New Years resolutions have gone by the way side for plenty of folks a month later now that Punxsutawney Phil has (or hasn’t) seen his shadow on Groundhog Day. It seems like a good time for re-evaluating fitness goals. For me, after many, Many, MANY! thousands of miles on my bicycles – in the last four years especially – I’m still a fathlete (fat + athlete). Well, I’m athletic-adjacent. I know I ain’t no Mahomes, holmes. Point is, adaptation is a real thing, so after many years of not being a member of the Y, I asked myself “Why not join back up?” I enjoyed it before, so maybe I would again.
At first, I could only list the usual downsides: the hassle of getting there and back, showering, wiping (the machines, not my ass, silly goose!), paying monthly, fighting other people for a spot, worry about athlete’s foot and so on. I consulted with gym members and sometime riders Rhodney and Saurabh. Then, on the day I used a guest pass to take the place for a test drive, all those excuses just kinda melted away. Especially when I got into that hot tub after a nice swim. Mmmmm… melty.
This is my fifth annual post about being car-free since 1/25/2005. Technically I’m car-light, since I drove borrowed cars for a job for part of last summer also visited relatives over the holidays. On the other hand, I managed my best year ever combined and walking and biking – 5,633 miles.
I did that while on a bike that has 67% fewer gears and is 25% heavier steel (Sophie) than my old aluminum steed (Sookie). I’m no Greta Thunberg, but I do think reducing car use is a good thing. Not everyone can do it, but some people might be able to try it. That’s all I’m saying. Well, in this paragraph at least.
I will be the first to admit that this piece probably isn’t going to be re-published in the New York Times, The Economist, Mad Magazine or anything with that sort of stature. However, I just had to put that Flock of Seagulls lyric to some good use. Sometimes titles are used to pique interest and have little to do with the content. And that’s largely the case here. I’m no Middle East expert, but I’m sure that bombing people who bomb to prove that bombing is wrong is… wrong. I will state the obvious: the more people cycling, the less we need to rely on the infernal combustion engine or even hybrids and the less energy wars we’ll have with other nations.
I will go on the record as saying I think that the future ex-president #45 of the US was well out of line, his legal authority and his friggin’ mind by ordering the targeted assassination of Iran’s #2 man, as deadly as he was. Later that same day that news broke, as I returned a car borrowed for visiting family over the holidays. I was only slightly relieved to be less a part of the problem. We in the developed nations rely on oil in many forms like plastic, to deliver food and other products. There’s not much A Dude can do to influence foreign policy. So this weekend, I let my legs do the talking as usual.
It’s the year 2020, a catchy number, and the start of a new decade. It’s a natural time to turn over a new leaf and start up some new habits. Lose weight, get organized, write that novel. But if you’re like most humans, after a few weeks most New Years resolutions have gone the way of holiday wrapping paper. A bold proclamation is now just a broken Hanukahmass toy sitting sadly in the corner. So why bother? Well, for some folks, they work. And as readers of A Dude Abikes know, I’ve had a fair bit of success with some changes. So here’s what I’m doing — and not doing — in 2020.
My daily walking habit began on January 1, 2018, and I haven’t looked back since. I may have missed one day but I often do more than the allotted 30 minutes. I make sure I hit 1.5 miles, and some days it’s 2.0 or more miles, or even two walks. I don’t write about it much because it’s not that remarkable, but to me it’s a good habit for life that I wish I’d established many years ago. It’s not easy when you’re busy, sick, tired, injured, it’s cold, windy and wet outside. Somehow, I have found the discipline. And what the rewards are subtle, they are worth considering starting your own walking practice if you don’t have one.
Like many people in the modern era who are privileged enough to have a smart phone, electricity and mobility, I take a lot of pictures. Some good, some not, a few great. Who’s to say, though? If you like them, great. If not, move along. Trouble is, I don’t use that photo platform named after your grandmother, so when I’m riding my bicycle and take a pic, it goes either here, on my Strava fitness app (follow me there if you’re a bikester) or doesn’t see the light of day. Occasionally I post a blog with a lot of photos and some words to explain them. This is one of those times. Enjoy the whole “picture paints a thousand words” thing, yada yada.
Official Earth Day is later this month, but in Austin, Texas the 2019 edition is celebrated April 13. The promotional materials encourage people to not drive (even a Prius?), but rather to, scoot, walk, take public transit, carpool if they must take a car, and of course, bike. They even have a bike valet area. A Dude went last year and enjoyed hanging with other ecologically-minded folks. Because whether you bike 10 miles a week or 100, you’re doing something to save the planet. Every bicyclist is an environmentalist. You know what they say, Love Your Mother (Earth)! (Or else!)
Biking Definitely Reduces Your Carbon Footprint
I definitely identify as a tree-hugging, air-breathing, water- drinking, carbon-based life form. But after 14 Years Not a Slave to Cars, I don’t think about it much. So I got to wondering, how much have I reduced my carbon footprint? Probably quite a bit.
One general calculation comes from the European Cyclist Federation in Brussels, Belgium. They claim that for each passenger who travels a kilometer in a car, they are producing 271 grams of CO2. A cyclist uses 21 grams. Add that up, and especially given that cars go alot faster and farther than bikes, it is substantial. That’s significant, but only one measurement.
But is that all there is to the story? No, but in a short blog I can’t delve into all the science. Here’s a great link from People for Bikes, citing numerous statistics on the subject, if you want to geek out on more studies. A number of the stats imagine what would happen if commuters increased their trips by bike and the savings that would accrue, assuming the commuter was previously driving their car. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Biking is better for the planet. But so what? There’s a lot more to getting people’s butts out of their cars and onto bikes than telling people it’s good for the environment, or even healthy them.
