Archive for the ‘ Cycling ’ Category

Live Deliberately

Maybe this time I’ll get it right. No, no, that’s not the right approach. There are plenty of things in life you will not get right the first time. Perhaps I shouldn’t foist that upon you, but I know there are plenty of things I didn’t, haven’t, and likely won’t get right the first time. It’s taken me a long time to come around on tenets that comprise the core of my being, whether that’s as a vegan, a non-driving city dweller who wants more city for everyone, or as a woman, to mention a few key ones. Each of those has taken me years to refine. It’s never about being the best. What’s best, anyway? It’s about being a better person than I was yesterday. Sometimes I don’t do a good job with that. We all have our bad days. Hell, some of us have had bad lives. Perhaps a younger version of me would have blamed a lot of people for that. The current version knows damn well a lot of us are doing the best with what we have and some of us don’t have nearly as much as we should.

As I become a more realized version of myself, though, I live in a world that does not seem prepared for it. I trundle through a city with laughable bike infrastructure, wondering about what the next pothole or trolley track or car might do to me, aware that the article would inevitably point out that I was not wearing a helmet like that excuses the body count of our car-first culture. I watch as your jaw drops a little when I say I don’t really miss bacon at all, because that’s a difficult world for so many to comprehend. I stand mortified, afraid to correct a co-worker who misgenders me because I hope against hope that no one else even noticed and then my heart drops when I realize they probably didn’t notice because that’s how they think of me too. I used to think they were all demonstrably different aspects of who I am, the cyclist, the vegan, the trans woman, and in some ways, they are but they aren’t really, inasmuch as they are all elements that very much set me apart from the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation,  trapped in their cars, trapped in their masculinity. Efforts to push against that will not be tolerated.

Of course, in some ways, they are demonstrably different. People give me strange looks when I say I bike to work, they look like they pity me when I say I’ll pass on the milk chocolate, but they give me downright hostile looks just for assert myself as a woman. There’s a slim chance I’ll get in an accident riding, and I might go hungry for a meal, but being trans is enough to put your life in danger. Less so for me than for many others, less by virtue and more by luck, but it is still a more real possibility than any other danger I face. Some days, I feel I am living less deliberately and more defiantly, though that is just a function of a society that treats any deviation from the norm as defiance. We may encompass vast ranges, but so much comes down to binary choices: yes/no, man/woman, black/white. Ours is not a culture of nuance. It is barely a culture of change. We stake to calcified opinions that we do not question. It’s hard to change your mind on something, and it’s even harder to share that with the world. It always requires an explanation, and even then, we still hold old versions of ourselves over each other. Even as I have changed so much, I still do it. I know this is something I have struggled with and continue to challenge myself on; I understand it is difficult. I know it’s easy to forget how everyone else’s life is in motion just like our own when everything appears static from the outside. I get that our realities complicate and compromise our best efforts to live deliberately. So many things outside of our control affect it. I get that we all have to make choices with the finite time we have. I get that what is right for me may not be right for you, as there are so many different ways of living. Or at least I get that now, though I doubt I understood that nearly as well even a few short years ago.

It’s not about getting there first. I want to live in a culture that celebrates trans realities, and if you are already there and realize that trans people are just that, people, cool. But there’s no special ribbon for getting there first. And it’s also worth remembering there was a time when perhaps you didn’t think of it that way. I don’t take that as a sign that some people are more evolved or anything like that. I take that as a reminder that there are areas that I probably don’t challenge myself on that I may come to realize in the future are absurd. I take as a reminder to be open to thinking another way. I may have once struggled to see myself as the woman I am, but now I can’t see myself as anything but. The act of living deliberately isn’t about questioning every little thing all the time. We still have to function on a daily basis and it can be paralyzing to always be like that. But it does mean we should engage those questions. Being trans is really great preparation for that. Perhaps you have a different teacher in that regard. We can’t change the past. But luckily, we aren’t those people anymore, even if we see ourselves and others that way sometimes. I know it’s hard. I know other people may not understand, perhaps now, perhaps ever. I know it’s a lot easier to look back and ascribe a purpose to all of it than it is to see in the moment. Maybe I will finally get it right this time. But if I don’t, then how am I going to be better tomorrow?

Why Do You Drive?

As I strolled down Götgatan one last time, I soaked it all in. It was a warmer day than the rest of my week in Stockholm, but it looked the same as the others. People driving cars, slowly making their way down Götgatan, going perhaps 30 km/h, sharing the road with people biking in a bike lane that deftly shifted between the sidewalk and the road, well separated from them. Lots of people walking, but respecting the bike lanes because they had ample space of their own to amble.Parked bikes up and down the streets on numerous bike racks. Everywhere. Even as the temperature stayed near or below freezing the entire trip. Perhaps you’ve been to Stockholm, or another European city with a strong cycling culture, but this was a first for me. It was just so beautiful to see so many people cycling like it was a perfectly normal everyday thing. When I got back on my bike yesterday, I was immediately reminded of the difference in the United States again. Bike racks hidden, off to the side of buildings, if they are anywhere at all, and mostly empty. Several dudes on their fancy bikes in their spandex talking about the latest mountain they climbed, but not many folks who looked like they were just going to enjoy a cup of coffee or running errands. People driving on 30 mi/h at speeds that felt faster, buzzing me in my bike lane if I had one, cutting me off at intersections for no good reason other than their false sense of road ownership. It was a frustrating 10 miles yesterday.

We make the decisions about what we set up as normal even if we don’t realize it. It’s accepting that it’s always been there, that it will always be this way, that it couldn’t possibly be any other way. It’s in how we talk about it. When I talk about being a bike commuter in San Francisco, the responses are a mix of admiration (“I could never do that”), fear (“isn’t it dangerous?”), and curiousity (“how long does it take to get to…”). People never ask why I ride a bike, but that’s always the underlying question. I can list all sorts of positive elements to riding a bike in the city. It takes less time than riding transit for sure, and I can’t imagine driving in this city is any quicker, especially factoring in parking (though I cannot truly speak to that since I’ve never been a driver here). It’s a good way to burn a few calories. I can still do all the things I did before, I just have to do them a bit differently, a couple smaller trips to the store instead of one big one, for example. Bikes still require maintenance, but they cost a lot less to maintain than cars, and I spend a lot less getting around on one without dealing with aspects like parking and gas. If anything, the only real detractor to riding bikes in this city is the infrastructure for it is terrible. But consider turning the question around: why do you drive a car?

