4. Too Cute to Commute
or those who might try what he’d been doing, Al
anticipated the annual May Bike-to-Work Day by
putting together an FAQ. Civilians often asked about his
commuting, feigned interest. Nobody actually wanted to, might
muss up a cute hairdo. Supposed that people would like to follow
his lead, if only—but they never did. He wished they would, tried
to focus on points which might encourage, educate, smash barriers,
provoke action. But details scared away might-bes. Couldn’t con-
vince others to try. No matter what he said, incentives weren’t
compelling. It seemed so much easier to drive, viewed as a daily
sacramental rite, more like penance, by those who never tried this
Q: Can my body handle this?
A: Bicycling is considered mild exertion unless you’re in poor
shape. Riding flat bike paths should be slight, invigorating effort
for a healthy body, but riding to work may involve strenuous
climbs. Unfortunately, many prospective participants are over-
weight or have other health problems. Certain medications, such as
widely prescribed blood anticoagulants, could add risks. If embark-
ing on any physical program, seek advice from medical profession-
als; you must be aware of the state of your health before raising
your heart rate. Short rides are easy; if you never rode as far as a
commute, you might be surprised, hurting or smiling. Start slow
then build up. Don’t be ashamed to catch breath, pull over, or walk
bike up a hill. Physicists say if slope is more than 15°, 1 foot higher
every 6.7, it may be more efficient to simply walk up it than ride.
Of course, if you’re wearing cleats, this can be difficult; you might
be willing to overheat and suck it up rather than dismount. Better
to avoid steep hills which can discourage the best on days when
they don’t feel strong.
Q: Will my bicycle do?
A: You’ll need a decently maintained bike. Everything should
work correctly, especially braking, drivetrain, and steering mecha-
nisms. Tires should be correctly inflated to pressure indicated on
side-wall. Wheels should be tightly attached. Noise indicates
trouble. Any bike shop will look over for you at a modest cost,
46 TOO CUTE TO COMMUTE
well worth avoiding a breakdown or crash. Occasionally check
cables for wear, especially brake cables, and replace. Tires last
about 2,000-5,000 miles depending on type. Chains last 3,000-
5,000 miles if regularly cleaned then lubed. Hubs, and entire bike
for that matter, will need professional service every 10,000 miles. A
bike with speeds will help you climb. You can buy a new one for
less than several tanks of gas; with rising prices, this could become
a “few tanks” sooner than later, or prices for bikes may rise, as well,
with increased transportation costs. No time like the present,
before popularity spikes. Ones that cost more extend riding dis-
tance; better to buy later if you get more venturesome.
Q: Are public streets safe for biking?
A: Not entirely. Cars are fast, heavy and may kill you. Most
car-bike collisions occur when impatient motorists overtake slower
cyclists or fly out of parking lots. Intersections also present danger.
Impatient motorists are 100% at fault, since motorists are sup-
posed to operate under control. The pendulum has swung so far in
direction of automotivism, free and unrestricted speed is now
considered a right. It’s not even a privilege, nor is it guaranteed
under law, a good reason to give it up. While bicycles always have
right-of-way and are entitled to use all unrestricted roads, this fact
will be of little comfort to your grieving loved ones. Avoid tackling
traffic as much as possible; find quiet side streets. Rehearse your
commute by car first; note danger spots and steep descents. Gain
experience and with it confidence beforehand. A good place to
start riding is a dedicated bikeway. Some people put bells on
handlebars to warn slower riders and walkers. Bells don’t warn
which side you’re passing on. Saying, “Passing left,” works better,
except among children and foreign speakers. Better riders don’t
spend enough time on bikeways to bother with the small expense
or want to take up that much space on their crowded handlebars.
But they should be aware of bells heard coming from behind.
Assume responsibility for your own safety.
Q: Do traffic laws apply to me?
A: Yes. You may never be given a ticket, but could get
tagged—wham! Motorists react better if you hold your line on
right, rather than weave in and out of breakdown lane. When
making a left turn, look, signal by hand, then cross over to left edge
of lane before making turn. If you wait until you get to an intersec-
tion then try to get all the way across, it’s doubly dangerous. You’re
not likely to break speeding laws, but roads might not permit your
fast descents and stops at crossroads. Brake before you must.
Traffic signs and lights aren’t just to control speed but provide
advance warnings; always slow or stop, since in many states, opera-
tors are allowed to turn on red. Riding against traffic not only
endangers you but motorists, other cyclists and walkers. Bicycles
are technically vehicles until dismounted, then riders become
pedestrians, required to cross at crosswalks. If you must walk, push
bikes on sidewalks, not on streets.
Q: What should I wear?
A: Wear a helmet. Numerous studies prove helmets ($20 and
up) save lives, cheap insurance for less than a tank of gas. “See...” A
rearview mirror ($10 – 20) is quite useful, mounted on helmet or
safety glasses or bike itself, whether watching for overtaking traffic
or crossing into left lane for a turn. Padded biking gloves ($10 and
up) ease hand strain as well as protect in a fall. In Winter, he’d wear
amfibs or thick, Thinsulate gloves. In transitional weather, he’d
wear thin full gloves under thick half gloves for extra cushioning.