Bike Infrastructure Has to Be Safe and Convenient
Today I met a bus driver who commutes to work by bicycle. He’s doing his part personally and professionally to reduce pollution. For him and others to do that on a regular basis, there have to be safe routes to get there, and those pathways need to be convenient. Even in Austin, as in many less fortunate cities, bike lanes are insufficient, unprotected, not connected, or just non-existent. And of course, two stripes of paint on the road won’t protect you from a shitty driver who’s distracted and runs into you. Some sort of barrier like plastic bollards, street turtles (aka city titties) or even curbs provide more safety.
That’s a larger, complicated, costly policy issue. Fortunately, we are starting to see the benefits of two bond elections that added millions of dollars to the coffers for bike lanes, sidewalks, and other traffic improvements. But once that money is all spent, there will still be vast room for improvement to finish the job. It will never be 100% safe to drive a car, ride a bike, or use a sidewalk in Austin. But one can work toward this by advocating individually and collectively.
But back to Earth Day being every day for bicyclists. Right now, the population of US workers who commutes is small. The more people who bike, the more other people will see it as a “normal” activity. A large part of getting bikes on butts is education. Currently, there is a huge gap between those who need that education — both new bike riders, especially kids, and car drivers and the reality, that it’s hard to connect educators with students. Especially given the question of funding and finding available insturctors.
However, according to the League of American Cyclists, which grants the League Cycling Instructor (LCI) designation, there may be more to those numbers. While big cities like the Bay Area and Seattle lost some riders, other cities like Philly and DC gained them. Explanations could include the rise of ride-sharing, weather, increased car traffic, the low cost of gas, and the lack of significant infrastructure improvements.
“It shows that while we have made investments over the last 20 years” in bicycle infrastructure, “we are still far from having safe and connected networks that make people feel safe biking to work,” said Ken McLeod, the League’s policy director.
When I became an LCI last year, I had hoped to find older students who wanted to get on their bikes but were afraid. So far, I have not pursued that as a side business. Nor have I been invited to help teach any classes. Part of that is on me for not marketing myself, but some of it is having the right connections to the institutions and funders that can provide grants and students. It’s my hope that this is something to which I can contribute. Because an educated cyclist is a confident, smart and safe cyclist who is going to be a model for others. And the more cyclists, the better. There is safety in numbers.
Aside from education, the other ingredient is agitation. I’ve done a good bit of that, being awarded Bike Austin‘s Advocacy Ambassador of the year in 2017. As that group rebuilds as an all-volunteer organization, events like Bike to Work Day (May 17, 2019), can help. But there are far more cyclists than members. Everyone who bikes needs to speak truth to power to get more protections for cyclists. Bike Texas is doing that at the state level; I was fortunate to attend their Cyclists in Suits Lobby Day.
But until a massive amount of bike riders learn the rules of the road — and follow them — and band together to be a political force for good, we are likely to remain targets, in the shadows, and an afterthought on the roads. So if you’re reading this here are some questions to mull over:
If you cycle, do you belong to your local bike group?
If not, why not?
If there isn’t one, can you start one?
And if you are not a cyclist, or don’t commute because you don’t feel confident or safe doing so, what would it take for you to be comfortable?
If you’re in Austin and want to learn more about getting educated and active, my email is on the About page.
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This is not a scientific post. I’m not dropping any science on you. It’s a topic of interest to A Dude and probably to many. Tonight on the way home from an errand, I ran into another bicyclist (he’s OK). Turns out he’s a student at the University of Texas. He was a super nice guy who had just come from a soccer game and wasn’t wearing a bike helmet. He was stopped at the sign near where Anthony Diaz was killed by a bus driver, and I asked him what happened to the ghost bike. He didn’t know, but guessed it was an upcoming marathon.
That mystery unsolved, the conversation shifted to him talking about his work in kinesiology. Which if you don’t know is the study of kinesi (whatever the heck that is). But seriously, he works on measuring oxygen in the blood, studies how horrible sitting is for your metabolism, what is more efficient for muscle-building, and so on. I learned some stuff in layperson’s terms since I frequently am fighting gravity and aging and other sciencey things. I figured I’d share with all 12 of you who might actually read this. Because he’s getting a master’s Degree… in SCIENCE, he actually blinded me with …. SCIENCE! Or maybe that was his bike light, I’m not sure.
In what’s become an annual post, now for the fourth year in a row, I am obligated contractually (by Mother Earth) to inform you that I am still carless. Losing my car on January 25, 2005 was not my choice. Continuing to do without one has been. What does it all mean? Well, I mostly bike (4,554 miles in 2018, to be exact). I also walk to get around, though that’s more for exercise, 30′ a day. I have also used the bus, ridden in friends’ cars, and twice last year I borrowed cars for extended periods. So while I’m not 100% internal combustion engine-free, I still do not own a car. I don’t want a medal, but I do think it’s an important accomplishment worth blogging about. Thanks for reading.
I’ve been reflecting alot about my third mega-mileage year in a row, since I’m seeming to continue a daily amount of bicycling and walking. 5,143 Miles in 2018: 4,554 Biking + 589 Walking. Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good for A Dude! I haven’t added or subtracted any New Year’s Resolutions, so I’m wondering if it’s still healthy for me. Especially since I’m generally sleep-deprived and tired if not downright exhausted. Also having a regular if not daily or more encounter with chocolately goodness going into my grocery hole. Then I saw a National Geographic article about addiction and this post about exercise addiction from follower A Better Man 21. It’s as good a topic as any so I’m going to address it, hopefully briefly.