In the United States we have created a car culture. It did not always existed. It is a mistake to view it as such. The automobile as a consumer product is barely more than a century old. Even San Francisco is older than that, as are many American cities. Roads have existed for far longer than that; it’s how we’ve used those roads that’s changed. As I sat in a 5 that was held up, like usual, along Market due to the overabundance of traffic, I was quickly reminded of that. It’s a space that is ostensibly for all, with wide sidewalks, four lanes for transit and other vehicle traffic, and occasionally a bike lane. Transit could use better right-of-way in that stretch. But cyclists in that stretch get short shrift, both by those driving and the actual design. A sharrow is not a bike lane, and while it may serve as a heads up bikes may be there, there’s a big difference between creating a space for those who bike and simply saying this space for those who drive may also be used by bikes. That’s mostly what we have here in San Francisco and throughout the US. There’s very little space that is dedicated to bikes. Even in those areas where it exists, there’s a lot of other traffic to contend with. Sure, it’s great there’s a contraflow by City Hall for two blocks that’s a protected bike lane, but I rarely go through there, and I never see anyone there when I do. But stretches I do see lots of people biking that would benefit from greater and/or respected space for bikes, like Valencia or the Panhandle don’t have anything nearly as nice as that Polk contraflow. As a culture, we largely refuse to create space explicitly for those who bike; when we do, we rarely police it in such a way that it’s free and open for those who bike to enjoy it.

But car culture doesn’t just succeed because of path dependency and how we’ve constructed our communities, though both those things help its continued dominance. Car culture succeeds because we don’t even think to walk or bike or take transit. While design obviously influences that, even when it’s an option, it’s just not even a consideration to most people. For many, the alternative to not driving is to take an Uber, but it’s a manifestation of the same point. It’s still taking a small occupancy motor vehicle from point a to point b. We’re changing is who’s driving it. And certainly, there are advantages to that, ostensibly better usage of vehicles that largely sit unused, avoidance of drunk driving, and so on. I just say this to illustrate that even when we don’t personally drive, we still see driving as the solution to our transportation needs in many cases. We don’t worry about whether a new building has good access to transit in our laws, but we legislate how many parking spaces are required in building codes. We call auto crashes accidents, as if they occur by chance, even though almost 34,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013 according to the CDC. And even then we call them accidents or unintentional injury deaths. Driving is dangerous, even if the numbers have been trending downward. But even if you opt out of driving, you still face the danger of being hit by those who drive. Irrelevant of how we navigate our cities, we all share in interest in lowering this trend, in creating safer streets for all to enjoy.

If you start biking around San Francisco, I think you’d see a different city. Not just because the bike routes tend to take you different ways. Because you are freed up to see more. It’s a more leisurely way of getting around; my stress is mostly trying to avoid the danger of motor vehicle, and even that pales in comparison to the stress of operating one of those motor vehicles on these streets. If you start biking around San Francisco, I think you’d realize the hills aren’t that bad. If you start biking around San Francisco, I think you’d realize biking is a pretty good way to get where you are going. You’d also realize that we can do a much better job of creating better systems for that. The Wiggle is a terrible bike route. Its only redeeming value is its flatness. But the problem with The Wiggle isn’t where it is but that we refuse to truly dedicate a space to those who bike. This doesn’t happen overnight, of course. Cities like Stockholm didn’t just magically create an effective multimodal system. That’s years of hard work and planning. That’s having effective mass transit as a backbone. That’s my problem with saying we have to drive here. We’ve created a system where we have to, but that’s a different issue. We have to make better decisions for those who come after us. Some of that would be making people pay more of the true costs of driving. Whether it’s the cost of gas in this country or how enamored we are with the concept of free parking, we most definitely do not pay the true costs. Some of that involves creating cities where driving is less necessary because people have more and better options than driving, are able to live closer to where they work, etc. But I still think the biggest part of that is a question I asked early. Why do you drive? It’s a thorny question to untangle, I am aware, but it’s a series of decisions and systems we build that lead us to that point. If you say you have to drive, well then, what forces created a system where you have to? And why is that what we judge as what should be normal or expected? Normal shouldn’t be thousands of people dying every year in preventable crashes. Normal shouldn’t be having to drive because we have failed to create other effective options. Driving is not an equitable activity. It’s expensive, and it shuts out many who cannot afford it from a lot of opportunities because we’ve constructed a society that largely views it as necessary. If you don’t want to think about why we set those sorts of ideas up as normal, ask yourself why not.

Good Exercise

When I tell people I bike commute, there is something a general flow to the conversation that follows. It doesn’t vary that much now that I live in San Francisco, though my perspective has changed now that I don’t even own a vehicle other than my bike. In general, there’s admiration mixed with some incredulous statements (good for you!, I don’t think I could do that, etc) that segues into questions/statements about the general danger of biking. Now, I don’t need anyone to tell me that biking isn’t the greatest here. I bike on Market Street several times a week, and I get all the examples I could ever want. But something else curious happens every time I have these conversations.

I generally don’t pay much credence to Willie Brown’s columns, and this one is no exception, but there is an odd observation at the end about bikes. I’m not gonna link, because he doesn’t particularly deserve the clicks in my opinion, but here’s some random text from the end of his most recent opinion piece:

Willie Brown

People say things like this a lot about cyclists. I’ve gotten used to hearing it. I’ll give you a minute to get past the astonishing random sexism there. Perhaps I’ll save that for another time, but right now, I’d rather focus on the other aspect of that which I hear a lot: an unsubstantiated opinion about cyclists. That isn’t based on anything. I don’t even know how you could determine the age of the cyclists you see. There are plenty more where that comes from. Sometimes people tell me that cyclists should stay in their lane (even on roads where signs explicitly say cyclists have full use of the lane, even in situations where motor vehicles are parked in the bike lane); other times they just say they shouldn’t even be in that place (even though bikes have just as much right to be on the road as other vehicles, so much so that it’s recognized by law), or follow the laws of the road if they want to ride on the road (while ignoring the differing mechanics of biking versus driving or ignoring the fact that drivers frequently don’t follow those same rules). Most people will profess at the beginning of the conversation that they do not bike commute, and don’t even go out much except for an occasional social ride, yet they seem to have “the solution” to whatever the bike woes of a place are. I rarely have conversations like this with other cyclists. In those situations, I tend to have conversations about routes, preferences, secrets, gear, whatever. The conversation might be focused on bikes, but it’s quite a different conversation.

San Francisco likes to tout its mileage of bike infrastructure, and looking at a map like this leaves you with the impression that there’s quite a bit. I guess there is if you are counting the roads where they drop an arrow on it and indicate bikes will be present, but as someone who’s ridden quite a bit of it, I still haven’t found a good east-west route from the Financial District to Inner Richmond. Perhaps my perspective is skewed by the fact that my east-west ride in the Twin Cities was Summit and The Greenway, two really fine examples of on-street and separate bike lane systems that I didn’t have to share with pedestrians or even cars all that much, but there’s definitely nothing like that here. San Francisco certainly does some things really well (the green waves are quite nice) and has strong organizations like the San Francisco Bike Coalition fighting to make things better here, to make more bike-first routes. I am not saying that I have any brilliant new ideas. I don’t honestly. I think a lot of the ideas I’ve seen are good, but it’s a matter of getting from “we have an idea” to “we have the means to accomplish it” to “it’s done”. And no matter what that is, that’s a tough thing to accomplish in this city. Plus, I get that it’s not just going to become the bicycle utopia I’d like to see. I want East Bay bike infrastructure in San Francisco, and that’s just not going to happen overnight. Of course, there are different elements that created that infrastructure in Oakland/Emeryville/Berkeley. Perhaps we will get there some day, but it’s a long game. Which is why, even if I jest a bit about the protected contraflow bike lane on Polk (which I’ve never used since I’m rarely in a position to), I know that what is two blocks today could be two miles in five years. It is an important step, and nice to see.

