Riin's Rants

Bikes are better than cars

Riin on bike
I rant about bikes a LOT. I think some people around me are kind of tired of hearing me rant about how great bikes are all the time. You probably wouldn't be reading this page though if you didn't want to read about bikes.

Explicitly, I think bikes are better than cars. I know some bike advocates still drive cars and get a little touchy about that. I have to be honest. I am anti-car. Don't say I didn't warn you.

My history

I used to drive a car. Growing up in southeast Michigan, it seemed like there was an unwritten law that said "you MUST drive a car." I obeyed without question. Never even thought about it. In the summer of 2000, at the age of 35, I woke up. I have no idea why, but one day when I was driving to work, I started noticing the cyclists around me and realizing that I was polluting the atmosphere and wasting resources and they weren't. I realized that I was contributing to the rising rate of asthma and that they weren't. They were part of the solution. I was part of the problem. How could I call myself an environmentalist? I was suddenly ashamed.

For the next few weeks, every time I drove my car, I felt guilty. I knew deep down inside that if doing something made me feel guilty, that meant I shouldn't be doing it.

As the cognitive dissonance grew more intense, I knew that the only solution was to buy a bicycle and start commuting by bike. I also knew that if I was going to make this really work, I needed to get some information. I had ridden a bike a handful of times in my early 20's, but aside from that, I really hadn't ridden a bike in about 20 years. The bike I rode in my 20's was really uncomfortable, which was why I only rode it a few times. The seat was really uncomfortable. I couldn't get the hang of the gears at all (I'd just had a one-speed as a kid). But more than anything, leaning forward and putting weight on my wrists really put a strain on my lower back and on my wrists. Every time I had ridden that bike, I had been in pain. It was agony. I remembered the bike I had when I was a kid. I sat up straight on that bike. That was comfortable. I looked around. Kids were riding sitting up straight. Adults were all leaning forward on their wrists. Why? If I was going to get a bike, I wanted to sit up straight and be comfortable.

At that time I was on a voluntary simplicity listserv, and the topic of bike commuting came up. It couldn't have been more perfect timing. One of the women participating in the thread worked in a bike shop. I asked her every question about bikes and bike commuting I could think of, starting with, would it be possible for me to get a bike I'd be able to sit up straight on? She assured me it would be and answered all of my questions, which made me think of more questions, and she answered those too! Aren't listservs wonderful? She convinced me the right bike was out there for me, and I just had to find it.

I didn't have the money to buy my bike right away. I had to wait a few weeks. In the meantime I obsessively researched bikes and bike commuting and bicycle safety on the web. In some part of my brain, I was already thinking of myself as a cyclist even though I didn't even own a bike. I think I'm probably the only person who read John Allen's Bicycling Street Smarts online in its entirety before I even owned a bicycle. Well, I've never been typical.

Side view of my bike
Here's a side view of my bike. I like being able to stuff my backpack in the wire basket so my back doesn't get sweaty. I only wear it on my back when both baskets are full of groceries. It's very versatile. Note the reflective tape on the baskets, handlebars and front fork.
When I got the money out I went. I found my bike at the third shop I tried, Ann Arbor Cyclery. It's a GT Windstream. I love my bike. It is so comfortable. It's perfect for me. I got it with fenders and big wire baskets in back so I'd be able to pick up groceries on the way home from work. I also got a headlight and a blinkie.

I really wasn't sure if I would be able to ride to work every day at first or not. Since I was so out of shape (not only had I not ridden in 20 years, I weighed about 225 lbs), I thought the 4-mile trip to work might leave me feeling kind of sore. I figured I could ride 2 or 3 times a week and build up to every day if necessary. But I wasn't actually sore at all, though I was out of breath.

I rode every day for two weeks. Then I got really bad bronchitis. It lasted for three months. It probably wouldn't have lasted so long if I had had a different doctor, and my asthma hadn't gone undiagnosed and untreated. I have a different doctor now. By the time I was able to ride again though, it was dark after work, and I only had two weeks of riding experience. I wanted to have more experience than that before I started riding in the dark, so I decided to wait till the following spring to start bike commuting again.