Likewise socks, thin wool under thick cushioning for extra warmth.
Clothing should be chosen for performance and visibility. A wind-
breaker deflects chill; many roll tightly for storage when it gets too
warm. “...and be seen.” Reflex yellow has been proven the most
visible under all conditions. It’s what they paint school buses and
why many fire engines aren’t red anymore. Reflective clothing is
good at night, for daytime try bright shades of yellow, red, lime,
white or combinations, the more wildly unnatural, the more likely
to be noticed. While padded shorts (>$30) free hips, reduce friction
and soften ride, you can gain comfort by simply replacing jeans or
pants that bunch up or have heavy seams where you sit, with some-
thing more relaxed, athletic shorts or sweatpants without sloppy
hems. Shoes appropriate for walking, like cross trainers, that don’t
slip off pedals are acceptable. Avoid floppy hems or long laces that
might catch in chain or pedals. In advance, bring in a change of
clothing and any toiletries you need, easier than carrying; if you use
lockers, a lock is useful. Commuters usually change back into bike
clothes for return trip.
48 TOO CUTE TO COMMUTE
Q: How long will my commute take?
A: Depends. Almost anyone can make 9 mph, 12 is average, 17
for serious cyclists, above 25 for World class athletes. Much de-
pends on wind resistance and skill. By comparison, many motor
vehicles going and stopping average only 17 through congested
areas. Consider mapping a relatively flat route on quiet side streets
from your start point; it may be less direct but probably more
pleasant. Sometimes routes you take on a bike are shorter than
those you commute by car. If you can carry bike in vehicle, you may
decide to drive part way. This can solve having to cross dense
traffic, natural obstacles, or urban blight. Plus, you must allow time
to refresh yourself after an inbound commute.
Q: Will I be accosted?
A: Improbable. Cyclists often traverse crime-ridden sections
without incident. This is the one time you should probably stick to
busy main streets. Since you’ll slip through more quickly than
walking, hardly anyone should bother you. A better area is seldom
more than blocks away. Best to ignore anyone who hails; keep your
speed and don’t look back. Carrying a cell phone may make you feel
less alone. Another strategy is riding in pairs or groups. If a dog
rushes you, keep moving; say loudly with conviction “bad dog” or
“down boy”. Usually dogs quit after 100 yards, once you’re past
their territory. Crossing over to other side of road increases risk.
Spraying animal with mace or water might distract it, but, like
dismounting and using bike as a weapon, is more likely to enrage
creature than placate. If unable to outrun, he usually tried to con-
found attack by finding some busy intersection, putting vehicles in
between, or turning off into known areas.
Q: Whose responsibility is it if things go wrong?
A: Yours. Participants assume all risks. Do choose safe routes
and times. Adopt a backup plan. Y could arrange for someone
who can transport you and bike in an emergency. Serious cyclists
carry tools and spare parts, especially tubes, and know how to
repair a flat. Free classes are given at nonprofit agencies. Ask
around at local bike shops or visit a public library.
Q: What’s my reward?
A: Not what you think. Money saved on automotive conserva-
tion, fuel avoidance, and smoking cessation will be spent feeding
your new found appetites for apparel, equipment upgrades and
wholesome food to increase comfort, health and speed. If enough
people make it a habit, companies will be forced to provide secure
places to put bicycles, lockers, showers, and washer/dryer units.
With formal programs, participants could attract foundation or
HMO involvement, get grants or tax breaks, institute award pro-
grams, and make it convenient and acceptable so typical office
workers may attempt for health and camaraderie. The real benefit
is time itself. Commutes may take longer, but bicycling is far faster
than driving on congested roads, earning enough to pay for high
costs of motoring, scheduling pricey gym visits, and years cut short
by not adopting an active lifestyle. Time is precious; use it wisely.
Q: How do I remember all this?
A: Preparation avoids a lot of failures. All the more reason to
have an a-z pre-ride checklist: Air (tires), brakes, cell, dehydration
deterrent (fluids), eyewear, footwear, gloves, helmet, inwardly
jammed knockoff levers, map (or money), [and while out there]
nicely overtake pedestrians; quiet restraint. Shun those uncon-
trolled vehicles. Why “xplain” your zeal?
After making an effort to share his newfound bon mots, club
officers deemed his FAQ good enough to put it on their website.
Revealing, since this said something about what they also believed,
zeal tainted with anxiety, as well as lust for exploiting anything they
could get their hands on for free. Actually, a few were encouraged
and did try. But such advocacy was more like pushing strands of
cooked spaghetti than towing a paceline. As always, would take a
major disruption—with gas shortages, price escalation, or ration-
ing—unbearable gridlock, or the like to pry motorists’ fingers from
their steering wheels and stick their asses on saddles. Political
threats made people more timid, retreating into snug warmth of
steel cocoons. Cute women seldom want to be bothered by smelly
males. Suits well pressed and shiny shoes couldn’t withstand
weather which might deprive them of status. They wore rubbers to
keep them dry. Sometimes going against such conventions made
him seem a solitary idiot enduring insane hardships for nothing.