Here’s what I see when I bike. Yes, I do see bikes run lights and stop signs. I also see cars do that. I see buses rumble through intersections when they should probably wait. I see pedestrians step into the flow of traffic even though there’s already a car coming and at that time they do not have right of way as dictated by the traffic signals. I see cars block pedestrians by trying to get through an intersection when there’s no space. I see cyclists ride through pedestrians when they don’t have right of way and probably shouldn’t. I don’t know what the impulse is that drives that behavior. I’m not going to claim to be immune to it. I am definitely not claiming I haven’t done some of these things (in most modes of transit) I don’t know if it’s just that we all think our time is more important or that we are all in our own little worlds at times. I am sure there are probably studies on these issues that point all sorts of ways. What I do know, what I do observe, is the mode of transportation isn’t what drives this behavior. It’s us. So it feels a little strange to lay it on a particular vehicle type. For me, I know not all bikers are like that, just like I know not all drivers are and not all pedestrians and so on and so forth. But that attitude does have impacts.

We all have a lot of affinity with drivers because most of us are or have been at some point a driver. I do think that affinity matters. It influences our perspective I live in a city where most people are multimodal when it comes to getting around. That increased modality leads to increased affinity, whether it’s with transit or walking or bike or driving. What I think would be a good exercise is for people to increase that modality. There are going to be people who still make lazy judgments and assessments with no experience. But something I’ve noticed in other areas of my life is what people are most frequently missing is perspective and exposure to different ways of thinking, of being, of doing things. I don’t say this to justify some of the things I observe when biking, or even some of the things I do (like I said, I’m not immune by any means), though, like I said, I think there’s a far broader reason than “it’s a bike”. But I do think it’s an important exercise, and not one that is all that hard. It takes me less time to bike to work than any other means of getting there. It takes me less time to bike to just about anything here in the city. It is the best way for me to get around, the least time consuming, the most flexible. I also live by myself, have no kids, and am able, which invariably affects my perspective on the flexibility of this means of transit. Biking isn’t the right answer for everyone, but it probably is a good answer for a lot more people than just me and the others I see riding around. And even if it isn’t something you end up doing full time? I think you’d be amazed at how you might see your city, your commute, and your fellow travelers differently. Besides, it’s good exercise.

Bike Share

Last weekend, for the first time, I took advantage of one of the city bike programs that seem to be spreading from city to city throughout the US. I never really had cause to use it in Minneapolis and still don’t in San Francisco, as that’s what my own bike is for. I’d thought about jumping on one when the initially unveiled it in the Twin Cities, just to see what those giant green bikes were like, but I guess my curiosity wasn’t worth whatever it cost then. But in Chicago, I had a great opportunity to try them out. At $7 a day with unlimited rides under 30 minutes, it wasn’t much more expensive than trying to take the bus and figure all of that out, and it certainly gave me a good deal of flexibility. Here are some observations based on a couple days of pedaling around Chicago on a Divvy:

The kinds of trips I took were just about perfect for these sorts of bikes. It was about 4 miles from where I was staying to Union Park, where I was going every day, with a direct route down a road that (mostly) had a bike lane. With the 30 minute cap before you incur a fee, that’s seems to be the idea behind it, or at least the intent behind the fees, to keep you from riding too long, to keep the bikes in circulation, whatever. Anything under a mile feels fairly walkable to me (well, that’s not true…everything is walkable in San Francisco). But a bike really helps make those trips between 2-5 miles a bit more manageable. Honestly, I doubt it would have taken me much less time to drive the same distance, especially factoring in parking by the festival. Not that a car was an option I had on the table this weekend. Just comparatively speaking.

Speaking of driving time, I think that is one of the most worthwhile aspects to these kinda of programs. I already know that it doesn’t take much longer to ride on those short trips. In many cases it can be shorter. Hopefully more people realize that after some time in these.

The stations themselves were frequent enough that I didn’t have to think about it too much. While it would have been more difficult 10 years ago to implement an idea like this, now you’re a smartphone app away from being able to not only find the nearest station, but the availability of bikes. Of course, you still have to have that smartphone. The stations also do a good job of telling you where nearby stations are if you have issues (no space to park, no bikes, etc.), provided you know the city in question. Each morning, I was able to pick a station appropriately close to wherever I had breakfast, and I even was able to entertain the notion of hopping on one of the bikes to go a bit further to get my breakfast. The access really broadened my thoughts about where I could go in the city without dealing with cars or transit.

Nothing will ever break those bikes. It felt like pedaling a solid mound of stone. But that’s what they are designed for, aren’t they? They need to withstand multiple rides from people in addition to the streets of Chicago. Halsted had some potholes that would put Interstate Park to shame. While I’m sure they do have issues occasionally (and I did pull one that had a seat that would not adjust), on the whole, they are built to withstand whatever abuse you might put them through. Which is good, because I’m guessing they need to be.

You aren’t going anywhere too quickly on them. Because of their weight and their relative simplicity (three gears), you aren’t gonna see anyone whipping through city streets on those. Again, I’m sure that’s somewhat by design. I had to make some minor mental adjustments as I rode because of that; I saw lights that my brain said I could make only to remember that I was not on my own bike and I was not getting this thing through the intersection in time. That is probably okay especially for safety’s sake.

I can’t make a direct line comparison (I haven’t ridden my bike in Chicago), but it’s easy to imagine that other vehicles on the road treated me differently than they would have had I been on my bike. Again, it was just a thought I had. I don’t really have a way to test that, so take that as you will.

The process isn’t that hard, but it still feels a bit long. I get why they need some of that information. I get they have to ask those questions. Perhaps I could have registered some information online to make it quicker. And it wasn’t that much. Just that the menus took a bit more navigation. I don’t know why they asked for my zip code, whether it was to run the card or to run some metrics, or perhaps both. But it also didn’t feel like much more than the CTA asked me when I tried to get train passes. So perhaps I’m just spoiled with my own bike and a Clipper card.

The app is a pretty great thing. It’s nice to be able to look up the stations, and more importantly whether or not there are any bikes there. Unfortunately, it didn’t save me any time because…

I discovered multiple stations in Chicago where the card readers didn’t work. Due to the nature of the system, you have to dip your card (their terminology) every time you get a bike. Which makes sense, but is unfortunate when you find a station that doesn’t work. I had to go to three stations both Friday and Saturday night before I found a bike either due to that issue or lack of availability by the time I got to the next station.