In April 2001 I started again. I've been bike commuting ever since. Something happened that I didn't anticipate -- I had a lot of fun! I remembered enjoying riding a bike as a kid, or I guess I wouldn't have bought a bike. My goal was never recreation though. I bought a bike with the actual goal of using it for transportation, to use a bike instead of a car in as many circumstances as I could. It just never occurred to me that I would have so much fun!

I've only missed a few days because of weather. I missed 2 days in January 2002 because of an ice storm (I took the bus to work), but I didn't miss any days in 2003. I've decided that in the summer, maybe I shouldn't ride if it's above 95°F (I've had problems with heat exhaustion in the past), but I'll see how that goes. We haven't actually had any days hotter than that yet. But I seem to handle heat better than I used to anyway.

My asthma hasn't stopped me from riding, even in the winter. Now that I actually know I have asthma, I have the medication and knowledge necessary to manage it. After looking at a topographic map, I changed my route to work to a slightly longer but less hilly route. It adds about half a mile but takes the same amount of time. Also, whenever it's 40°F or below I use my inhaler a few minutes before riding. It really makes a difference. If it's about 23°F or below, I wear my balaclava over my mouth to warm the air before it gets to my lungs. If it's about 17°F or below, I also wear my Seirus Neofleece combo scarf. By doing all of these things, I manage to ride all winter without triggering my asthma.

In January 2002 I sold my car since by that point I was only driving it about once a month. It no longer made economic sense to keep it, especially since the last few times I drove it, intending by then to sell it, it died and I had to pay costly repair bills! Good riddance! I could borrow my husband's car once a month, though I intended to reduce my car usage further.

In May 2002 I began riding my bike to my monthly spinning guild meetings about 20 miles away. People kid me about not bringing my spinning wheel with me, but actually I started bringing my knitting instead years ago since the chairs in the middle school where we meet are too low for me to spin comfortably. If I wanted to, I could bring my spinning wheel in my trailer (I've got a Burley Nomad I bought so I can make trips to buy heavy things like 40lb bags of sunflower seeds and 25lb bags of cracked corn. Have to keep the birds happy!). Once I was no longer using the car for that, I was only driving once every 3-4 months.

The last time I drove the car was October 27, 2002. It was a very bad day. I vowed that I would never drive again. I have kept that vow.

I ride my bike everywhere I go. I've lost about 45 lbs since I started bike commuting, and my blood pressure is lower. I've found myself expressing optimism, which was something new for me. I don't get as depressed as I used to, especially in the winter. I think cycling is a kind of meditation. I could never go back to driving a car.

My Beliefs

I think bikes are inherently better than cars. I honestly believe that if more people used bikes instead of cars, the world would be a much better place. I think people would be healthier. They would be more physically fit, and they would be mentally healthier, both happier and more relaxed. Those are just the benefits to the cyclist. Everyone benefits from fewer cars. Fewer cars mean less asthma. Fewer cars mean fewer traffic deaths (more than 42,000 people per year die in the US as a result of motor vehicle "accidents"). These are health benefits for everyone.

Our car culture has hastened sprawl and destroyed wildlife habitat. People are becoming so far removed from nature, they don't even know they need nature, not just for their physical health, but for their mental health.

Cars insulate people from nature. Bikes allow people to experience it. I don't want to be a passive observer of the weather. I like feeling the rain and wind on my face -- it makes me know I'm alive! When I ride as the snow falls, I can't help but smile. I feel like I'm playing. Riding in a strong headwind is extra work, but it's extra work for a car too. People driving cars are simply unaware that they're consuming extra fuel. They're insulated from nature. I'll wear the right clothing to keep me comfortable for the weather, but I want to experience it, not just sit inside a metal and glass cage on a cushy seat where the weather might as well be something on television. It's a real world out there! I want to be IN it!

A cyclist can also observe plants and animals that a motorist can't. Cars just whiz by everything too fast for a motorist to see most things, and the motion and noise of cars send most animals running from the horrible machine. Bicycles are quiet. They move at a sane pace. I can actually see what I'm riding past instead of everything being a blur.