Martyrdom didn’t become him.
50 TOO CUTE TO COMMUTE
An easy bicycle commute, say 4 days per week and 8 miles
round trip, would save only about 75 gallons of gas a year. Hardly
seems worth 2 to 4 hours of commitment each week. At $3 per
gallon, that’s $225 annually, only 1/4 of 150 hours at minimum wage,
~$900. Amortized bike maintenance costs of cassettes, chains,
lube, tires and tubes alone exceed your gas avoidance. Your 1,600
miles compensated by IRS rule of 48 cents/mile gives a better
approximation of savings, $768. What this implies is you can
almost pay yourself minimum wage in avoidances by biking instead,
provided you don’t drive at all, don’t itemize commutes as a deduc-
tion, pay no automotive insurance or taxes, and scorn all bike costs,
which do add up if you want to ride safely.
But on average in USA, yearly costs of car ownership for
15,000 miles total $7,232, which equals 51.7 cents/mile. According to
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans earn on average $17/hour, or
$14/hour after tithing federally. So it takes 554 hours, 27% of a work
year, to earn your car costs, unless you don’t make this exaggerated
mean wage. Average personal trip length for all purposes is 9.1
miles, commute to work 11.6 miles. 1995’s Nationwide Personal
Transportation Survey saw 46% of motored trips as recreational,
shopping, or social (unnecessary), and 20% as work commuting or
meetings (unavoidable). Only 8% of bicycling trips were for com-
muting. You probably can’t devote 1,250 hours of bicycling to
replace all your typical motored miles, but you could strike some
balance using alternatives whenever feasible among majority of
unnecessary trips. Next burger joint or movie jaunt could be by
bike, if such places weren’t so automotively oriented and othewise
Safety issues are so much on the minds of riders, it colored all
conversations. He always left home somewhat afraid, and returned
wondering why. The better you become at biking, the safer it
seems, safer than driving by a long shot. You’re more likely to be
carjacked in a luxury sedan than have a bike snatched from under
you. Thick books on riding skills were, in disguise, survival guides
for staying alive, especially in traffic. Do you even need them?
Legally, motorists are supposed to operate vehicles to avoid killing
anyone else using these public thoroughfares. Clearly the onus is on
motorists. Since patrolmen don’t stringently enforce statutes,
except on interstates where bicycling isn’t allowed, bicyclists be-
lieve they must compensate by being especially careful or going fast
enough to hurry out of their way. There’s really nothing they can
effectively do, other than stay out of traffic altogether. Bicyclists
gravitate toward country roads intuiting that 64% of fatalities
occur in cities. It all becomes a numbers game. Motorists go “oops”
over 4,000,000 times a year, and that’s between big, easily seen
vehicles. Motorists hardly notice bicyclists, pets, walkers or wild
creatures. Why shouldn’t bicycles and motor vehicles be accommo-
dated equally in cities? Why don’t planners enable urban cycling?
Why bicycle at all?
Fears and joys saturate this activity like blood stains. It’s very
Taoist, enhancing your perception of darkness and light. On plus
side, there’s no better way to quickly reconnect with your commu-
nity, shrug off alienation, smell the roses—and everything else! For
short distances in a city, it’s almost as fast as motoring, twice as fast
as riding a bus, and 5 times faster than walking. Human bodies,
unless crippled by age or disease, can handle considerable distances
at about 1/5 the effort of running. Often he felt like telling people
waiting at bus stops, “If you had a bike, you’d already be there.” On
minus side, bicycling can be less convenient, can’t carry passengers
and heavy goods, and seems scarier than driving to those oblivious
to the greater risks of motoring. Skills for maneuvering in travel
lanes can be gradually developed by using bikeways. Accosted or
attacked by dogs? Mostly it’s creatures and people greeting you and
simple curiosity for your geeky behavior. Ostracized? Lately, more
people questioned him, interested in following his example. More
than anything else, to ride is to thumb your nose at institutions set
up to milk you dry. It’s an exercise in liberty in which you become
aware of just how intimately connected you are to everyone else.
The more you pedal, the less you snooze, in every sense of the
word. Bicyclists he communicated with sent email at all hours.
After a few years of daily commuting, he slept only 4 hours each
night or often after rides when body was shot, and always it was
sound and undisturbed. Bicycling is akin to alert rest; had some-
thing to do with brain waves at the right frequency; while you’re at
dull motoring, you’re put right into a coma, endangering everyone.
Riding also elevates core temperature, and, like fever, kills infec-
tious bacteria, he believed. Riding might actually clean blood,
somehow purify, as did sleeping, both restorative. Napping was a
good way to bring core temperature back to nominal.
52 TOO CUTE TO COMMUTE
After a hard ride, hydration and a nap, he may not have looked
any cuter, but somehow he felt better, better than he had in de-
cades. It left time for additional learning, answering email, applying
intuitions, meditating, paying attention to what was really going
on, which, in turn, led to deconstructing the value of industry and
institutions, and dispelling historical lies.