Thursday, December 3, 2009

Now Back to Some Cycling-Related Banter ...

We had a dusting of snow this morning that managed to cling to the streets deceptively well in our lower 20 degree temps. I accomplished my first slow speed wipe out of the winter season while cornering onto Xerxes Ave. As my Big Dummy was sliding away from me into the traffic lane I executed a deft leg hook and reeled it back into the shoulder next to my body. I’m sure the motorist who slowed to pass my sprawled out body and bike was laughing and/or thinking how foolish it is to ride a bike in winter. Note to self: Remember to be mindful of corners for the next few months.

I recently cleaned out my panniers. This can be a truly revelatory experience 2-3 times per year. I discovered I had been hauling around a couple dozen plastic bags of all shapes and sizes that had settled out of sight to the bottom of the packs. I never know when I’ll need one to waterproof something or cover a saddle, but I think I can get by with a half dozen at the most. It’s amazing how those shopping bags seem to breed. They multiply no matter where they congregate.

I added my emergency clothing bag – a couple of dry outer layers to don should I have a breakdown in winter. I once had to change a flat when it was 18 degrees and windy. Hopping around to generate body heat in sweat-soaked riding clothes taught me to carry some insulation along at all times. Over dressing in winter sucks while riding but the game changes when you have to make a stop.

I’ve been selling some bike bits on Ebay of late. I made a run to drop off a few parcels a couple of days ago. It didn't matter that these packages consisted of a bike frame and a wheelset. Transporting them was no problem. I marvel at the ease of loading stuff on the Big Dummy. I wonder how I’d live without this bike, yet I believe I’m far from maximizing its potential. Next year I plan to craft a couple of custom decks – one with dual kid perches and another with bungies to haul a lock and a trunk bag.

Wideloaders snapped in place and the load is ready to go. I had a little extra time so I was able to explore some dead end streets and happen upon a couple of new connector trails that saved me the hassle of riding down Excelsior Blvd. Despite the sudden snap of cold we had back in early October, things evened out and now we're experiencing a slow, steady drop into winter temps. Still, the ponds and lakes have begun to collect that micro-thin crust of ice around the edges signaling the inevitable freeze to come.

>I pulled up in front of the UPS Store and easily off loaded the goods. Riding a long bike attracts attention on its own. Every time I haul a conspicuously large load, however, I marvel at the stares and double-takes. I usually pay them no mind. If nothing else, I hope the image of me transporting large loads on a bike sticks in people's heads and makes them reconsider the viability of cycling as a mode of transportation.

Pedaling back from the UPS Store and Post Office was very pleasant. The sun was setting on rush hour. I had a pleasant tailwind and peace along the Cedar Lake bike highway. I rode the bike path alongside I-394 at Penn facing the drivers stacked in a quarter-mile long line along the ramp, stopped and waiting to merge into bumper-to-bumper traffic that was going nowhere fast toward downtown.

I try hard to understand people’s unique situations and respect them as best I can. However, at that moment I found myself unsympathetically thinking how dumb these drivers were to get in their cars, pull into an asphalt sea polluted with fumes, and languish there in sheer boredom and frustration day after day. Maybe some people actually get off on driving in rush hour traffic. But I believe most people regard it as a necessary inconvenience, nonetheless an undeniable reality. How else am I going to get to work? To the store? Get the kids to soccer practice and violin lessons? … And the list goes on.

I’m certain more than the majority of these drivers believe traffic engineers could fix these congestion problems with more lanes and bigger, better roads. (If only the money weren’t spent on bike trails ...) They think automobile transportation is a system that can be made efficient. I do not believe this.

The problem could be mine, too. Perhaps I don’t have a new enough automobile, one with sufficient amenities to coax me out of believing every time I drive I’m dying behind the wheel – passively, sitting still -- one red light, stop sign and traffic snarl at a time.

My commute’s been wearing on me this year. It’s finally hitting home that 16 miles is a long way to ride to work. But when I let my laziness set in I encounter a significant conundrum – even if I could justify buying another car financially (which would allow me to drive whenever I wanted), I would still be left with this ideological chasm: I simply don’t believe I could let myself become a habitual driver again. I think I’d quit my job and find some way to make a living closer to home before I would get another car.

Yep, it’s probably just my problem. However, I am convinced that I, and so many others like me who use their bikes every day to get places, have struck upon one fantastic component of the solution.

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