Friday, May 10, 2013

A Bike to Work Day Tribute to my Two-Wheeled Friend

Dear bicycle,

If you were human, you might wonder whether you should even entertain a letter from me.  In the 16 years we’ve been together, you’ve suffered a lot.  You’ve carried me through pouring rain and sweltering heat.  You’ve been poked with thorns and broken glass and everything else the streets of San Jose have to offer.  You were slammed into the pavement when I crashed and broke my humerus (though believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you), and United Airlines tried to crush your frame 24 hours before we were scheduled to ride 500 miles through the mountains of Colorado.  (But they couldn’t crush your spirit.  We did it anyway.)  I suspect you wouldn’t recommend me to a friend or colleague if this were a Net Promoter survey.

Fortunately, since you’re an inanimate object, we can’t have this conversation.  Still, I feel compelled to tell the world how much I love you – well, not you, because you should only love things that can love you back, but our life together.  It is Bike to Work day, and here we are on the Caltrain, heading home from work.  

Biking used to be my standard go-to for a hit of euphoria.  In my 20s, I would wake up before dawn, ride halfway up Mt Hamilton, and then descend to downtown San Jose in time to be at work by 9.  My weekends involved long rides out to the beach and through the foothills.  Those were the days when no one needed me to feed them, find them matching socks, or make sure all the toilets got flushed at least once a day.  I didn’t have 6AM meetings with Israel back then.  I didn’t wake up so many mornings already counting the hours until I could get back to bed.

Life is different now, but one thing has remained constant: you are still my favorite way to get around.  I don’t cruise to Santa Cruz very often anymore, but I’m a frequent flyer on the bike/ped overpass at Ralston.  Thanks to the advocacy of groups like SiliconValley Bicycle Coalition, bikes are almost as welcome in the Bay Area as teacup Chihuahuas are in New York City.  Since 1996, I have been a bike commuter – first a few miles from my house, then via Caltrain to Mountain View, then Palo Alto, and now Redwood Shores.  

I’m old and tired enough that I often make up excuses for why I should just slide my lazy butt behind the steering wheel, tune in to NPR, and endure the crawl along 101.  But most of the time, I don’t.  I know from experience that I will often not feel like riding.  And I know from experience that I will always be glad that I did.  Bike commuting isn’t a reasonable option for everyone – because of physical limitations or the commute itself - but I’ll venture to say that it’s a possibility for many, especially in the Bay Area.  And, beloved bicycle, I think you would agree that it is one of the most positive changes you can make in your life.  

Some questions that our readers will probably want answered: Will you have helmet head when you get to work?  I prefer to think of it as helmet style.  Will you get wet if it rains?  Only on the outside.  Your skin is well-designed to handle this.  Will there be close encounters with cars?  Quite likely.  You can’t ever assume that a driver is going to recognize you’re on the road.  But if you ride defensively and plan your route well, you can stay safe.  Can you rock a pair of fluorescent yellow rain pants?  You bet your life you can.  Will you feel better when you arrive at the office after a 20-minute workout and a ride through the Baylands than you do after 75 minutes of crawling along the freeway?  Yes, I am telling you, you will – because your blood is pumping, because you’ve left the air a little cleaner, and because you can spend the rest of the day feeling like a supreme bad-ass.    

So, my beloved bicycle, I want to thank you for your faithful years of companionship.  And I want to make an offer to any would-be bike commuters.  Whatever is holding you back – whether you need help planning a route, you need to buy a headlight, you’re not sure how to keep your pants out of your chain ring, you’re wondering whether you can ride with a skirt, you feel intimidated by the whole Caltrain thing, you got a flat five years ago and haven’t gotten around to fixing it – call on me.  I want to be your personal bike concierge.  And I’m not alone.  There are lots of us, and we all want you in the club.  

In the immortal words of Freddie Mercury: Get on your bikes and ride.