Friday, January 3, 2014

Fiets-losophy: Thoughts on Guilt, Social Media, and the Bicycle Rider

You're doing it wrong.

You're not doing it enough.

You're not a real cyclist.

I came back to bicycling slowly. Awareness of bicycles as a means to stay fit crept into my consciousness back in 2007, before I married The Hubster, when I needed a way to cross-train on days I wasn't running. I dragged the Trek to St. Louis from my hometown in Kansas, aired up the tires, and took the bike out. I was shocked at how easy and difficult it was all at the same time. The fat tires and aggressive riding position felt awful and slow. Also, I hated wearing a helmet, and I thought I had to wear padded bike shorts to ride, which made me not want to ride. So after the wedding, I stopped, and I didn't touch a bicycle again for years.

Then, starting somewhere in 2012, bicycles started to creep back into my consciousness. I started to see them referenced on some of my favorite blogs. Most of the writers had bikes that looked different from the "grown-up" bike options I was familiar with - e.g., mountain bicycles, "mountain-bike-lite" hybrids, serious road bikes, or ten speeds. I was seeing "upright", "city", or "Dutch-style" bicycles, though I knew little more than that I thought they were very chic and lovely.

In the spring of 2013, however, I was smitten -- and had been bitten by the bug. I started reading bike blogs voraciously, and following cyclists on Twitter. I quickly decided that I wanted to buy myself an upright bicycle, and keep my mountain bike, too. The bike blogs were amazing inspiration. There were people all over the place who were completely in love with bicycling and riding 3, 6, 10, 25 miles to work...every day. In all sorts of weather. And they looked healthy and happy. 

I used the stories from the blogs and the comments to inform the purchase of my own upright bicycle in very late May - a Linus Dutchi 3-speed in black. I immediately purchased lights, and outfitted it with front and rear baskets.  I rode it my own 13 miles round-trip to work, 4 miles round-trip to church, and 15-22 miles round-trip to/on my local multi-use trail. I loaded it into the back of my car and drove to other trails in the area (St. Louis is rich for these). I got the mountain bike back out and rode it around a little. I packed it and took it with me to KC to ride trails with my brother when I picked up my Mother's nearly 40-year old 10-speed to fix up and ride. And here's what I've discovered, so far:

