Hello. My name is Jeff, and I haven’t driven my car to work since November of 2007, the month I moved back to Carson City. I’ve ridden in the freezing cold, the scorching heat, in the light, and in the dark. I’ve met friends along the way, but have also had people try to run me off the road. It’s been a wonderful journey of pleasure, learning, and self discovery.
It’s funny to think back to the first weeks of full time bicycle commuting. It was an all new challenge, and there were all these reasons that were motivating me to swap the car for a bike. I remember being amazed the first time I took care of a whole day’s business by bike. A commute, lunch ride, and an evening meeting. What a great feeling that was! Soon after though, days would go by without getting in a car. Habits and perception began to change.
When I moved back to Carson City, I picked a house that was within easy commuting distance to work. It wasn’t until later that I realized that most other things that I needed to do were within riding distance too. About the only time I leave the 2 Mile radius from my house, is to go for recreational bike rides and weekend adventures with the family. Most places aren’t as far away as I thought they were. In fact, I’ve also begun walking more when bicycle travel is inconvenient.
Over the last year, I’ve become more intimate with the city and the weather. I know how each neighborhood smells, where the shadiest trees are, and which streets have the prettiest houses. I’m more aware of elevation changes and road conditions. I can tell the difference in small temperature variations, and know just what to wear in any weather to stay comfortable. I have actual conversations with people that I see along the way, and even enjoy my daily scolding from the crossing guard that teases me about running late as usual.
My perception of bicycles has changed as well. I used to enjoy reading up on all the new technology, and was always wanting of the latest and greatest. But these days, I’m more fond of simple, easy maintenance, and longevity. This is why my single speed is so appealing to me. There are far fewer parts that can wear out and break, and it can be ridden day in and day out with very little attention. When you come to rely on your bike for more than just recreation, it’s nice to know that your equipment will be there for you when you need it.
Early on, I was trying to compute how much money I would save by riding my bike instead of driving. I remember being a little disappointed at the figures…bicycle commuting was not going to make me rich! What I did discover; however, was that my time was spent much better. I’ve spent hours and hours on the bike in the last year. These hours add up to days. So the way I see it, I’ve spent days doing something I love, instead of being stuck in a metal cage on the highway with a bunch of other drivers that don’t want to be there anymore than I do.
It is interesting to point out an indirect money savings as a result of bicycle commuting though. Since I usually go directly to my destination on the bicycle, there are less trips across town to go buy something. There are no more impulse buying stops like I did when I had my car available to me. I think sticking to the back roads is partially responsible for this too. The billboards and store fronts are out of sight and mind. Once you’ve taken time to step back from the drive down the highway, you began to see that almost everything on the road is there to support driving and urban sprawl. Car dealers, tire stores, car washes, car accessories, drive-thru fast food, road side restaurants, strip malls, parking lagoons…you just don’t need any of these things when you’re on your bike.
There is also something to be said for the freedom that riding your bike gives you. I don’t have to carry “my papers” with me. No registration, proof of insurance, or even a drivers license. I feel like I’m opting out of the system. I’m always reminded of my freedom when I ride by a car accident, a broken down car, or a motorist getting a ticket. I hear the sirens of rescue vehicles daily. It makes me chuckle when someone tells me to “be safe out there!”. I’ve never felt safer in all my life!
Last year when the Nevada Appeal interviewed me about bicycle commuting, they asked me, “Why do you do it?”. I was silent for a little while, and never did come up with a decent answer. I’ve been trying to come up with a good answer to this question ever since then. All the original arguments, saving money, better for the environment, carbon footprints, have all faded away. After a few months it just becomes a habit. When I awake to foul weather, I never even consider driving. My first thoughts are, “Which bike and what clothes am I going to use today?”. I’d say that fun, self reliance, freedom, and opting out of the system are what motivate me the most these days, but I think the most accurate answer to the question of “Why?” is, “It’s just what I do.”