Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Rewards of Bike-Busing

Some people stare in wide eyed wonder at the sight of a wrinkly faced female biker pumping up the street with little tufts of white hair sticking out the sides of her helmet. It’s as if they think an older woman doesn’t belong on a bike. I don’t understand this. Back in the seventies I lived in Germany where a bike was considered the most normal and natural way for an old lady to get around. A common site in villages and along the Berg Strasse was that of a typical gray haired widow pedaling by in her calf length black mourning dress and woolen head scarf with a wire rack of groceries on the handle bars of a one speed bike. By contrast, it’s pretty easy to run errands on a twenty one geared Diamondback City-Cross equipped with flashing lights and water proof panniers big enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries.
When I tell people I don’t have a license to drive a car, jaws drop. ”What a shame! How do you manage?” They feel sorry for me.
“They don’t understand. It’s the other way around. I feel sorry for them!” Automobile drivers put themselves under an awful lot of stress and shorten their life expectancy. Besides, they miss so much joie de vivre by condemning themselves to solitary confinement in one of those motorized wheel cages to get around town.

Now be honest. Can you really see where you’re going on a rainy night when the water gushing down your windshield picks up the glare of street lamps and headlights from thousands of other cars? On such a night, try putting on good gortex rain gear, getting out of your car and onto a bike. Your vision will improve a hundred percent. Instead of blinding you, the street lights will turn rain puddles into pools of molten gold. Traffic lights and headlights will blink at you cheerily from the distance. Rain drops will turn into tiny fairy lanterns falling past the bike lamp on your handle bars. Others will touch your cheeks like little elf kisses, soft and cool.. Suddenly you will come alive, experiencing the weather the way the Universe meant for you to.
I feel especially sorry for automobilers boarding the ferry. They miss all the fun. They don’t get to stand on the landing and watch the attendants wind the giant lines around the mammoth cleats. They don’t get to see how deftly the big boat slips into its mooring. They can’t talk with the attendants, hear their jokes and gossip nor eaves-drop on other peoples’ lives.

That’s the worst part about an single occupancy vehicle! You don’t get to talk to anybody. If you were to wave or say hello, no one would see or hear you. The best part about bike-bussing is that it’s social. Another old lady notices how much fun I’m having and gives me thumbs up with a grin. Strangers stop to talk with me as I wait at traffic lights. How lonely life would be without the occasional chat with a neighbor at the corner bus stop!

Once a friend asked me how much extra time it takes to bike-bus to work instead of driving a car. I thought about that for a second. “None,” I said. When I’m on the bus, that’s when I get my reading done. When I’m biking, that’s when I get my exercise. If I drove a car to work, when I got home I would have to figure out when I was going to get my reading and exercise done.” It has always puzzled me that people drive cars to the gym for exercise.

Some people look at me and say, “She’s a tough old broad!.”
On the contrary, I’m a wimp. I avoid uphills whenever possible. And contrary to prevailing myth, you can circumvent a lot of Seattle’s hills with a well planned route. For instance, if I’m going up to Beacon Hill, I can take bus #106 up there and bike the Chief Sealth Trail back down. But even without using the bus, there are lots of ways to go around hills. I’ll go a couple of miles out of my way to avoid a steep incline. Strong, young bikers tend to chose Beacon Hill as the route down town from my neighborhood. Not me. I take Rainier Ave and/or MLK.

“What? You take the busiest arterials?!”.

“Yes but I bike much of the way on sidewalks.”

“The manual says bikers are supposed to act like cars and NEVER ride on the sidewalk!”

That rule was made for young fast bikers. There is an unwritten dispensation for pokey old ladies. Most of the sidewalks around here are rarely used by pedestrians. They’re virtual bicycle freeways. At my snail’s pace, how could I choose to stumble along the gutter of a busy street with raucous speedy monsters breathing foul engine smoke down my neck when I could be on an endless stretch of adjacent empty sidewalk?
Another mistaken assumption is that a bike-bus life style is a badge of courage because you have to be outdoors in cold, wet weather. As I arrive at a destination, someone will ask whether I’m cold. Obviously that person has never been on a bike. Actually I am the most cold-intolerant sissy on the planet. But all bundled up in polypropylene and gortex, I am more likely to be too hot than too cold pedaling my bike. And I never wait long on a cold, dark street corner for a bus. A bus route across town may feature as many as three busses, thus requiring two waits at transfer points. Not so for the bike-busser. If the expected wait is longer than five minutes, I bike that stretch instead. Then when I get where I’m going I don’t have to waste time searching for a parking space.
In fact, it is a best kept secret that one of the most time efficient ways to get around Puget Sound is by a combination of bike, bus, and ferry. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t publish this because then the secret will be out. After all, there are only two bike rack spaces on the average bus. But that’s alright. If bike-bussing gets too popular, Metro will just have to install more.

Besides being economical with time, bike bussing is incredibly easy on your pocket book. If a bus ride is part of my trip, I only have to pay a quarter – yes, that’s just twenty five cents – with my senior citizen pass. Then biking fuel is free, except for maybe the cost of an extra banana or two. Not to mention the low environmental cost. Bikes don’t give off green house gases, and for obvious reasons, I tend to shop locally whenever possible. You aren’t likely to find me patronizing big warehouses out along the freeway. Bike-bussing is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon foot print and help save Mother Earth .
Try it. You might like it.


Alder said...

So inspiring! I live in Portland and feel like a wuss when it's cold and rainy, and I think we get less rain than you. Also, it's a bit less hilly.

People tell me I won't be able to keep up biking when I'm "old." BS! Obviously those people have never seen pictures of older people all over the world biking everywhere they go. Use it or lose it!

Woo! Keep it up!

Esther said...

Yeahhh! I loved this post. Right now I'm a young lady on a bike but someday I hope I will be as inspiring an old lady on a bike as you.
-Esther (friend of Ken's from Portland)

Anonymous said...

You go, girl!

(from a 72 year old bicyclist)

Char said...

I just learned of your blog from an e-mail list and LOVED your first posting - and am looking forward to lots more! :) :) I am also an owner of a Bike Friday (though not a tandem). They are GREAT bikes, eh? You are a great writer - you describe the feelings, sights and sounds of biking so precisely. :) I went car-free a few months ago and am doing just fine without a car. People look at me and can't believe I gave up my car - it's as if I told them I cut my legs off!! Good grief. They have NO idea of the joys of biking. And it's a sport/hobby that you can enjoy as we grow older - you can't say that about too many sports! :)

Take care and please continue to write more on your blog!!