I'm looking back at posts about riding my bike from last week, where I was making an effort to document every ride in a way I'd never normally consider, and I'm mostly struck by how little cycling really defines my time.
Yeah, I get around that way, so I've got to remember bike lights and a lock and do need to think about waterproofs at this time of year, but I'm not waiting for the bike to warm up in the morning, I'm not choosing travel times and where to shop based on how heinous the traffic will be, and I'm certainly not spending so long sitting angry in traffic that it has any negative impact on my mood. My means of getting around costs me next to nothing and it takes less time than any other available options. Yeah, its healthy and green so in some ways more 'virtuous' than driving, but I'm riding a bike about because its the most practical, time and space efficient way of getting from A to B, allowing me to split journeys more productively and get to where I want most effectively. My riding isn't about other people driving - its a rational choice for me.
Could it be better still? Well, yes, many of the routes I'm using lack good cycle facilities and its fairly obvious that the presence of such would help out where traffic is heavy and drivers angry. But even as things are I'm left with three thoughts about cycling every day from this.
Firstly, my bike riding defines me less, in any practical respect, than the people driving are defined by their transport choice. My method is cheaper, easier, faster, and puts way less strain on any aspect of my life than theirs. Calling them 'motorists' and me 'just a person getting about' makes more sense than the normal view of 'cyclists' as strange outsiders while drivers are 'normal'. Whats 'normal' about choosing one of the least convenient and practical forms of transport for most journeys?
Secondly, it takes actually sitting down and thinking about the massive convenience of being able to lock up and shop, look, wander about wherever I want to bring home the benefits of a cycling lifestyle - or, rather, a non-motorised transport dependent lifestyle. I couldn't stop off at a shop on the way home if I was on the bus and I'd struggle to do that by car in most cities. I couldn't combine a car journey with a ride around a few likely green spaces looking for wild mushrooms on a car, so if I'd been driving a car about all these years my knowledge of what grows where and how I can use it wouldn't be what it is now. Riding a bike frees time, yes, but it also allows us, physically, to see more of whats in our neighbourhoods and be more involved in our communities. Cycling facilitates personal growth within our environments by reducing the physical and conceptual distance between us and what is around us. I know what trees grow on all of my regular routes because I've time to see them, and when they're shedding useful or tasty fruit I can stop and pick it. I know when to pop in to the local farm shop because he'll have discounted game. I know when to pop in to the assorted local ethnic food shops to talk to the most enthusiastic staff there who'll want to share passion for their own cuisines and encourage me to try something new. Bluntly, cycling rocks.
Lastly, its amazing just how chilled out most cycling is. Yeah, you'll get the occasional nutjob on the road. But for the most part its relaxed, easy and simple. Yet every working day last week I passed the same folk sitting in the same cars in the same traffic jams, usually with the same stressed and unhappy looks on their faces. I'm forced to ask - why is it I'm the odd one for cycling?
Sorry for getting evangelical. But biking around really does make life better in all sorts of ways that most people never even think about. I wonder, when trying to get more people out on bikes because the net impact of that is better for everyone else, is the fact that our lives can just be better a more effective way of selling cycling?