In the fall of 2009, I bought a bicycle that I could use instead of my car and started riding it to work. I live only a few miles from my work place and the bike route takes me through some much more pleasant scenery than the car ride. The bike ride takes only about 15 minutes. Riding by car can sometimes take that long because of the traffic. The bike came complete with fenders, head and tail lights powered by a dynamo in the front wheel hub, a rear rack, an 8 speed internal rear hub and a warning bell; a complete city commuter bike that I could ride comfortably in street clothes. There were a couple summers back in the 1990s that I rode my Schwinn road bike to work at AT&T. That was 12 miles each way over some difficult roads. I had to use the showers at work and bring a change of clothes. That was a nice workout, but I couldn’t do it regularly. Now I work closer to home and regular bike commuting seemed like a real possibility.
My bike route takes me over some residential streets, along the Olentangy Bike Path and through the OSU Wetlands Research Park. It feels great to out in the fresh air, getting good exercise and watching out for wild life instead of other drivers. I rode to work fairly often, but it was too easy to fall back on the car when weather wasn’t good or I just didn’t feel like riding. I wasn’t ready to ride through the winter, which was pretty cold and icy that year.
During the following spring, we got rid of our minivan and I decided not to replace it with another car for a while. This would also be a good opportunity to give up the convenience of a second car and depend more on my bike for personal transportation. So Mary Beth became the primary user of our one car and I had my new bike to ride. After over 30 years of being a multi car family, I had my doubts about our being able to manage without the convenience of a second car but I decided to give it a year and then look for another car if we really needed one. Now it’s been almost three years with one car and a second car seems more like an expensive luxury than a real necessity. The transition hasn’t been easy, there were several obstacles to overcome but the benefits outweigh the convenience.
What about bad weather? I was surprised at the range or weather I could ride in. A pair of warm riding gloves and a skull cap that fits under my helmet were enough to keep me from getting too cold even in freezing weather. Hot summer weather was only a real problem coming home from work. It’s usually cool enough in the morning. I just take it easy and cool off when I get home. On days when it’s raining in the morning or too icy or cold, Mary Beth drops me at work with the car. The winter of 2012 was so mild that I rode my bike nearly every day. It was wonderful, even riding through light snow. Icy patches on the road are the only real deterrent. Fenders keep wet roads from getting you wet and dirty. Riding home in the rain was not so bad. I can always change my clothes when I get home. The time I tried to beat a thunderstorm home, and failed, was not much fun. Riding through the pouring rain and tiny hail with tornado warning sirens going off, all I could think of was, “Mary Beth is not going to like this”. I made it home OK, but regretted the experience. Very uncomfortable weather has been a rare experience and inconvenient weather surprisingly tolerable for such a short ride. Most of the time the weather is no problem. The exercise makes me feel much better. Now I get disappointed when I have to take the car to work.
I can also ride my bike to church on Sunday and on errands to the grocery store or library. Living in a neighborhood where all these things are easily accessible for bicycle riders makes a big difference. I rarely have to ride on busy streets. I added battery powered flashing lights to the front and back of my bike to reinforce the head and tail lights to make me more visible to traffic. Most automobile drivers are very accommodating of bicycle traffic, but some seem to view cyclists primarily as an obstacles to be gotten around as quickly as possible. I’ve been passed by cars on the Whetstone Park driveway where the speed limit is 15 MPH when I was going faster than that. I’ve had them cut me off just to get in front of me at a red traffic light or stop sign. I’m always wary of opposing traffic waiting to turn left at a red light when I’m going straight. Most of them give me the right of way, but there are always those few who don’t. In all fairness to drivers, I have to say that I’ve seen many cyclists that don’t know the rules of the road either and put themselves in harms way by cutting through traffic, riding on sidewalks (legal only for kids 12 and under), ignoring traffic lights or riding without helmets, highly visible clothing or lights (reflectors help very little).
Overall, riding a bike is a very enjoyable experience for me which makes me happy to live so near my work, church, businesses and recreational facilities that I don’t really need a car on a daily basis. After three years a second car seems to be much more of a luxury than a necessity. Riding in the car has gotten to feel more confining and stressful in many ways. The bike has helped me to relax, slow down my life a bit and enjoy the daily routine a bit more.