I also believe that if more people used bicycles instead of cars, cyclists would be more respected. We would be treated as human beings instead of as second-class citizens. People deny us services, yell at us, swear at us, honk at us, throw things at us, and in extreme cases assault us, or sometimes even kill us, for no reason other than because we are riding bicycles. In other words, people treat us like a despised minority. We haven't had much luck being treated as equals. And there's still that whole business of cars destroying the environment and belching carcinogens and other particulates into the air (asthma, anyone?). So...this means we need to become the majority. We need to outnumber them. I'm not advocating some sort of violent revolution. That's the farthest thing from what I want -- I'm a pacifist. I simply want cyclists -- peaceful cyclists -- to be the majority. Sure, it's Utopian, but it's what I want. So it's a goal to strive for.

So why the website?

When I only had a few rants, I thought life would be easier if I just numbered them, then I could just say "Rant #5!" and everyone I'd shared the numbered list with would know that was short for "Bikes are better than cars!" Well, that worked when there were only five rants. But when I actually started writing down my rants, I realized I had quite a few. The list kept growing. And growing. And growing. Oh my. Do I really rant that much? Well...eventually I ended up with a numbered list of 36 rants and at least that many sub-rants and sub-sub-rants. It didn't work as originally intended because there were too many for me or anyone else to remember which numbers corresponded to which rants, not that anyone but me would even have the inclination to try. I couldn't remember what 34a(iii) corresponded to off the top of my head! But I showed the list to someone, and he said, "you should do a website!" Hmm... I thought that might be a fun project some day if I ever had the time, but it would have to wait. I had a lot of other things to do, and learning how to create a website seemed like something that could wait a while.

Then I worked on a couple of bicycling advocacy projects that I wanted to make available to other cyclists to use if they found them helpful in their own advocacy work. A lot of hours went into these projects, and there's no sense in anyone reinventing the wheel. If another cyclist can use my work to make things better for cyclists somewhere else, we all benefit. I realized it was time for me to get to work.

The Door Zone Project -- Data on 11 deaths and 5 injuries from dooring incidents. Includes names, dates, locations and references.

The Truck Incident -- What happened after I was side-swiped by a semi (fortunately I wasn't hurt). Includes the letter I wrote to the trucking company, a handout I wrote on sharing the road with cyclists aimed specifically at truck drivers, and two other handouts.

More Articles

The Queen of Conspicuity -- Any time motorists have their lights on to be seen, cyclists should too! Learn what I've done to earn the title "The Queen of Conspicuity" (I'm not possessive about the title).

Winter Riding -- A lot of cyclists seem to be intimidated by the idea of riding in winter, but it's not that hard. Here's what works for me.

Why Do I Ride My Bike? -- I realized my primary reason for cycling isn't the same now as when I started, even though the reason I initially started is still just as important to me. Riding my bike makes me feel good.

Bike Memories -- My memories of the bikes I had before my current bike, old cycling memories, and why I stopped cycling.

Shifting for Beginners -- A tutorial on shifting for beginning cyclists who wouldn't know a chainring if it came up and bit them; they just want to know what to do according to those numbers on the handlebars.

Cycling is for Everyone -- Many people have the idea that they cannot ride bikes because they are not in perfect health. Most people who ride bikes are not in perfect health (is anyone in perfect health?), but they know that riding their bikes makes them healthier physically and mentally than they would be if they didn't ride. Far fewer people are unable to ride than people think.

Riin & Frankie
Why I got a new bike and why I named him Frankie -- For a long time I thought my bike was perfect for me. Eventually though I realized my needs had evolved. I bought a new bike, Frankie, and he's wonderful!

Illness and Recovery -- I was sick for four months and unable to cycle for much of that time. Here I explain what happened and how I recovered.

Saddles and Stems -- A poem. I rarely write poetry, but this one came to me.

Mr. Irate Motorist, just how many lanes do you want? -- An early morning encounter with a jerk gets me thinking.

Links

This section has its own page now, organized by category. I add new links almost every week, so check back frequently. Any new link I add will be preceded by a friendly orange New! for one week.

 

"I'll tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood." -- Susan B. Anthony, 1896

This page has had visits since June 18, 2005.
| Blog | Web home | Bikes are better than cars | Our culture is mentally ill | Knitting & Spinning | Misc. happy good things | Email me |
Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005 Riin Gill | Updated December 30, 2005