Sunday, May 10, 2009

What's the Big Deal with Bicycling, Anyway?

I have owned several bikes in my time--a homemade one crafted by a handy cousin was my first, and I enjoyed it. On the block it, and I, were known to be "fast". That was cool.

But since then the bicycle has become virtuous and one is supposed to wear a helmet while "getting one's exercise", and I no longer see the bicycle (as I did when I was ten) as a rapid-getaway machine in a mixed-housing suburb.

I own one now--living in an aparment building with an elevator and a promenade nearby--and have come to think of it more as an encumbrance, or to be more precise, a pain in the ass. It takes up a lot of room in the apartment and I keep trying to think of its clear virtues and am having a tough time coming up with any.

For instance, where can I go with the bike that I cannot walk to in not much more time and with much less hassle over locks, keys, and bringing stuff back home; or that I cannot get to by subway swiftly, effortlessly, and again without the annoyance of having to tote a helmet and secure the darn thing with a lock on some traffic pole; and what more exercise do I really get, unless I am bound to be ostentatiously strenous (sweating in pursuit of some virtuous condition known as "fitness"), that I could not get by walking a mile or two--again, unencumbered my anything more difficult to manage at journey's end than a jacket or small backpack (and even the backpack seems more than absolutely necessary to a person who recalls things called "pockets").

And then there is the urban bicycle journey itself. Far from relaxing or exhilerating, it is more a tortuous gauntlet of either "watching out" for what always appear to be clueless pedestrians walking expansively and very much too slowly in your path; or worse, "watching out" for vehicles thirty and forty times your size that pass you by at a distance of mere inches and which might, at a mere flick of the driver's wrist crush you like a sparrow. I watch bicyclers in Manhattan traffic and think of the madness of those who run with the bulls in Pamplona. How can a sane person subject one's self to the snorting, reeking, onrushing menace of internally combusted vehicles without realizing one is engaging in an activity not much less dangerous than dawn patrol in Sadr City? My conclusion is, one cannot.

My advice: unless you live in a bike-path-only environment and have no need to carry more than a few bananas and a stick of butter back from the market to your nearby home, or unless someone is paying you to ride in traffic--put down the bike. Get a pair of walking shoes. Take a walk. Relax. Take a nap in the park. Then walk home. You'll feel much better for it, and much more civilized.