at Profit Greenly, I mostly talk about the dollars and cents underlying green choices. Biking is one of the most profitable green choices you can make and in this post I delve into how it can make you feel better and more alive. If you're apprehensive about getting things done with a bike, don't worry about it, we all were at some point. Hopefully exploring my life experience transitioning from driving to cycling will give you some thoughts on how to get your own biking joy and profit greenly.
Early Life Biking
I did not have an ideal introduction to biking as a kid. Starting late, I didn't learn till I was 8 years old. I was scared to go down steep hills fast, but I could ride over to my friends' houses a few blocks away. My parents both worked so my brother and I walked to and from school each day. This was about a mile each way so once I got more comfortable enough to bike it it saved me a ton of time. Beyond time savings the feeling of biking as a kid was just biking joy. The freedom to get anywhere in the neighborhood was truly liberating. When I think of my own kids growing up and biking like this I get a bit apprehensive because car danger feels like its increased, but back then I never remember having a close call with a moving car. My biggest accident happened with a parked car actually. One day I foolishly tried to ride to school during a torrential rain storm and ended up crashing into the back of one! I broke my front teeth on the back window, but didn't let that stop me from biking again. Sometimes I wonder what the owner of the car thought when he found two tiny pieces of teeth embedded in his back window though.
My only other big childhood biking issue involved more psychological trauma than physical. I was given a sweet new mountain bike for my 12th birthday but it was stolen from our carport literally the day afterwards, along with my brother's bike. Luckily, my parents got us new ones, but the experience left me paranoid enough to develop my own DIY bike GPS tracker later in life. I kept riding after this to school, to soccer practice, and around town until I started going to a middle school that was 4 miles from my house. At that point my parents were divorced and I'd occasionally ride between my Mom's and my Dad's. My memory told me that this trip was shorter than the one to my school, but looking at the map now I can see it was actually a half mile longer. It must have felt shorter because it was along quiet neighborhood streets and through a large park while the route to school was along a noisy and dangerous road filled with car traffic. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was my first experience with just how important safe cycling infrastructure is.
College Biking Doldrums
The bike I'd been given at 12 came to college with me and I used it a bit as a freshman (my parents had smartly bought me a full size model at 12 even though I could barely fit it at the time). Unfortunately, the route to campus from my dorm required a trip down an extremely steep hill that t-boned into a busy street. When the roads started to ice over I got scared of sliding to my death in this intersection and switched to walking instead (if only I'd known about winter bike tires). After that my bike spent the better part of 4 years rusting at various outdoor bike parking areas around campus, only to be harvested in a campus wide junk bike removal the week before I graduated. The really unfortunate thing was that during the summer of my sophomore year I got my dream summer job at Autodesk and rather than using this bike I stupidly bought a car to commute to it. Looking back on this with the wisdom of age I can safely say that this was a multi-thousand dollar mistake. The commute to my work was under 4 miles from where I lived and the office building had a shower in it. I could have even picked a summer sublet that was closer to the office, but that I wasn't advanced enough for that sort of life optimization at 20. Having the car did enable me to take a few long drives back home to visit my family and friends over my college years, but I could have paid for fancy plane tickets for those trips instead of driving with all the money I'd have saved by not owning a car. Live and learn I guess.
Mid 20's Return to Biking
In my mid 20's I really started getting back into biking and rediscovered the biking joy of my youth. I bought a used 1960's Fuji 10 speed and started riding it around on bike paths with my friends. Eventually I got comfortable enough with it to start riding to work. This was a nearly 17 mile ride, but I was young and strong and it was mostly on the nice and safe W & OD bike trail. The ride itself was a beautiful, calming hour and a half of good exercise that let me think about things before I got to the busy office and left me feeling energized for the day. My office had shower and a deal with a dry cleaner who would pick up and return right from the office so my suits just lived there and I was the cleanest person at work despite getting sweaty every day. On top of all this there was a train/bus route between my home and my work that let me leave my bike if the weather turned bad or I was feeling too tired for the ride home. This sort of safe and useful infrastructure is not common in America, but it could be and if it were how many more people would bike to work?
As I got into my later 20s I started to upgrade my biking gear and knowledge. First, I bought a speedy Lemond road bike that cut a full 1/2 hour off my ride to work compared to my old Fuji. Then, I learned how to keep my bikes running well for almost no money by going to The Bike House bike Co-Op in DC and volunteering with Bikes for the World. A couple years later I found a 1989 Cannondale touring bike for $300 and put a rear rack and panniers on it so I could haul loads of groceries, recycling or library books. To handle truly huge loads I DIY'ed a used bike trailer into a cargo hauler. I learned about all the other trails and safe biking streets in my area and found ways to get not just to work, but to the houses of my family and friends. To enable riding in the cold of winder I got bright lights, wool socks, thick gloves, a good coat, long underwear and a realization that with the right clothes no weather is too cold. The lights also allowed me to ride my bike to late night parties and shows. I was starting to realize that a bike could get me almost everywhere I needed to go and all of this biking kept me in great physical shape. As I slid into my 30s and my friends became pudgy with age while I stayed the same weight I'd been in college. More important than that though was the great feeling of accomplishment I got everywhere I went by bike. I wasn't just lazily hopping in my car to get where I needed to be, I powered myself there with my own muscles, really experiencing the world and using my strength to accomplish meaningful stuff. It was amazing.
Fatherhood and Family Biking
Many people think that you can't bike with small children, but as I got older and became a dad my biking actually increased. Part of this was because I was reading Mr. Money Mustache's many opuses on biking (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) and part of this was because shortly after my first kid was born I moved to Tempe AZ, one of the most bike-able cities in the whole US (not the most bike friendly in terms of car policy, but the lack of rain, flat topography and tons of bike paths make it super bike-able). My family actually lived there car free for our entire first year. Then, when my wife was pregnant with our 2nd kid she demanded we buy a car so we wouldn't have to take an Uber to the hospital when the baby was coming. I had joked with her that I should buy a pedicab instead and take her there with that, but the siren song of the automobile still called to us. Looking back with 20-20 vision though with the hospital only 1/2 mile from our house and even with a new pedicab costing $5k, that's still thousands less than we spent on our used car with next to no maintenance, registration, or insurance fees. My wife's office was also far from any streets/parking lots so a pedicab would have allowed me to drop her right at the building door when she was very pregnant, something I couldn't do with our car. Ah well, live and learn, maybe one of you readers will pedicab your wife to deliver a baby? If you do I will be truly excited to hear what happens when it's all done and the nurse comes out to inspect how well you have secured your new baby's car seat.
Now that my kids are a bit older I've tried out nearly every way to transport them by bike (check out my comparison review of these options). Riding my kids to and from school in our cargo bike gives me my recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise and I feel refreshed and energized afterwards. My kids get to experience nature, play I-spy and wave at people from the back of the bike. My hope is that this will better equip them to deal with the real world. While other kids are being trained that every trip must be made in a climate controlled car, they're actually getting out in the elements. When it's below freezing outside and they ask me to remove the bike cover though I wonder if maybe they're becoming too hardcore? We do have a car now too, and we use it for long trips and bad weather. If our town had access to a good rail line and actually plowed snow out of the bike lanes in winter we might not need it, but those are dreams for the future. Still, even though I do enjoy the instant power of our Bolt EV, it does not bring me the same joy as riding my bike. Even running my wife's eBike on pure throttle is just more fun than driving, there's just something about being out in the open air on two wheels that's life affirming (plus her eBike gets 1,250 MPGe vs the Bolt's 128). It's like JFK said "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike."