Those that know me know that I’m an avid cyclist. I love to maneuver through city traffic at rush hour, and, paradoxically, I feel much safer riding 20 pounds of aluminum than in a cocoon of steel and glass. But I wasn’t always this way.
My dad can attest to my early teen car obsession - religiously reading the Wheels section of the newspaper, fawning over taillight design (of all things!), going to the Auto Show in Toronto every year… I was set on getting my own car the day I turned 16.
As it turns out, my 16th birthday fell around exam time so I put off getting my licence for a month. The allure of driving started to fade. I got my first road bike the following autumn. And I never looked back.
Two years later, I had made the decision never to own a car. What prompted my abrupt turnaround? Part of it was environmentalism. I was becoming aware of climate change, deforestation, and the pitfalls of the industrial development model. Around this time, I also decided to be a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Automobile ownership wasn’t something I could square with my new worldview.
Part of it was my first-year Urban Planning courses, which had basically conditioned me to hiss under my breath at the mention of expressways, drive-thru restaurants, and surface parking.
The single biggest influence on my conversion to bicyclism (it’s a word) was probably one of my co-workers, Kevin, who was a fellow lifeguard ay Cedar Park resort in the summer of 2007. Now, if you’ve ever been to Cedar Park, you’ll know that it’s in the middle of nowhere. The rural roads that lead there take you up hills and down little valleys as you make your way past farmers’ fields. But Kevin biked to work. Up those calf-splitting hills, both ways, every day. Alongside pick-up trucks doing 90 km/h. And he liked it. What was even more fascinating was the fact that he used to be a big car enthusiast. Had a souped-up Civic. But he gave it an engine that was too powerful, and it exploded. So now he has a $2000 bike with all the bells and whistles (literally). To be honest, it’s a lot less maintenance and Kevin was fit. That was the first time I saw cycling as a really viable option for my primary mode of transportation.
I still have that road bike I bought in 2006. I’ve upgraded the wheels, got some better brake shoes, and replaced the handlebar tape. I feel like I’ve bonded with it over the years, like one would with a horse. And recently I took another step towards sustainable transportation and bought a cargo trailer for my bike.
After a few weeks of use, I can confirm that it was money well spent. I took it to the grocery store, and loaded it up with two week’s worth of food plus a big cake. It was delicious. It’s a liberating feeling to carry big, heavy loads without requiring a car. Yesterday, I biked an hour across town with my cargo trailer in rush hour traffic to get a computer desk that someone was getting rid of. The trailer handled the task beautifully. It was an added bonus to see the amused looks of bewilderment from people as I headed home on Barton Street with a big desk bungee-corded to a bike trailer.
I think part of what makes me enjoy this kind of cycling so much is the interactions with motorists on the road. For the most part, drivers are either nervous or extremely courteous around me. For all the rhetoric out there about angry drivers, I find that if I’m confident and well-aware of my surroundings, I have zero problems. And I hope that my presence on the road will make motorists stop and take a second look at the status quo. I hope that more will see cycling not as an alterative form of transportation, but as a viable first choice.
Admittedly, we need more pioneer cyclists out on the road to make that happen. So dust off that bike in your garage, strap on a helmet, and leave the car keys at home. Let me assure you that busy roads are not scary places, and that you can carry a computer desk through downtown Hamilton on a bike.
Here’s some inspiration:Sam Nabi