Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why Do You Ride?

I got that question from a student the other day. Why do you ride?

Specifically, the question was why do I ride to work - commuting to work by bicycle year-round.

I keep a visible tally of every day that I ride to work -
my students know how close I am to meeting my goals.
There are a lot of reasons. Ultimately I only need one: I enjoy it.

All the rest are a bonus, but let me lay them out in some detail.

1. I enjoy it. I love to ride, but between working full time and raising two kids, it's difficult to find quality riding time. By combining my work commute with riding, I get roughly two hours of riding time a day, several days a week -- all while taking only a small amount of time out of my day. Got to get to and from work, right? I leave about a half hour earlier than I would if I were driving (not a problem since I'm an early riser anyhow), and get home only about a half hour later, so I still have plenty of time to do all the other things that fill my afternoons. It really works to my advantage.

2. Health/Fitness. Considering the widespread problems associated with obesity and inactivity, there can't be too many people who can honestly say they don't need to get more exercise. Riding to and from work regularly has kept me fit - and setting goals has kept me riding even through the winter months when getting on a bike doesn't seem like the natural choice. Recently I had to undergo minor surgery and in that process I had a virtual parade of doctors and nurses checking my heart rate and blood pressure. And each time, whoever was checking would see the numbers and remark with surprise at how good they were. Not just good heart rate and blood pressure for a guy my age - but good for a guy 10 or 20 years younger. "You must be really active," each one would say. I'd tell them I commute by bike, and they'd all say "that's got to be why."

I mentioned once in an older post about how commuting by bike has affected my weight too. Prior to the time when I started commuting by bike, I had reached my all-time maximum weight of 185 lbs. That might not sound like a lot for a guy 6' tall, but it was a lot on me and my frame, and I was even suffering from weight-related health issues such as sleep apnea and frequent acid reflux. Since I started bike commuting, I've been holding steady between 150 - 155 lbs, and those related health issues have vanished.

The next few reasons all have kind of a common thread:

3. Fuel savings. I hate buying gas and I always have. I really feel as though spending money on gas is not terribly different from taking money out of my wallet and burning it - it's just that it's being burned inside an engine instead of out in the open. Yes, that combustion is converted into motion/transportation - but if I can get where I need to go without spending that money on gasoline, and I get to ride my bike at the same time, then why would I drive?

Branching off of that reason is the fact that not only am I saving money by not buying gas, but in the bigger picture, I'm using less gasoline -- something that as a nation I firmly believe we all need to do.

4. Reducing emissions. Despite what certain politicians and millionaires who've made their fortunes from fossil fuels would have us believe, there really is no scientific debate about global warming. It's happening, and cars/trucks are a major culprit. For many of us (myself included) it isn't very practical to completely get rid of our cars. But most people aren't truly as dependent on their cars as they lead themselves to believe, and there's a lot we can do to reduce our dependence, and by extension, our emissions. Some people could reduce their personal carbon footprint significantly by simply trading in a huge truck or SUV for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, but no car is as clean as a bicycle. I already drive a pretty fuel-efficient car - but by leaving it parked and riding my bike for commuting/transportation whenever possible, I'm both using less fuel (as already mentioned), but I'm also reducing my carbon footprint significantly. Just imagine the impact if everyone could routinely reduce their dependence by even just a few dozen miles per month. My own commuting to work has been reducing my driving by 2,000 - 3,000 miles per year.

5. Sticking it to Big Oil. Using less gas means giving less money to Big Oil, and though it might make me sound like a Socialist to say it (actually, I kind of am a Socialist) I figure that oil companies have been sticking it to us all for years, and I'm all for sticking it back to them in the only way that matters to them - in their wallets. Remember what I said about global warming? Oil companies have been studying the problem as thoroughly as anyone can, and probably before most people even knew what it was. Their findings? That it's real, and it's happening, and fossil fuels are a major contributor. So armed with that knowledge, they've spent years and millions of dollars trying to neutralize other independent studies that would confirm what they already knew, and lobbying congressmen, and pushing a "climate change denial" narrative to convince people that the science is unclear -- all in the name of making sure we don't do anything to cut down on their profits.