I cannot imagine using a bike like that in a city like San Francisco. Chicago is blessedly flat. I already bike everywhere. I’ve gotten used to the constant hill-climbing that is riding anywhere in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, the payoff on the downhill is nice. But it was a nice change of pace to be someplace where there was almost no climbing the entire 4 miles. On one of these bikes, it just seems like it’d be a slow and tiring affair. That is probably why there only seem to be stations down in the Financial District, SoMa, and such. The converse is they are much better suited for a city like Chicago.

Who compromises the annual user base? I saw a few of them. Or at least, that seemed to be why people could just go up and use something (a key?) directly next to the bike to get one while I dipped my card and waited for a new code. I am mostly curious what the reasons. $75 isn’t that much (which is what I think the annual fee was), but I wonder who those people are. Because if you were doing a lot of riding, it seems like even just finding a cheap beater bike at a local shop or on Craigslist would also be an effective option. Then again, if all the rides they are doing are short distances, and they don’t have the space, and more importantly, they don’t want to deal with the occasional hassle of owning a bike, I can totally see any of that. There are definitely valid reasons for not wanting to own a bike. I feel like they are less extreme than not wanting to own a car (it’s definitely significantly cheaper), but they are still valid. And now I’m just a bit curious. I hope they gather that kind of into to strengthen these programs.

I saw quite a few people on them. This is a good thing. Yes, there are plenty of reasons to not ride a bike, and for plenty of people it’s not a good option. But for a lot of people they are a good option. So if this is something that gets them out there using them more, that seems like a great thing to me. Even with the dipping and the codes and finding the station, it’s a pretty quick to get the bike and get moving. It’s even easier to get rid of the bike when you are done, just find a station and lock it in. Bikes are a great way to get around for short trips. And having a system that makes that easy is a good thing. These systems definitely make it easy.

It’s not like I’m trading in my bike tomorrow. But I can see the appeal of these sorts of programs. And I’m glad to see they are finding users. More people on bikes hopefully helps beget better infrastructure for bikes. More people on bikes hopefully helps those people recognize what it’s like to be a bike on the road the next time they get in their car. More people on bikes is a good thing. I can’t wait to see more of it.

Infrastructure

When Nextbus says that the 31BX is 5 or 6 minutes away, that’s when I should be out the door. When it says it’s 4 minutes, I have to hustle, but I can still make it if I leg it. Otherwise, I may as well plan an alternate or wait for the next bus. Yesterday, I left when it said 4 minutes, made it down to the bus stop, and proceeded to wait another 14 minutes for the bus. By the time it came, there was another 31BX immediately behind it. At least my ride wasn’t overfull as I got on the second one and waited to get to the Financial District. After 9 am instead of before like usual. It’s not like I’ve got anyone watching the clock telling me I have to be there at a certain time (though some people do), so it doesn’t matter which of the morning buses I hit in that regard. And yeah, I have my phone, so I can see what everyone’s been saying all morning on Twitter instead of just standing around. While it’s not how I plan to use 14 minutes, as a now-everyday rider, I know I am going to get lots of chances to use small bits of time like that. For me, the challenge has been deciding what to do with those small spaces. Mostly, I’ve decided to use them to read and write since I have the time and technology to do that.

There aren’t many other buses that I always try to catch at the same time, so it’s less pronounced. But at least once a week, I spend 10 minutes longer at 6th and Balboa than I had any intention to. I understand that is currently part of being a bus rider. What I also understand is if, as a society, we truly want people to embrace the use of mass transit, that needs to change. It seems to be a paradoxical situation, with ridership being hard to come by if one can’t count on the bus and transit systems and tax payers not necessarily excited about pouring more money into a system that people aren’t taking advantage of. That certainly felt like an issue in the Twin Cities with the buses unless you had the fortune of taking the right route. I rode them on occasion, mostly after I lived in Saint Paul and lived, but I never depended on them like I currently do in my carless state. Technology has made it easier, for sure, as I can actually check on the times, but it just seemed like a lot of the buses I wanted in the Twin Cities were every 30 or 60 minutes. And while there inclement weather could make a frustrating ride even worse, here in San Francisco, we don’t have that excuse. So what do we have?

While I was dealing with my normal morning commute, some Google employees in the Mission were getting ready for theirs. In San Francisco, that means quite likely getting on one of the large charter buses that ferry people from San Francisco where they have more of a desire to live down the Peninsula to towns like Mountain View and Sunnyvale where many of the tech companies you’ve actually heard of are, some 35 to 40 miles away. Except, at least at 24th and Valencia yesterday, they were held up by protesters. Protesting what? I am still not entirely sure what the overall effect of the gentrification protest was given the false umbrage that some entity tried to generate with the too-perfect, not real Google employee-protester spat that they just happened to catch on camera. I believe the overall point, though, was to protest the sharplyr raising costs of living and to intimate that these Google employees (and by synechdoche, all techies and tech culture) are destroying the real San Francisco and its spirit, etc as if they somehow single-handedly also influence zoning laws in addition to making money.

Now I have some problems with this because false umbrage is certainly not the way to deal with it. I’m hard pressed ot think of situations where misdirection helps. As annoying as my bus ride is at times, I know I am going to be at work in 35-40 minutes most mornings and I have several different routes I can take if one experiences an issue, all paralleling each other by 2 blocks. I could hop on my bike and be there in 25-30 minutes. Hell, I could even walk to work in a little over an hour if I hustled. Not saying I am about to. Just that I can. I both have the fortune and the desire to live fairly close to where I work, and it still takes a ton of time.

When I was looking at places, I had in mind what I wanted. I like a walkable neighborhood, with amenities and bus stops nearby. BART would have been nicer, because it tends to be a bit more regular, but that’s not a lot of the city when you get down to it. Civic Center, Mission, Glen Park, Balboa Park are the locations I could affordably see finding something near, and any closer in and I am walking distance anyway. I’d previously lived in a moderately walkable area downtown Saint Paul (you need grocers) and a highly walkable area in Uptown in Minneapolis (you I didn’t quite appreciate until the end). I know I like it.

The thing is, I am not alone in that. A lot of people here in San Francisco want similar amenities out of where they live. Not everyone here has the fortune of having a job that’s also located in the city. A lot of those jobs are across the Bay, down the Peninsula, miles away. Now I am a big proponent of living close to work. It’s something I’ve always angled for in my jobs. So I get the argument that people could just live in those cities that dot the Peninsula. But that means giving up a lot of the gains here in terms of walkability and proximity to events and random things that happen because this is San Francisco, dammit. Plus, at least out here, it’s not any cheaper to rent or buy in Mountain View than it is here in the city, which is one of those arguments that exists for suburbs (that I don’t really agree with).

