“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” —attributed to H.G. Wells
When I was a small child, in a little village in Southern Germany, my bike was my golden key to exploration, adventure and new worlds. I lived in Africa between the ages of 5 and 8; I liked to wear turquoise saris and pedal my massive, maroon bike through the dusty fields and back roads. When my family moved to the suburbs of the Eastern U.S., my embarrassing orange-cream-and-white bike got me to town, to the library, to civilization.
Then came that magic age of 16, and the freedom to drive. I could go farther than the library! My bike got dusty in the garage.
Fast-forward a decade. I was 26 and had been living in London for seven years. I had no need for a car (and was too broke to have one, anyway), but was getting sick of public transportation—buses not showing up in the pouring rain, getting onto said buses with seemingly hundreds of others, etc. A good friend of mine, Laura, was using her bike as her primary form of transportation, and she convinced me to give a bike a shot. I got myself a super-cheap bike and began to cycle.
I loved it. The wind, the air, the energy, the rush of being outside and propelling myself forward to the destination! No matter what the weather conditions were, I loved it.
Then I moved to Salton City. When I first moved there, I cycled along State Route 86 between home and my job at the casino—yes, even at night. I was lit up like a Christmas tree—and it got pretty hairy at times along the highway, but it still beat sitting on my behind in a car.
I recently moved into the Coachella Valley proper, and I continue taking my trusty bike (upgraded now with slimmer wheels) out when I can. My bike played a part in my move: I figured I could cycle more and drive less—to work, to the stores, to dance class, to social gatherings, to events, and just for shits and giggles.
But … where is everybody? I do not see many other people who use the bike as a method of getting around—and I wonder why. We live in a fair climate area, with wide avenues, blue skies and acceptable temperatures at least three-quarters of the year. Many bike lanes are in place, yet they are hardly being used.
As for the few cyclists who are out there, there are predominantly two types: the poor, who have no alternative but to cycle (and take the bus); and the rich, who ride in carbon-fibered pedaling packs. Where is everyone else? Why aren’t people beyond those two extremes using bikes to get around Is it fear? Does it take too long to get places? Do people not even consider bikes as a fun and pleasurable alternative/option?
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration’s most recent National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, nationally, only 5 percent of the people interviewed use a bike to commute to work or school.
Granted, some of the local bike lanes are funky—waaaaaay too narrow, half on sidewalks, etc.—and what’s with switching from a cycle lane to being relegated to the sidewalk every other block on Eisenhower Drive? These issues certainly need to be addressed; some cities do better than others. CV Link will benefit the whole community, but that project is still years away. Still, today, there are many bike lanes—and overall, that’s good!
Of course, bike lanes aren’t the only concern; aggressive or inattentive motorists are a huge reason why many people are afraid to cycle. Drivers need to be more educated about sharing the road with cyclists, and should understand what it feels like to be passed too closely by a car. Thank goodness the 3-foot law goes into effect later this year!
Motorists: We bicyclists are not trying to piss you off; we’re just trying to get from here to there. And don’t ever yell at a cyclist to “get the fuck off the road.” We have every right to be on the road. And to those of you who cry out about rule-bending cyclists: Please make sure you are an obedient driver who never speeds, never runs yellow lights, never texts and never breaks any other driving rules. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite—a hypocrite who can kill me with your vehicle.
Yes, people die while riding their bikes. About 2 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2011 were cyclists. That’s too many people—but far, far more pedestrians and motorists get killed in accidents than bicyclists do.
An enormous positive aspect of cycling is health and happiness. When I drive, especially long distances, I often arrive lethargic and tired. When I cycle, I feel more positive, have more energy, and can concentrate better. I am not the only one who feels this way!
Of course, bicycling is not always a viable option; there are often real reasons to take the car. But when there is not a real reason … consider trying bicycling. Your body, your mind, your bank account and your environment will all thank you.