“Cities need cars like fish need bicycles.”
~ Well-Being on Two Wheels ~
Lua walks; I ride. But my riding is not of the LCW (Lycra Clad Warrior) 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—those 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.
Is the bicycle an invention whose time has finally come? It is, after all, very useful, friendly, healthy, affordable, functional, fun, multicultural, and powered purely by human energy. Bikes are interactive and participatory and 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. And they promote simplified and slower-paced lifestyles.
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?
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.
These days, steadily rising petroleum extraction costs and serious concerns over the ecological impacts of extreme dirty-drilling technologies and greenhouse gas emissions have led many people to once again turn to bicycles for commuting to work or school and to carry light cargo over relatively short distances. There is a growing awareness of the severe negative environmental impacts of excessive carbon in the atmosphere.
And given the many positive personal and social benefits of cycling, 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. ‘in order 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, reduces climate-changing CO2 emissions, lowers transportation costs—a bike is much less expensive own, operate and maintain than a car, reduces need for roadways and parking spaces—six bikes can fit in one car lane and twenty bikes in one car space, reduces material usage—only 22 pounds of metal versus 3500 pounds for a typical car, increases energy efficiency with bikes getting over 2,000 miles-per-gallon equivalent, and riding facilitates reconnecting with neighbors and rebuilding communities.
Transport in general needs to reduce its dependency on non-renewable fuel choices for the sake of cleaner air, economic competitiveness, and energy security. Cycling is a far more efficient mode of human powered transportation than walking. And bicycling is vastly more energy efficient than other common urban transportation choices such as public transport and personal cars.
Electric bicycles are getting more and more attention around the world as they are immensely efficient, affordable, have a 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 motor-assist cargo bikes.
Traveling 2500 local miles in a year on an e-bike costs only about $10 in electricity and $150 in maintenance!
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.
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.
It seemed to me that we should accept personal responsibility in our individual choices about consumption, lifestyles, habitation, and work styles—these are the decisions that ultimately determine environmental quality. The more affluence and education we are privileged to enjoy, the greater are our opportunities and obligations for making personal choices consistent with a sustainable civilization.
When I made my case to Lua about how everyday, practical urban bicycling is one of the simplest, cheapest, most accessible solutions to many of our current social and environmental ills, she said that she envisioned a very different system of government that championed community-centered, materials-light, low-carbon, service-based economies by focusing tax dollars on health care, education, social care, renovation and refurbishment activities, and cultural activities.
And this lighter way of living would also place a high 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 contribute positively to the quality of our lives and are far less ecologically damaging than activities predicated on the throughput of ever more material goods and the burning of massive quantities of fossil fuels.
“And as for bicycles,” Lua said. “I’d like to see them everywhere in cities around the world. Truly, cities need cars like fish need bicycles.”
I withheld the urge to point out that heaps of rusty bikes dumped into the ocean would make wonderful artificial reefs that fish might find very useful indeed.
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.