But what about the cost of transit? Short of Caltrain, there’s not a lot of great options for getting south. And I don’t know how that would be for a commute versus a leisurely ride which is what I was in for the last time (and first time) I rode it. Certainly driving down to Silicon Valley isn’t a great option. I know people who do it. But that’s a lot of gas. And a lot of miles sitting in a car, alone, getting stressed as I imagine just about any driver gets. I know I do, and I know I have seen most people I have ridden with in my life have a moment or two, especially in rush hour traffic. So while I get that there are still issues to navigate in terms of where those corporate shuttles pick people up, and whether Muni sees some money back for use of their space (though isn’t that an allotment of civic space?), the actual idea behind the shuttles isn’t really what bothers me.

What bothers me is that those shuttles are the best option for Google or Genetech or whatever other companies use them in a lot of cases. They have a lot of employees who might take a public mass transit option if it were a bit easier, a bit more timely, had less transfers, etc. They are already taking mass transit. Is the umbrage that these companies are doing something to help make it more possible for their employees to live where they want to because our infrastructure, designed for cars, most of them single passenger rides, has let them down? The problem isn’t that Google thought to get a coach. The problem is our society has failed us in the promise of delivering options of getting around almost any way than by car in most of our major cities and greater urban areas in the US.

I know the bus is going to be late some days. Because it’s at the whims of traffic. And I know there’s not really a great dedicated bike route for me. Those are my two realistic options currently. But why aren’t the roads designed to better serve those modes of transit as well? Roads existed well before cars. People still had vehicles to park, though the vehicles were different. They were not invented for cars, though they have certainly been geared toward them in the last century. It does us all a disservice to continue to view them as such. A roadway for cars is a way of getting people from on point to another. So is a train line. So is a bike lane. So is a sidewalk. What seems unique is that when we talk about changing those paths in our cities, it seems to be about what the car has to give up, like it just earned those parking spaces or extra lanes or direct routes. It didn’t. As a society, we allocated that. I, for one, would love to see society allocate a bit differently.

People don’t like buses because they are crowded and late. People don’t like biking because it’s not safe in a lot of places. People don’t like trains and rail cars because it seems unless you live in the right spot they aren’t useful or they’re too infrequent, though they certainly seem to prefer them to buses. People don’t like walking because there’s nowhere to walk to. People don’t like all of those because they take too long. Driving can be faster. Driving can be more direct. Driving can be the best option because there’s nothing else in between. Driving also offers comforting illusions of control. I can try another route. I can leave whenever I want. I don’t have to wait for anything. I get all of those thoughts, I’ve thought all those thoughts. And I like driving when it’s not bumper-to-bumper traffic and non-stop stress. There’s nothing quite like rolling down the open highway, stereo blazing as you head toward wherever. I don’t think there’s a big problem with roads.

But there’s a discussion to be had about how we use our space, especially in denser urban areas where the default assumptions are toward cars and driving and have only recently started to shift back toward other uses. I don’t think corporate buses are an end-all solution to that by any means. Driving is the best way to get from point A to point B if we keep making decisions at a municipal level to support that over other means of transit. Buses might get someplace faster if they had dedicated lanes. Biking would be easier with direct protected bike lanes and might be a more alluring option. As cities, we have options about how we approach that. Personally, I’d like to see some different ideas on the table other than adding a lane to a highway because it’s congested. Why are people on those highways in the first place? What are some options to ameliorate that? Those are more complicated issues that touch not only on road use, but zoning and land use. If more people want to turn toward more urban environments that are more compact and provide the kind of amenities that cities do provide, how can we help create that?

I get that’s not what everyone wants. I personally don’t see myself ever moving back to a suburb. I just don’t see the point for me. I fail to see how they provide the things that I appreciate most out of where I live. If the calculus were skewed such that my job were out in the suburbs, I would still try to live in a city. I’m an urban girl. I know I’m not representative of the whole, though. But it does seem there are a lot of aspects to life in the US that are geared toward a certain way to live. Suburbs haven’t been around forever any more than the roads that wend their ways through them. They were a product of the times. Times have changed. I hope we are changing with them. It’d be nice to live in a city where the buses are on time.

Identity Crisis

Though I suffered a bit of a hiccup in the last couple months before moving, I managed to carve out at least a decently earned reputation as someone who spent the past two years biking to work (at least when I medically could). And it was most certainly earned when I spent enough time to accrue roughly 4,000 miles on my bike, though, in fairness, a lot of that was because of trips to Stillwater or Prescott or wherever else you’d be amazed you can actually reach on a bike with a strange minimum of road riding. I spent a lot of time on my bike, going to work, going to shows, even going to a Thanksgiving one year (good way to work off what you eat). But the biggest part of that identity was that I was a bike commuter, whether I really was that much or not.

Reputations have a habit of sticking with you once you develop them. We all know that. So even when I was barely riding the past couple months due to, well, the chaos of trying to plan a cross-country move that I didn’t necessarily think was realistically going to occur when I applied for the job, I still got a lot of questions about whether I biked that day, where to park a bike at the WFHM campus, and such. Not that these were unwelcome, mind you. I’d rather have the reputation of a bike commuter than a lot of other things, even if I didn’t feel like I was earning it all that well recently.

And now that I’m here in San Francisco, I’m barely earning it at all. Sure, I have biked to work, but it takes almost the same amount of time it took me to go 11 miles in the Twin Cities just to go slightly over 5. Bike infrastructure here could, uh, how do I say this politely…use some work? Rolling down Valencia is all fine and well, and depending on the time of day, Market’s okay, but it can also feel like a death trap as you dodge myriad other bikes in various states of attention, pedestrians, runners, buses, cars, taxis, and whatever other deathtraps MUNI can throw at you. It’s really taxing to ride here. And that’s not even getting into the hills.

Of course, some of the greater length is also just simple geography. I knew it was hilly here. But where I’m currently staying? Let’s just say the view is nice, and the climb is possible, but not the most thrilling in the world. Plus, there’s a stop sign or light every couple blocks, and short of the bike lane on Valencia being timed, I haven’t had a whole lot of luck hitting any of that stuff at a time where it’s nearly as quick as rolling down Summit was most mornings. But hey, at least there’s bike parking in the garage under my building…just don’t leave the bike overnight or you might not see it again. Not because of theft, but because of the garage rules. I’m not sure I want to test that one out, either.

But the final problem is just that BART is so easy. And it lets me do things I haven’t been doing nearly enough of recently, like read! It’s actually kind of nice to just stand on the train for 20 minutes a day and flip through a book. Of course, I’m not getting exercise other than the incessant walking that this city inspires all of us to do. But the real kicker of taking BART is that it’s really easy, not all that expensive, and not time-consuming. Or at least not any more time consuming than any other way I’d get to work, and as opposed to wondering who might hit me, I just hop on, hop off, and roll down Montgomery. I want to keep being a bike commuter in the one sense that it’s cheaper and easier. But there’s something to be said for the ease of good public transit.

Some of it may change. I may ultimately decide no matter what the troubles that bike commuting is still just a nice way to go. Probably not quite the same level of exercise it was before just by simple virtue that it’s a shorter ride, but still something that’s better for me. Because if I’m not doing it then, I’m gonna have to remember to carve out time to exercise. The converse is I’m going to have to carve out time again to keep reading if I want to keep that up.

