Tuesday, January 24

The Sustainable Cyclist: Riding With No Handlebars (Part I)

There is an interesting post over at Bike, Noun, Verb that got me thinking (all the best posts do).

I think I've been hinting around something like this line of thinking for some time, but didn't have an angle, didn't have a well formed concept, so I just kept hinting.

Here is my response in answer to the ultimate question (What effect does singularly focused bike growth have on the overall goal?):

I will have to say that, despite being an avid outdoorsperson for years, that until I committed to a car-lite lifestyle (for economic reasons), I didn't begin to consider my overall footprint.

Being a cyclist, and reading cyclo-centric literature I was exposed to a lot of concepts I might otherwise have avoided, but imbedded within different articles, books (Hurst's Cyclist Manifesto comes to mind) and blogs I may not have started seriously working to reduce my overall footprint if not for the impetus of the bike.

If you read the BNV post in its entirety my following diatribe will make some sense.

Of late I have been less apt to fall on my sword in shame when I've chosen to use other modes of transportation. Carpooling has become less evil. The prospect of taking the bus up to Boulder has become viable. And I've even been considering (GASP!) the second vehicle for our family.

Let me take you back a bit. I posted this article on February 8, 2010. At the beginning of 2010 I was dreaming about being a full time bike commuter. Now, at that time I had quite a few miles of bike commuting under my saddle. At the time my commuting miles far exceeded my recreational miles. We had just sold my car and I was claiming we were a car-lite family, even though I caved and drove many days.

It wasn't until October of 2010 that I had to put my money in my mouth. Er, something like that. From October 2010 until the end of 2011 I was a dedicated, full-time, on principle bike commuter. "Need a ride?" "HECK NO!" "Did you ride today?" "Absolutely cage-dweller!"

So even though it was only a little more than a year, I think I paid my dues. I know what it means to be dedicated to the lifestyle. I know what the implications are. You look at the bike propped up behind the couch and you look out the window into the dim pre-dawn at the snow and you know it's going to be a long slog in. And you grin and bear it. Sometimes the grin just freezes there, and sometime it remains long after your face thaws.

I think that's why I'm okay with relenting a little, and why I think I'm still better off after an intensive year of bike commuting.

I've learned a lot...not just about cycling, and bike commuting, and about myself, but about the environment, about carbon footprints (I already knew a lot) and about our society. I'm more engaged in the issues and I'm better educated to discuss and implement programs to reduce the carbon footprint of individuals and of organizations. That's one reason I am terribly excited to be enrolled in the Sustainable Practices Program at CU Boulder.

It's all because of "the impetus of the bike." I wasn't a craven earth-killer before we sold our second car, but I didn't own some of my own loosely held beliefs. Instinctively I think Mandy and I have always been conservation minded, but most of the time we have conserved out of frugality, and not in the context of any other issues. Combining that frugality with a sense of our place in the whole scheme of things, and accepting our responsibility to make sure our children have a better world than we entered into ourselves, is what will drive us to make truly impactive changes in our own family and within our community.

I have to say, in the final analysis, that you cannot be "singularly focused" on bike growth at any scale, but that focusing on it at some point in the process, and singularly so, will help move the thinking along to other productive trains of thought. Staying focused on bikes as a solution to all our ills will not cure or correct even a fraction of our problems. But I think bikes as a major component of problem solving is key.

As Joshua Robin said at the National Bike Convention in 2004 (as quoted in One Less Car, Furness): "There are several reasons why a bike saddle makes a fine soapbox, protesters say."

People take notice of bikes. While a bike is a common accoutrement to modern society, it is also less in the forefront of our vision each day. Driving up to Eldorado Canyon the other day we passed through the "town" of Eldorado Springs. I saw many, many, many bikes hitched up in various places around the homes and buildings of the small community. You couldn't help but notice them, they were so numerous, however, many of the bikes were of poor quality (dept store variety) and some had literally eroded into the ground over time. People own bikes, but people do not necessarily know what they own.

I fantasized about cleaning up Eldorado Springs, going door to door and asking if I could take their unused bikes. I could take them home and build a fleet of bikes to either start a community bike-share in my town, or give them away to people who would actually use them. Bikes empower, but you have to apply power to them.

Looking back on that article I read in February, 2010 and I think that I may have fulfilled that one wish I had at that time. I'd like to continue being that person, but I am open to other possibilities and not holding to the bike strictly on principle anymore. I have accepted that you can choose other modes of transport and still be acting responsibly. But keeping the bike as my primary, personal mode of transportation will keep me grounded and focused on what is important.

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