want to be one of those people who bikes to work. I want to walk
into work, take off my helmet, shake my hair loose and listen
to the sounds of my cycling shoes clicking on the concrete floor
a sound which must make cyclists feel so proud, like a
woman feels in loud high heels: "Notice me! My shoes are
loud! I bike to work! I am healthy and I care for the environment!
Click Click Click!"
Last month I signed up for the Bicycle Transportation
Alliance's Bike Commute Challenge. At first I was excited to log
in to the Web site and see my name listed alongside my coworkers
who actually belong on the list, the ones who bike to work every
day regardless of the month or the weather.
On this Web site, you get a gold star for every
day you bike to work. As my coworkers' charts filled up with stars,
mine remained mostly empty, day after day. I managed to ride to
work twice. I wish I'd never registered. Now everyone can see,
by my stars, how lazy I really am.
I encountered problems when I tried to be athletic
and environmentally responsible. One problem was time. No matter
how much I wanted to be able to wear a T-shirt that said "One
Less Car" or "Go By Bike," I couldn't get myself
up early enough to bicycle to work. I never leave myself enough
time in the morning.
When I was a child, I used to hate getting teased
on the school bus. I learned that if I wasted enough time in the
morning, or forgot my lunch and had to go back to get it, or even
hid from the bus, I would miss it and my mother would drive me
to school. I do the same thing as an adult. I run up and down
the stairs in the morning to get my jacket, my Walkman, lead for
my mechanical pencil. I spend too long in the bathroom reading
a magazine or I actually take the time to sit down and eat. Then
I don't have time to bike to work and I have to drive.
If I could bike as fast as my boyfriend, I could
pedal to work in the same time as it takes me to drive there.
But I am not as fast as him. I am not as fast as most of the people
on the road. I am not as fast as people who look like they are
biking really slowly. My legs feel like they are spinning and
spinning as I get passed by someone on a rusty, squeaking bike
with a wheel like a Pringle.
Another problem I encountered in my plan to become a cyclist was
comfort. Let's face it, riding in my 16-year-old car with windows
that don't roll up is still more comfortable than riding the bike
to work. In the car I can listen to NPR, drink coffee and apply
mascara while stopped at red lights. On the bike, I have to work
constantly and, when I pedal uphill, I have to wonder if my will
is signed, dated and in an easy-to-find place, just in case my
heart, which feels like it's going to explode, explodes.
Sure, I feel great once I'm at work and feel better
all day long, but I pretty much hate every moment on the bike.
Maybe that's not entirely true. There are some great
moments, like the downhill moments and the being-stopped-at-a-red-light-so-I-can-catch-my-breath
But there's another reason I have trouble biking
to work. It scares me. Cars become my enemy and I'm sure that
some parked car is going to door me.
Apparently, I'm invisible to drivers with cell phones.
Hang up, I urge them telepathically, stop fighting with
your girlfriend and look where you're going! Every time some
idiot driver nearly kills me I swear like a drunken sailor, shaking
my fist in the air, ready to kick dents in their car. Without
my shell of steel it's scary and I'm surrounded by SUVs with drivers
applying mascara and drinking coffee.
So I only earned two gold stars last month for the
Bike Commute Challenge.
Worse than that, I discovered something I don't
like about myself: I'm not very athletic. I enjoy the stupid little
conveniences provided by driving, those same conveniences the
love of which damns our entire planet to extinction.
I'm not giving up, though. I'm going to get some
gloves and something to wrap around my ears so they don't get
so achingly cold. Today I saw a bike with a holder for a coffee
cup. Maybe with those accessories I can give it another shot.
Meanwhile, I think I'll log back on to the Bike
Commute Challenge Web site and add a few more gold stars next
to my name. It helps to be positive about these things.