Perhaps, though, I’ve just reached a point where I’m no longer much of a bike commuter to work. We all look at things as immutable in the sense that we believe we are going to do our regular activities at some unchanging pace. You think because you do something every Thursday that you will keep doing it every Thursday. And then you don’t. And then it’s like it never happened. Things fill in the other spaces in our lives so quickly. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss being a bike commuter if I suddenly find that I’m really never doing it to anything anymore. I will. But there will also be justifiable reasons, and I will fill things in around it. I’ll figure something else to do to get the endorphin rush, whether that’s as simple as running more or making time for longer evening and weekend bike rides once again. Perhaps, though, after a little more getting used to the city, I’ll realize that is how I want to get around, because I’ll be wanting to hit things up that aren’t easily done on the BART and it’ll give me greater flexibility. I shall see. For now, though, I hang up my mantle as a bike commuter and hope to pick it up again one of these days. It joins a collection of a lot of other things still hanging in that same place that I thought I might pick up again some day. Might be time to go through those again, see which still fit, and whether it’s time to pull any of them out again. Like any wardrobe, some pieces are done after a short while, but some, you just need to put away for a bit to appreciate.

Recrudescence

After a fair amount of ballyhooing in an attempt to talk myself into it and approximately 70 or so straight Mondays with snow, I finally managed to pull the bike off the hooks this morning and take it out for a spin. And by a spin, I mean the 11 miles to work. It’s finally not so bad out there. It was almost above freezing. There weren’t that many sheets of ice between the two cities. Most of the paths are fairly clear and you can ever start to see where the bike lanes are most of the time on Summit. And it took me quite a while longer than it will once I am riding more and it’s warmer, but it wasn’t all that bad considering the shape of the roads out there and the shape that I am in. Which is to say neither is too terrible, but both could use a little more work now that it’s getting warmer. It’s just been a while since I biked (my last ride to work was January 10th…ain’t technology grand?) and it’s different mechanics than going for a run or even jumping on an exercise bike. And all told, it was pretty good. I made it to work on time. The locker room wasn’t too crazy. The ride home felt a lot nicer other than the rotten shifting line (damn salt). I sussed out the maintenance my bike needs before the first truly nice day when Freewheel suddenly gets backed up 2 weeks just to get some minor work. And best of all, I didn’t use any gas today (at least until I randomly decide to go to First Ave later…that’s a different problem). Which is nice.

Sitting on a bike isn’t always luxurious. Waiting at lights, getting splashed on days like today when there are giant puddles, trying to augur exactly whether that driver wants you to go or just thinks you’re too incompetent to follow traffic signals, it’s not always particularly glamorous. I don’t miss that stuff when I’m not biking. I don’t miss the black ice. I don’t miss riding into a 10 mile an hour wind. I don’t miss the fact that it takes me a lot longer every time it’s cold just to put on all the layers. But all of that sure as hell beats sitting in totally inexplicable traffic. And while I know that it doesn’t (at least in any perceptible way), hopefully me being on that bike leads to a few slightly less frustrated drivers out there, and a little more space on the road. I’m not gonna go crazy and think that all of a sudden everyone out there is going to give up driving. But it is nice to change your relationship with it. Biking does that for me. Hell, biking does that for a lot of things for me. Even when I’m lollygagging (or at least that’s how it feels sometimes) on the bike, I’m still riding 22 miles a day, give or take a bit. And that’s still a lot of calories, so it helps keep me honest. But it’s more than that. There’s the cascading of driving.

Driving makes lots of things easier. I like to have a coffee every day, and I can get that at work. I don’t need anything fancy, I’m perfectly happy with a good cup of black coffee (or a mediocre one as the case is). And really, there are a ton of options for that. I also happen to enjoy a good pastry. The Twin Cities has a number of nice little bakeries that all have the fortune of being relatively convenient on my way to work. Which isn’t a problem when you are driving an average of once a week. Then it’s a treat. The stuff at work largely sucks, so it’s not that hard to avoid, but when I have the option to get a blueberry buttermilk scone at Isles Bun & Coffee sometimes I’ve got to avail myself. The problem is, I’ve had that option too much. Especially with the erratic winter road conditions. I leave early to make sure that I have plenty of time to get there and all of a sudden I have time to kill. And while there’s nothing wrong with something like that every once and a while, it adds up. In so many ways. Even if it is delicious. Biking doesn’t necessarily make me eat better anymore than it makes me spend less (at least relatively). But I do spend a lot of time working that off (and a lot more money on something I’d rather put it into). Not that I was sitting on my hands or anything. I still worked out. But another funny thing that biking does is it makes lots of stuff a lot more inconvenient.

I’m not a huge fan of stopping on the way to work when I bike. It’s a much more regimented schedule that I don’t leave a ton of room in to make a stop that’s inconvenient. Even when I used to stop at the Donut Cooperative (R.I.P.), which was all of 2 blocks off the Greenway, it usually ended up being a 10 minute affair. Nor do I particularly enjoy stopping on the way home. While I have more time in the sense that I usually don’t have to be somewhere right away, I still just want to get home and get on with whatever my evening has in store for me. Sure, if I need to pick something up at the store, something small like a prescription, that’s all fine and well. But picking up food on the way home is kind of a pain. So it just makes me go home. And then I’m home, and I have all this stuff here, so I cook or have some leftovers or whatever. I know that all of this must seem a little stupid. But we all only have so much willpower in a day. And after 8 hours of keeping my wits about me and trying to not say anything too stupid at work, well, I’ve spent all the willpower I’ve got many days. So yeah, I’m gonna swing by someplace a lot of times. Because I just want to be home, sure, but the difference between stopping in a car isn’t necessarily as big. Because I don’t consciously have to do the work. Right it takes more gas, and it certainly takes more time, but the difference just doesn’t seem significant enough to keep me away from it in regards to those aspects. I know myself. I know the easiest way for me is to just not make something an easy option. It’s the kind of personality I have. I’m not particularly ashamed of that. There are some good sides to the converse of that (another time). But I know biking does a lot of good things for me. Besides perhaps the obvious things that you might associate with biking. Because I tell you, it doesn’t end up costing a whole lot less. I just spend it on that bike. I’m sure if I got rid of my car, that’d be a totally different scenario, but at present, that’s just not the case.

So yeah, it’s gonna start to be that time where I complain about double-wind days. Or where I lament the fact that I’m getting up just before 6 am again consistently. Or where I curse how so many parts could break on my bike at once. But it’s also time where I get that great feeling of seeing the buildings in downtown are that brilliant pink-orange in the morning. Or when I see a bald eagle flying along the Mississippi like I did today (I know, without Instagram, it never happened). Or when I start to actually make better use of those bike racks in front of First Ave once more. It’s weird sunburns and rides to Wisconsin and rides by Minnehaha because one should go there often, regardless of season. It’s getting to bed a touch earlier because that’s what it takes though it comes easier after a day of riding. Anyway, early for me is probably different than early is for you.
Besides, it all gets a touch easier when I get back into the swing of things. So here is to a good first day of what will hopefully be many, many more. Perhaps one of these years there won’t be a need to feel this way because I’ll never stop. But I imagine a lot of things will change, even between now and next winter. And let’s face it, Minnesotans, we can finally say winter is on its way out, so let’s not think about that for a while. In the meantime, let’s get out there. You’d be amazed what you’ll find.