  • I do love riding bicycles! 
  • Having the right bicycle for the type of riding you are doing can be really important - - get bicycle stables. (I'm pretty pleased with my three bikes.) 
  • An upright bicycle is heavy. An upright bicycle with three baskets is even heavier, and will punch you in the throat with a handlebar when you're trying to shove it into the back of a vehicle. That hurts.
  • I really hate wearing a helmet. Still, I will wear a helmet mostly to keep people from telling me to wear a helmet, which I find more unpleasant than actually wearing the thing.
  • I love the fabulous bike trails in the St. Louis area - especially Grant's Trail and Creve Coeur Lake.
  • It's amazing how quiet the world is when you're biking through a neighborhood without cars or pedestrians. 
  • Animals don't immediately run away from a bicycle like they do from cars and pedestrians. (I think this speaks volumes for bicycles.)
  • I cannot ride to/from work or church without sweating profusely if it's over 85 degrees, and I do not like to sport a red face and drip sweat for half hour after I arrive somewhere. I can ride slowly, but hills are hills are hills, friends.
  • I think anything between 40°F and 75°F is just about perfect for any outdoor activity, save, perhaps, swimming. I'll grant an extra 10°F in either direction without complaining. This pretty much gives me the bulk of March to June and September to November to ride, and a few odd days in the remaining five months. Otherwise, I'd just as soon hide inside or be somewhere with better weather.
  • I don't much care for riding at night/after dark. I will, however, ride after dark for a short trip within St. Louis neighborhoods where I can avoid busy streets. This pretty much knocks out work commuting in November and the first third of March. 
  • I am not interested in riding in snow or ice... or lightning.
  • I am looking forward to trying my work commute on the ten-speed, because with the upright bicycle's heavy weight and three gears, some of the hills on my commute are brutal. Brutal. (Even if someone else wouldn't mind them, I still find them steep.)
  • If the ten speed (which is about 5-7 pounds lighter than the upright bike, with all her baskets) is significantly more pleasant to ride to/from work, I will have to decide whether to make the ten speed my work commute bike (with a rear rack and fenders, it's just about ready to go), or upgrade the hub and shifters on the upright bicycle to an 8-speed Shimano (versus the 3-speed Shimano). This bullet is THE. BIKE. DECISION. of 2014.
  • My mountain bike's exact role is unknown right now. I am not pleased with the fit (feels really small and crowded), the handlebars, or the grips, and need fenders and a way to carry things. I just can't decide yet which direction I want to go. Smooth tires and commute-y, with a full rack? Or keep the knobby tires and just add fenders and a small rear rack (like on the Motobecane), and *slightly* swept-back, wider bars? I'm leaning toward the latter, because then I think the mountain bike would be just about perfect for a trip down the Katy Trail. 
  • I'm a designated bike-lane sort of girl -- which I'm gathering quickly is very controversial. I don't like taking the lane, and I don't like riding with cars (though I will in order to ride as safely and predictably as I can). I don't want to be on the sidewalk, either. If it were up to me, there would be a network of Grant's-Trail-type multi-use paths connecting all of St. Louis City and County, with designated bike lanes on most roads (and protected lanes on arterial roads). That would make me happy. Also, I'd like to ditch the helmet in that circumstance, if I'm totally honest.
  • I need a bike rack. But not on my roof or on my car all the time.

As you will have noticed, at least so far, I have a fair amount of things (excuses, even) that keep me from riding. It's cold and dark right now, and we got snow Wednesday night and the metro area is bracing for another 8" this weekend. I've pretty much accepted that, other than to get to and from church on a reasonably mild and clear-road day, or the odd unseasonably-warm-day-on-a-weekend, I'm probably not going to do a lot of riding until the return of Daylight Savings Time. I'm completely open to the fact that, with just a few weather-ideal days in June, September, and October, I've really only begun to rediscover bicycling, and I may feel very differently after another year. I know I'm excited to welcome the return of Daylight Savings Time and spring come March, and to see what that brings. I'm purchasing my bike rack today - it will hold two bicycles and fold away in the back of my car when I don't need it, which will mean I can take any bike any place, and bring a second bike for the hubby or a friend. This will be fantastic.

Right now, though? My bicycles are ornaments. The upright bicycle is simply too heavy and unwieldy (see, e.g., throat punch) to lug to and from my basement, but I've moved the lightweight mountain bike back downstairs. The red ten-speed is keeping the (surprisingly, still up-and-decorated) Christmas tree company, and will probably stay in the living room for easy-access should a lovely weekend day present itself.

And I feel guilty, and sad, and like an impostor. The blog posts by the most dedicated of bicyclists have lately become somewhat of a burden instead of a blessing and inspiration to me. Twitter offers a constant reminder of all the people out there riding in the worst weather and on the shortest days. I read about people bicycling in parts of Canada with 6" of snow on the ground 6 months out of the year (and even fewer long-light days during those six months), or in Boston or Chicago (with aggressive drivers and snow-covered bike lanes), or in busy, car-crazy Los Angeles, where every few days, it seems someone is hit while riding by a distracted or drunk driver. And its a little overwhelming. Because I'm new, and maybe I'm not doing this right and missing something. Maybe I'm not riding enough, and therefore, not a real cyclist

Except that I am. And so are you, if you ride at all, and if you want to be. 

I am a huge proponent of the idea that a little bit of good swapped for something bad is a whole lot better than nothing at all. So I smother my kale and quinoa in butter and salt (I sure do): I'm still getting more - and more real - nutrients from that meal which are far better than anything I'd find at a drive-thru window, which is probably what I'd be eating instead (if I'm honest). 

