IN JULY 2005 I began to comprehend how many kinds of car trips I could replace with bike rides. Back then I don’t think I realized that May is National Bike Month.
My aim was simply to leave my car at home as often as possible. Still, if I had it to do over again, I think I would have started in May. It would have made a better story.
Having lived and worked downtown for almost a decade, I enjoyed walking just about everywhere I needed to go. When I moved into a house a couple blocks south of Victory Drive, however, it wasn’t long before I realized how much I disliked relying on my car for almost every single task of daily life.
It wasn’t that I was faced with an epic, cross–county daily commute, which some folks in our area endure every workday. In fact, it was just the opposite.
Cranking up a 3,000–pound vehicle and driving it only two and a half miles to my office seemed, well, excessive. It was like using a steamroller to press a shirt.
There had to be a more appropriate tool for the job. As far as I could tell, the bike was it.
Still, I didn’t start commuting to work on my bike immediately. I began experimenting after work and on weekends, when I could wear casual clothes. I rode to the grocery store, to restaurants, and to take care of errands. I started reading blogs about bicycle commuting and finally decided to try it.
Once I learned tricks that allowed me to arrive at work in presentable condition, made minor modifications to my bike that permitted me to safely carry cargo, and found the best routes to get there and back, I wondered why I hadn’t started sooner.
While I rode my bike to work most days, I certainly became more conscious of the days when I didn’t. Something I heard before I started bike commuting, which, I’d dismissed at the time as the sort of sappy sentiment that might appear on a Successories motivational poster, suddenly struck home: I never regretted riding my bike to work, but I often regretted driving.
Here’s the part in my story where you might expect me to document the improvements in my health and checking account balance that resulted from increased cycling. It is true that I felt better and spent less money on gasoline and automobile maintenance.
I was happy about this, for sure, but it turned out that what really made me happy was a little harder to quantify.
An example? I rode to work on a warm October morning before what turned out to be a particularly busy day. I didn’t step outside again until after sundown, by which time the temperature and humidity had dropped considerably. Had I driven, I certainly would have noticed as I walked to my car, that a cool front had moved through.
But on that evening I was able to enjoy the unexpected arrival of autumn (or at least autumnal weather) riding through quiet streets as leaves began to fall. Believe me, it was pretty awesome, especially after a long day cooped up in the office.
Yes, I know this sounds hokey, but until you’ve experienced it, don’t knock it.
And speaking of sounds, a couple of months later I made a list of things I heard on my way to work. Looking at this list now, I see that it included wind, wind chimes, a construction worker singing “‘Cat’s in the Cradle” at the top of his lungs and birds singing at the tops of their lungs (song unknown).
I would have never noticed any of these from inside a car. On my bike I felt more connected to the neighborhoods I rode through and to the world at large.
If you’ve been thinking about taking advantage of the financial, economic and other, less tangible but no less important, benefits of bicycling for transportation, this is your month.
There is no better time to get started. Don’t wait until July like I did.
The Savannah Bicycle Campaign is offering a full month of National Bike Month activities including National Bike to School day on May 9, National Bike to Work Day and a Price Street bike lane dedication ceremony on May 18, and more.
Visit bicyclecampaign.org for more information.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.