Reasons (Excuses)

If you’ve been to my place, you’ve seen my bike hanging all too low from the hooks. It’s been hanging there for over two months, with my last ride coming prior to my trip to Burbank. I have a litany of excuses, some more valid than others, but overall, they are just that. I am a creature of habit, so it’s not that surprising. And it’s not like I’ve just been sitting around for a couple months, as I’ve been trying to challenge myself to be more of a runner since that’s a much easier thing to do when I travel. But again, it’s all just rationalization.

Granted, time is finite, and winter riding, even when it’s a weak winter like last year, is not the most enjoyable activity. Between random patches of ice, wicked breezes, and near-constant efforts to figure out how to keep every part of your body warm while not getting too hot, it’s quite a chore. I spend probably an hour of my day putting on and taking off clothes. I have to get up earlier. But there is that rewarding feeling of doing something, even when it is not easy. I’ve been missing that recently.

I also feel I am doing a poor job of living up to my reputation as a bike commuter. But as it is most of time, it is just making the decision and making it stick. And I haven’t done that yet. Every weekend, I look at the weather, and I keep thinking, okay, this Monday. And yet, I don’t. Whether it’s snow or sickness or just the general lassitude of winter, I keep telling myself no, not this week. Of course, I could do it other days, or at least just take advantage of the relatively nicer days as they crop up. All true.

But it’s like everything in life. You just gotta do it or not, and be okay with whatever you decide. Right now, I am still not there when it comes to getting back on the bike. And I’m okay with saying to myself and others that I am just not right now. Most will nod and understand, given that they wouldn’t do it on a perfect day as it is. A few will understand because they are out there in those conditions for short rides. And a few will scoff because they don’t stop for anything. There’s truth in all of them, of course. That’s always kind of vexing, that so many things can be true at the same time. But I am a lot of things. I am a bike commuter as much as I’m a certified fraud examiner. Or a concert aficionado. Or a binge TV watcher. Or quite plugged in here in the Twin Cities. Or an occasionally on-point blogger who thinks she’s got something worth sharing. And a lot more things. And all of those things, all of those aspects are competing. So yes, right now, I am just doing what’s easy, at least in regard to the biking. But one of those other aspects surely has filled that space. It certainly makes the late-night weekday concerts a bit easier. But mostly, I am a creature of habit. And while they shift, I am in them strong when I am in them. One small change (like say, a warm week) and all of a sudden I am back getting up before 6 and on the bike. And then the habits shift a little to accommodate.

Monday isn’t exactly looking like a day I am ready for, with more snow and more that just makes me want to take the easy way in. And I will get in the car, I imagine. But perhaps I’ll make some decisions next fall that prepare me to ride through the winter. I’ll get some better gear, and a better bike (or at least better tires) for it. Who knows? That is quite a ways away. Though let’s be honest, if you don’t mind having gear that isn’t the newest, going out of winter is the best time to prepare for the next one. Perhaps I am not all that forward-thinking, even when I try to be. In the meantime, I can just be honest and say I haven’t done a great job of riding this winter. The reasons don’t really matter. I’ll get back on and it’ll be all good. There’s no sense in setting myself up for failure by trying to force myself to ride in a snowstorm when I am not ready for that. Reasons and excuses are quite often interchangeable, depending on how you feel about the subject. In this case, they’re both. There will always be more of either. And once I am back on the bike, those reasons and excuses will shift, perhaps to keeping me in when there’s a band to go check out. They are always there. You just have to be okay with that.

Explore Minnesota

As I was riding home today, I’m pretty sure I saw half of the Twin Cities, walking dogs, riding bikes, jogging, just enjoying what has been the best day in a winter full of good days. I think we can officially put winter to bed for 2012. Certainly it will be chilly in the mornings still, but I don’t see a high below 40 or a low below 20 for the next several days, so I can start thinking about shedding a layer on the morning rides, slipping in an extra five minutes, and hopefully getting home a few minutes sooner since it’s that much less clothing to put on and take off. That’s the hidden cost of winter biking. There’s a lot of layers going on there, and all that clothing takes a lot of time. So I think I can suffer through a couple mornings in the near future as I keep hitting the bike.

Unfortunately, I only just crossed the 700 mile mark for 2012. I know, I’m so lazy. On the plus side, I have ridden 32 of out 66 days (outside, at least…exercise bikes hardly count), and that percentage is sure to go up as we get into the stretch where I ride to shows, Twins games, or whatever the hell else catches my interest. I know that the longer days are ahead of me, when I start turning in 40 and 50 miles instead of just 22. And you know what? I look forward to it. Of course, spring and summer come with their own special hazards as more and more people crowd the roads and trails. It’s always a little treacherous on these first few nice days, not because of the ice (though that will be back in force one of the next few mornings), but because everyone out there is getting their bearings. I want them to, but you have to pay attention. People are still working on the kinks on their rides, still getting back in the swing of the simple courtesies of the road, and generally that stuff is not automatic. But it does come back (except for those jackasses who just never had it and never seem to want to find it).

It’s going to be tougher to get a tune-up, but that’s a good thing. That means more people are getting ready to get out there. Don’t take it into the shop just to put it back in your garage or basement and not pull it out again. There’s a bike storage room in my building and I swear 4/5ths of those bikes never move. Some of the owners may not even live there any more at this rate. Setting that aside, I should call Freewheel and schedule some time, because my bike needs some work as it is.

And if you want to see Lake Calhoun, you better go now. Because it just gets ungodly as it warms up. It’s the one place I am happy to be when it’s raining or cloudy or cold because half the Twin Cities is there if it’s nice. Bless their hearts, but there’s too many people who are just there to be seen. And there are so many better lakes in the chain. Maybe you are out there to see and be seen. I’m fine with that when I’m walking. But it’s a mess on a bike. There’s just not as much to see at 15 miles an hour.

Look, I’m not saying I expect you to start biking to work tomorrow (though, you know, it’s not that hard…). I know we all have a lot of things in our lives that pull us simultaneously impossible directions. While it would be noble to ride to work every single day, that’s just not going to happen in my life. Not that I shouldn’t try to make it happen every day, but there’s a lot to juggle. Sometimes I need to be in Brooklyn Park at 6, and while I certainly could do that on a bike, there’s still the fact that I would somehow need to get back to Saint Paul later that evening. Even someone like me who bikes a fair amount has to make those decisions. And maybe it’s not biking for you. All I’m saying is, I get that winter is an easy excuse to not do things. Especially this winter, when the normal wintry things weren’t even possible. Minnehaha was a little sad, though it was also nice to see the only partially frozen falls. It’s a bit different.