Likewise, I probably rode my bike to work or church over about two dozen trips between the last couple days of May and the very end of October. I also did another half-dozen "just for fun" rides around my neighborhood or on my favorite trails. I may have stayed home, or I may have spent that time running errands or shopping in my car, and I know I would have otherwise used my car for the work and church trips. That's 36 trips of between four and 20 miles that weren't made by car. Let's say I did 12 trips of 13 miles each, 12 trips of 4 miles each, 2 five-mile fun rides, 2 10-mile fun rides, and 2 20-mile fun rides. 

That suddenly sounds like a fair amount of riding, when I've felt so focused instead on the time I wasn't on the bicycle, and which isn't fair. And, are you ready for this? Those rides encompass two hundred and seventy-four miles that weren't spent in a car, and didn't use gas, or spew ickypoonasty stuff into the air. 

At $4/gal and 27 mpg average, that's ten gallons of gas I haven't had to purchase since May. Only $40, but, according to this site, you emit 271 g of greenhouse gas per km driven, versus 21 g/km on the bike (taking into account your own fuel, and what it took to produce all of the things to get you moving in either instance). Converting mi to km, 274 mi is 441 km. 441 km driven produces 119,511 g (about 264 POUNDS) of CO2 emissions. Biking the same distance? 9,261 g, or just over 20 pounds of CO2. 

And that feels like something. And it is something.

In another metric, at 35 calories per mile (I'm small, and slow), I've burned nearly 10,000 calories on my collective rides. I'm still the same size and shape, but I like to think that I've made room for that extra slice of pizza or extra cream in my coffee without my belt getting tighter. Seriously: let's do some math. I bike an average of, say, 8mph, taking into account slower commutes and faster bike trails. I've spent about 34.25 hours on my bicycle as a result. That's approximately 280 calories burned per hour, versus about 60/hour if I'm totally sedentary. Even assuming a fairly active alternative (100/hr) -- which driving is not -- I've burned 180 cal/hr more on the bicycle over 34.25 hours, which is 6,165 calories I'm not carrying around as excess, or almost 2 pounds. (Considering the average American adult gains a pound per year as they age, and my average weight this year is -- perhaps not incidentally -- two pounds lighter, this is certainly something.) I've strengthened my heart and lungs in the process. I have said of running: once you've done it, no one can take it away from you. Bicycling is the same. 

Yes, more could be better -- better for the cost-per-use of the bicycle; better for the earth; better for my waistline and heart and lungs. But something is still something. And I want to go into 2014 focusing on that, and feeling proud about what I have done in just half of 2013, and what I may do in 2014 - and even if it's about the same, or a little more, or a little less, that's all good enough.

Cheers, Happy New Year, and happy riding! 

(Whenever - and however - you ride.)


  1. First off, I apologize if any of that not-a-real-cyclist guilt had anything to do with some of the weather related bike conversation we had earlier.
    Secondly, I'm glad to read you've arrived at the point where you're good with the amount of riding that you do. Like I said, riding in nasty weather is more cathartic than enjoyable, and I certainly don't want to guilt anyone into riding in dangerous weather.
    Spring is coming soon enough, then they'll be riding aplenty.

  2. No apologies necessary! My frustration isn't from any single blog, conversation, or post - it's more about finding my place in the bike game, and also maybe wondering why I'm not one of the people who is a more dedicated rider, willing to ride in any weather, and any traffic. I do hope I will ride more as I develop my stable of three and figure out which bike suits which rides, and become more comfortable with transportation cycling, which I expect will come.

    I absolutely enjoy my interactions with other riders! I think it might be similar to the phenomenon where only a fraction of your social media friends are on vacation, but it seems like everyone travels all the time except you? :)


Let the bicycle talk begin...