And as if I need to add to this line, I see what's been happening in North Dakota where the oil companies are pushing for the Dakota Access Pipeline, while Native Americans have been protesting the pipeline which is supposed to be built through their land. With funding from the oil producers, they've built what practically amounts to a private army to counter the protesters. The suppression tactics became what can best described as increasingly warlike, with not only pepper spray or tear gas being used, but also concussion grenades being launched at protesters.

Riding a bike and driving less is just one way to say "I don't support this."

Not that anyone NEEDS a reason beyond "I enjoy riding my bike" - but it begs the question: Why do YOU ride?


  1. I don't need a car to commute (shop is across the street from my home) but I ride for exercise, stress relief, social interaction, giggles, adrenaline, dopamine, etc.

    As for the rest of it?

    F*ck big oil. They can rot in hell for what they do to us a society, to native people on their own land, and for not simply being up front and honest.

    Was talking about this with someone the other day.

    Why is it, that big oil doesn't grab the bull by the horns, and be the leaders on *what's next* for energy?

    For as smart and well researched as they are, you know, that they KNOW, oil will end.

    What prevents them from being the vanguard on renewables/clean energy?

    Someone will need to produce the stuff, run the systems, maintain the grid, etc. None of those needs will sudenly disappear once oil becomes too costly to continue to produce.

    Why wait?

    Imagine the publicity for Exxon, if they were the first in, and largest producer of solar, wind, hydro energy in the world.

    Instead, they pay huge sums to lobbyists to down play all the potential.

    Elon Musk should be working on bike technology! =:D

    1. About big companies like Exxon or BP etc. investing in wind/solar, etc. -- I've been saying the same for a while (but not here in this format). If they were to invest in making turbines and solar panels - making them more efficient and cheaper to produce -- instead of all that lobbying to promote oil, they could be leaders in the future of energy production.

  2. A bonus in addition to the ones above is sticking it to the auto industry. They've had far too much power over the past century, drastically changing land use patterns and thoughts on public transportation. As an example, GM propaganda was the progenitor of "buses are the future, streetcars are obsolete" line of thinking that caused the death of convenient, speedy public transportation that used to be commonplace across the country.

    I definitely don't expect people to be able to go car-free, but using them less gives less money to the manufacturers as the cars people have last longer, and gives less money to the car maintenance industry since the cars wear parts out more slowly.

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  4. Strike out the "or perhaps" in my first sentence.

  5. Mendon--Ironically, Exxon made bicycles during the 1970s. Of course, being Exxon, they were the most carbon fuel-dependent bicycles possible: ones made from carbon fiber.

    The problem was that neither Exxon nor anybody else knew how to use CF in bikes. I get the feeling that they believed making a CF bike was just like making a CF tennis racket or golf club. So, most Graftek (the Exxon model name) frames met early demises when they pulled apart where the CF tubes were glued into the lugs.

    As for why I cycle: It is one of the few things that makes me feel subversive and at peace at the same time. Oh, heck: I love it. Really, what other reason do I need?

  6. Big Oil seems to have a lot of parallels with Big Tobacco.

    1. Funny, but I almost mentioned that. When I pointed out how oil companies studied global warming, figured out it was real - then lobbied hard to keep anyone else from coming to the same conclusion -- I almost mentioned that Big Tobacco did the exact same thing with smoking and cancer. They established the link well before the Surgeon General's report in the 60s, then did whatever they could to keep people smoking anyhow.

    2. They also hired the same denial "scientists" as the big tobacco -

  7. I grew up around Detroit and remain fascinated by cars and the auto industry. It's just part of my DNA. That said, I agree with everything in this post and with Neil, above. The only thing I'd add is I also ride to avoid rush hour traffic, which is now officially awful here in Portland. Today, however, I'm about to board a bus with my bike so I can have fresh legs to ride some hills after work and enjoy the sunshine!