Anyway, it’s time to get onto those goals. Because this year, I’m figuring out how to get my bike from Saint Paul to Hastings. And though my mileage was a little disappointing for the first couple months, 6000 miles is still a realistic goal. Because the 200 mile weeks will begin to pile up. It’s not all that much anyway. My parents will ride at least as much as me probably, and I have an uncle who will definitely ride twice that. I bike because I enjoy it. I don’t expect everyone to. But if you are getting out there, are you enjoying what you do? Because you should. There are too many great things to do, especially right here in Minnesota, for you to be spending too much time doing one that you don’t enjoy. Whether it’s on a lake, around a lake, or nowhere near one doesn’t really matter. We can get too caught up in all the various bullshit of life. The long work days, the things we need to do, I get it, I have them too. The dishes still don’t wash themselves and until there’s a fundamental restructuring of the way our employment is structured in this country, I don’t think the long work days will stop any time soon either. Personally, I long for the days when the bike paths and road trails are so crowded that we actually have to pay more attention to that infrastructure. While it’s a bit contrary to a large part of why I bike (seriously, cut 5-6 hours of driving in traffic out of your life and see how much less stress you feel) as more bikes mean paying more attention and probably falling into those same pitfalls, I think we as a society are a long way from that. And it’s never going to become most people’s primary mode of transportation. So if it’s not biking, that’s fine. And if it’s not why you bike, that’s fine too. Get out there and run, or walk, or take those dogs to Cedar Lake. Make this the year you finally see Cascade River or the Devil’s Kettle. And if you don’t live here, I’m sure there’s plenty to do wherever you are. It’s not that hard if you look for it. The question is, do you really want it?

Volition

I am used to having some unusual conversations in my life. I must have inherited the gene from my grandfather that allows me to talk about essentially anything with anyone, ignoring things like circumstances, location, or how well I know the people. Certainly, I am more forthcoming than I used to be, which I believe to be a function of being happy with who I am. But I’m always surprised by the conversations and the overall general reactions. I talk about music and peoples’ eyes can glaze over as I mention band after band they’ve never heard of. Conversely, when I talk with people who plumb the depths of music just as much, it’s the exact opposite, the excited glow and effusive sharing. When I talk about trans stuff, at least most people I know and meet are pretty cool about taking it in and listening. Some are dismissive, but they at least seem to keep it to misgendering me over and over without outright calling me crazy. It’s when I talk about cycling that people tend to give me the “you are out of your fucking mind” look.

Last year, I rode about 3800 miles, which is a little disappointing for me. My tacit goal is about 500 a month, and I couldn’t ride until the beginning of April, so I was hoping for 4500, but it didn’t happen. Still, 3800 miles is a respectable number, and it’s a new year, so the goal renews. Not really a New Years Resolution, just a convenient point of demarcation, the new year. 500 miles a month roughly breaks down to 125 a week, which is not too hard to get close to when I ride my bike to work every day. And therein lies the one of the more enjoyable conversations that I have with some frequency. Here’s how it typically goes at work in Minneapolis. If I’m not at work, just imagine something that sets up the distance in the conversation:

Me – “I ride to work.”

Other person – “Oh, where do you live?”

Me – “In Lowertown.”

Raised eyebrow or similarly skeptical look
Other person – “How far is that?”

Me – “About 11 miles one way”.

Cue incredulity.

From this point on, there are a number of typical questions, but the order they go in vary from person to person. How long does it take (45 minutes one way), do you shower here (yes), what do you do when it rains/snows/etc (get gear out that takes care of it), how are you still riding in heat/cold/plague of locusts (most days, sure), what route do you take (Grand to Summit to Marshall to Greenway), do you ride up that big hill (which one?). The questions go on, and they are all specific items. There are questions about how safe I feel riding at night (not all that bad) to how I feel about riding in wind (possibly my least favorite thing in existence), whether I’ve been hit or I think I’m going to be (well, it’s road riding, not ruling it out, but no). They go on, and frequently I’m amazed by the specificity of the things that people ask in regard to cycling. Strangely, though, they never ask why.

Sure, it keeps me in shape, though frankly, probably not as much as some people imagine. I know I’ve covered it before, but it certainly does not save me money. I may not be spending it on my car (which I’m perfectly happy about) but I am spending it on my bike and various accoutrements. And I know I’ve said it before in long form, but it bears repeating because it’s a similar philosophy that carries over to the other things I do in my life, in who I am and how I choose to reflect that internally and externally. I do it because I like it, because I value it a lot, and because it means something to me.

Invariably there’s a part of the conversation where someone utters a statement like “I wish I could do that.” Here’s the thing. You can. If it matters to you, you should do it. Now I’m not saying everyone I know or work with should get out there, buy a bike, and start riding to work on Tuesday. That isn’t the issue to me. The issue to me is being honest enough with yourself to evaluate what is and isn’t important in your life and then making the decisions that help you follow through on that. I bike because it’s a good way to balance myself out. The time I spend on my bike is a bit detached from what feels like a hectic life. I’m not checking my phone, or updating my status, or particularly worrying about anything other than paying attention to the road and letting my mind go where it goes. And I assure you, it goes fun and interesting places when I just give myself 45 minutes or so to think. I like that uninterrupted time, I like the fact that I’m working off calories and keeping myself somewhat in line from a health perspective or at least balancing out some of my other more questionable choices. To me, those are important things. Just like experiencing live music is an important thing. Which is why I’m willing to go out on a Wednesday night to see a band and then get up and go to work the next day on said bike.

I get it, things come up in life outside of our control that can affect how or why we as individuals use our time. But that’s true of everyone. We are all too busy. We all don’t have enough time. There’s too much for all of us to do. Part of growing up is making decisions and sticking with them in regard to those things. I don’t really play video games much anymore. It’s not because there’s anything particularly wrong with them. I still enjoy them when I carve out the time. I will again soon with the pending release of Final Fantasy XIII-2. But they aren’t a priority like they were 10 years ago. I value different activities now. But I also know that there’s a lot more time out there to be used than we think. It may not feel like it, but remember the next time you feel crunched for time that it is likely that you made a decision that directly contributed to that crunch. I’m not saying you should not have made those decisions; I still feel all the time that I may have over-extended myself in a given day or week. So what’s the importance of biking relative to that?

Like I said before, it’s the time-out. It’s working in something that I feel I should already be doing without taking too much more time to do it. It kicks me out of bed and gets me to face the day. It wakes me up and helps me sleep at night. And if that’s biking for you as well, then by all means, join me in the too-crowded locker rooms at Wells Fargo each morning. And if it’s not that, take a minute to figure out what you need, and what provides it. And then do it. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I wish I could do that”. But it should give anyone pause. Stop and think the next time you find yourself saying that. Because if you really do wish you could do that, how are you going to make that happen? And if you don’t, why are you saying that?

 
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