“Wake up. There is a huge, bright beautiful world out there and you are letting it pass you by! Get off your couch, get out of your stale bubble and explore something new. Learn something new. Experience something new.”
-Curtis and Jenny Shaw, Crazyguyonabike.com
A few years ago I sold my car and started walking and biking to work. The distances are not impressive; 3 miles round trip at the house and 6 miles now from the apartment; but it opened the door to cycling as functional transportation and a viable form of recreation. And before you start pointing out the fallacy of my claims, read on. I realize that some things require the use of a car. But the purpose of this post is to illustrate why I think bicycling is superior in most ways than 4 wheeled steel cages. I will follow this theme next month when I explore the awesomeness of motorcycling versus lameness of cars and mammoth SUVs.
Why riding a bike is so great
I’ve saved a bunch of money, become more fit and regained my bubbly, cherub-like demeanor simply by riding my bike to get where I need to go. SOMETIMES it’s less convenient than jumping in the car, but the tradeoffs more than compensate for me. And it rains in Portland. Frequently. But it didn’t kill me, it only made me wet. Mrs. Grumby says, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” The result is I am more fit and have avoided the humiliation of indulging in expensive, silly clown car behavior. Another thing happened as well. I remembered that riding bikes is freaking awesome! My traffic stress level is zero because I rarely sit in traffic. It turns out that my life is much better without having to sit in a climate-controlled steel cage amidst angry tailgating boneheads as my blood pressure creeps to 11. (That’s a reference to This is Spinal Tap. You should be ashamed if you missed it.)
So here for your wonder and amazement are five reasons that two-wheeled conveyances are better, more efficient and way cooler than anything with four wheels. I will cover motorcycles in a future post.
1. Almost Anyone Can Do It
My first bike was a purple stingray-type bike with a banana seat. It was hard as hell to pedal up the street, but I loved flying down the street 83 mph and hopping on the trails at the Alpha Concrete plant (until my sister, Aunt Bee, told on us).
Every summer when we visited my grandparents in Tyler, Texas (motto: It’s fucking hot here in Tyler), cousin Scott and I would ride all day on the trails near his house, and then we would eat a mess of cornbread. And we didn’t even need ridiculous spandex costumes. Which brings me to….
2. You don’t need expensive dorky uniforms to ride a bike
Since people are very silly, they buy a lot of sh*t they don’t need.. For instance, they buy fancy $4,000 carbon racing bikes that weigh 3.21 ounces, pedal cleats, spandex shorts (gross, unless you are Sofia Vergara) and team jerseys to ride around town or on an organized ride. The form-fitting gear is ostensibly designed for serious racers to minimize wind drag, and for racers, probably makes sense. But sadly, most people are not bicycle racers, and they look like sad, lumpy sausages squeezed in those spandex Fred getups. Any clothing-derived benefit in reduced wind resistance is more than negated by 65 pounds of belly fat, which is what many of these guys are carrying around. What did you wear when you were a kid on your bike? Shorts or jeans, a tee shirt and sneakers! Read Grant Peterson’s excellent book Just Ride.
And another thing: Helmets are not mandatory. Yes, the cycling industry and society have decided that cycling is a “sport”, and sports require helmets. And a bunch of middle aged guys will buy expensive helmets to match their sausage-casing lycra outfits. But bike helmets aren’t all that protective, statistically. I wear one almost always while riding in town, but sometimes I enjoy the thrill of wind rushing through my thick, luxurious hair, especially when climbing slowly up a long hill at 6 miles an hour or on a remote, low traffic road. If you aren’t wearing a helmet while driving a car at 75 miles per hour, I can choose whether or not to wear a helmet at 12 mph.
3. Riding is freedom and Freedom is Groovy! (Hey, that’s the name of a great financial blog I follow!)
When I was about 12 or 13, the kid across the street and I hatched a scheme to escape the surly bonds of our mundane suburban Kansas City existence for a few days. The plan was to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, jump on our 10-speeds and ride 65 miles to Lewis & Clark State Park, north of St. Joseph, Missouri. 65 miles was longer than either of us had ridden before, but we were 12 year old boys and thought we knew everything. We bought gear for the trip with money earned from mowing lawns in the neighborhood.
All in all, it was a pretty ballsy, well-planned conspiracy for a couple of suburban dorks like us. But the wheels fell off of this one (ha! See what I did there?) when our moms found out about it and crushed our dreams. But it was fun to plan, and I think that’s when I started to realize that bicycling correlates with freedom.
On an unrelated note, check out this great blog called Freedom is Groovy!
4. You don’t have to be an elite athlete
Which brings me to the next points: Almost anyone can ride a bike regardless of whether they are out of shape, old, surly, skinny, lethargic, or whatever. Choose from recumbents, trikes, electric bikes, hand crank bikes, and good old Surly Long Haul Truckers. One of them will probably work for you. When Mrs. G and I go out for a ride on the weekend, we notice that people wearing “serious” cycling gear and usually hunched way down on their tiny racing bike, grimacing like they are in the final stage of the Tour De France. The people on comfortable bikes wearing normal clothes almost always appear happier, and certainly look way less goofy.
5. You can ride your bike across town, or across the USA, or across the world. For free!
Ok, not for free, but your gas expenses are zero, and many people travel by bike very inexpensively. Curtis and Jenny Shaw retired from their jobs in East Texas in 2016 and embarked on their new life or retirement on bicycles. They started out in Anchorage in June of 2016, rode through Alaska, Canada, the lower 48, Mexico and, as of August of 2017, are in Honduras. Their journals on Crazyguyonabike are entertaining, inspiring and informative. There are thousands of blogs on Crazy Guy, written by people of all ages and walks of life, from countries all over the world who cycle as recreation or as their lifestyle. And that’s what the Grumbys plan to do in the not too distant future. Our first route will be the Lewis and Clark Bike Trail, which we will pick up near Kansas City, Mo.
Take a look at this great short video by Kenny Laubbacher. It documents his friend’s journey from Portland to Patagonia by bicycle. If you have 4 minutes, it’s worth a viewing or two.
I promised myself I would do something radically different. I’m gonna do something that scares the crap out of me…
This is why I am trading a cushy life in the city, fancy apartment, great job and most of my nonessential stuff for the uncertainties of life in the saddle. Even though most of my decisions have been traditional; houses, cars, jobs; that setup never quite felt right. I’ve always looked forward to the next trip or hike, and the time between was just filler. Even as a kid, I loved maps, riding on the train with Pop and car trips to Texas. And the journey was as meaningful as the destination.
The routine is the enemy of time.