  8. I agree with all of the above comments. I'd add one more at leas for me - escape.

  9. Pretty much the same reasons as you, and in the same order. But, I'm fairly far from being socialist.

  10. An argument can be made that the act of cycling—a combination of gross- and fine-motor skills, proprioceptive/ spatial awareness and executive function, via the use of a machine requiring a modicum of understanding and maintenance and rewarding an appreciation of beauty—has unique integrative powers and improves perception. In short, a bike is as good for the brain as it is for the body.

  11. I DO consider myself a socialist. While we're "stickin' it to the man", lets throw in Big Pharmaceutical as well.


    1. This is a good reason too. Unless you're deep in to performance niche of cycling :)

  12. Zen and the art of self propelled , self empowerment ?

  13. It saves time on my commute home in Boston during rush hour

  14. I started riding regularly, post Katrina (2005), when gas prices spiked in my area. I find commuting to be therapeutic, since it clears the mind during the early morning. The added benefit is health. Except for maintenance, it is free exercise. I have dropped about 12 lbs. Hopefully, next year I will turnover my bike odemeter!

  15. Regarding Confederate monuments. I want to add something positive about the old South: not the Confederate movement, which I've read was largely in the interest of the slave owning class, but of the small-community, agrarian south.

    My father grew up in what in those days was an upper middle class family in the '20s and '30 and early '40s, and I am just old enough to remember the tail end of Atlanta-area Jim Crow in the middle '60s and early '70s in the era just before Maynard Jackson. The hatred and fear among many whites (note that I don't say "white hatred") of blacks was clearly as great as the Nazi fear and hatred of Jews, as great in kind and degree if not in scope.

    My father left because he found the old south suffocating; he married a Filipina (my mother came from the rural squirearchy in southern Luzon) at a time when mixed marriages were still illegal in many states. We grew up in WDC and Asia, and Africa. My ex wife is Chinese, so my daughter is 3/4 Asian and 1/4 English and Scots Irish. I have some qualifications to pronounce on mixed race relationships.

    But Jim Crow wasn't the only south. Read Flannery O'Connor (listen to her read A Good Man Is Hard To Find, somewhere on Youtube, to hear an educated southern woman's accent). Read Wendell Berry. Both were of the south, but not of the racist south. O'Connor, with amazing insight and literary talent, describes the grotesque evil, as well as the incipient good, in all races and classes. Berry portrays the best of the rural agrarian south in his characters, who display the particularly American values of hard work, self sufficiency, honesty, and the independence and dignity that result, despite his characters' flaws and, yes, racism -- Berry has a book devoted precisely to the great evils that slavery caused to the *slave owners* as well as to the enslaved.

    The south, as well as the rural west and rural New England, held on to these virtues longer than did the urban north; in fact, the difference is less between south and north than between agrarian communities and urban conglomerates where most citizens are wage earners instead of small property owners.

    Even so, even the landed and slave owning aristocracy, at its best, possessed real virtues. No one for example can deny that George Washington had qualities of character and leadership that were out of the ordinary -- and he was a slave owner. You can't deny that Lee had qualities of magnanimity and leadership as great as those of Grant. Even Lincoln, by far our most intelligent and great-souled president, didn't fight the war principally to free slaves.

    This is not to excuse slavery; it is to claim that human beings are not homogenous, and that virtues exist almost always mixed with vices; and that people have a right to recognize even mixed virtues, where the virtues are real and insofar as they are real. It is also to point out that virtues and vices have fashions, as most else in human life, and that much of any debate about good and bad is conducted within the limits of these fashions.

    As to the particular question, should the Confederate flag and statues come down? In some cases, obviously yes, with no questions asked. Others? It's not so clear, and the answer will depend on the situation as well as on principles. After all, the north was racist in its own ways -- Irish, Chinese, as well as blacks; and Filipinos. In some cases, while in principle a monument should remain, for prudential reasons it ought to come down, say, to apease the real grievances of an oppressed class.

    My point is that, as with so many things, good and evil are intertwined and one's emotional reactions ought to take this into account. As the ancient maharajahs of the holy Hindu city of Varanasi said on their device, "There is no right superior to that of the truth."