By Lukas Brinkerhoff
I pick up my front wheel with some force as the basket on the front is a bit heavy making the simple act of jumping a curb a bit more of a challenge. As soon as the front tire clears the lip, I throw my weight forward and lift the rear wheel and slide into my parking space. I bang my basket against the bike rack disturbing the smoker puffing away about five feet from the no smoking sign. I lock up my bike and walk the 15 feet to the grocery store entrance.
I’ve always found it interesting why they would put the cigarette receptacles next to the bike rack in a spot that is designated as “No Smoking.” I guess they don’t expect the poor people who have to ride bikes to care much about their lungs. In general, most people can’t fathom why an adult with a full-time, well-paying job would ride a bike when they could so easily jump in their car and be transported around their tiny town.
Truth be told, this is society’s view of cyclists. We are poor. We can’t afford a car. We stink and generally we should be avoided at all costs. I can’t argue with the last one. Mostly because I’m fine being left alone. I’ve always enjoyed being an outsider simply by changing the way I choose to get around.
It’s never been a question for me, I love to ride my bike. It’s not always the easiest thing for me to do. My brain works in what ifs that like to keep me in place, keep me worrying about the traffic on that one street or having to ride up that hill. The inertia of not riding can be colossal, but once I begin to pedal, everything is good. The act of biking calms all the crazies in my head. Whether it’s in the dirt, cruising some paved trails or riding to the store, I just love to ride my bike.
It’s not often one of the reasons brought up when the “advocates” are trying to get people to pedal to work, they tend to focus on the more important issues like global warming, air pollution or obesity, but it’s the one reason that has always held true for me. I would rather pedal than drive. Driving is a lost opportunity. In the broad, life spectrum of things, every time I drive, even if I get to where I’m supposed to be going, I’m moving in the wrong direction.
Of course, this is where the advocates start the conversation.
I pull out my rickety crate with a grating noise that is part nervousness and part I didn’t pick that up high enough. I clear my throat. The street is busy with folks conducting their daily business. Their eyes are anywhere but where they should be and there I am waving my arms around like a mad man. Someone throws some change at my feet. I tilt my head and watch them as they walk away a little confused. I’m not even holding my hobo cup. Can’t you see this is a soapbox?
Can’t you see that I might be a nail sticking up in the overall sea of humanity and I might be getting hammered down every single day, but this is my revolution? Can’t you see that folks pretend to care when they see polar bears sliding off of icebergs or when they watch that grey cloud of nasty air grow bigger each year as it descends onto their city, but they never do anything about it other
than sign petitions on Facebook?
No they can’t, but once you do, you can no longer ignore the obvious. This isn’t just about pedaling, even if you truly love to ride your bike. No, it’s bigger than that. This is for life, not just for the duration but also to improve the quality during your stay. And maybe even to leave things a bit better than when we arrived because let’s be honest, it wasn’t all roses and blue skies when we showed up, but it sure would be nice if it was when we got off. Once you do, it’s for life.
And isn’t that what this is all about? Improving the quality of our communities, of our neighborhoods of our environment? Some people don’t mind living in squalor, but that doesn’t mean we all have to. We can’t seriously complain about such things if we aren’t working toward creating the spaces within which we would like to reside. Whether this means riding to be a healthier person once a week or pedaling to be happier. Cars make people pissed off. Bikes make people happy. Which is why it’s important that we ride them as often as possible.
I step off my crate and stoop down to pick up the change handing it to the guy next to the bike rack smoking. No one stopped to listen. Their eyes are still out of focus and not even gazing in the right direction to understand what is in front of them. I push my soapbox back into its corner. This time it makes no noise, I said my piece, now I’m content to fade into the absence of their thoughts as if I was never there.
Coming back out of the store, I unchain my bike. The stench of cigarette smoke is the only reminder that someone else had been there. I look behind me to ensure no four-wheeled coffins are about to flatten me before dropping my front wheel off the curb and coasting to the stop sign at the south end of the parking lot. I stop, look both ways and then proceed into the road.
To the untrained eye, it looks like I’m just riding to work, but to those who know, this is my angry fist raised as high as I can get it whilst standing atop my soapbox screaming at the top of my lungs that something needs to change.
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.