So, fact of the matter is that I’m not a big cyclist (Bikers ride motorcycles, cyclists ride bicycles, agreed? Good.). I own a bike, a nice one at that. It’s currently sitting about 1200 miles away in my parents’ basement. I’m not sure I’ve ridden my own bike in seven or eight years. Nonetheless, I’m here to tell you to get on your ass—get on a bike.
Now, I realize there are some very avid cyclists out there. If you’re one, read this for your own amusement and to be astounded by my naïveté. To grossly stereotype (one of my favorite activities), you’ve got your 1) roll-up-your-right-pant-leg-and-peddle-to-work cyclists, 2) long-distance rec trail merit badge Boy Scout cyclists, 3) mountain biking dude cyclists, and 4) buy-a-multi-thousand-dollar-road-bike-and-a-circulation-limiting-singlet-of-an-outfit-Lance Armstrong-wannabe cyclists. Most likely, you’re none of those. Perhaps you occasionally hop on your dust-gathering 21-speed you’ve had since time immemorial or your ironically-sweet Schwinn you picked up the moment you moved to Brooklyn. And, I’d submit that many readers of this seemingly Northeast-centric blog probably are in this camp. Those of you from outside these urban climes (welcome), however, might be scratching your head about this bike thing. You know who you are, you live in the burbs and you can’t even ride your bike to the nearest McDonald’s without risking life and limb and your rear’s comfort over a significant distance.
In any case, I happened to be in Washington, D.C., not very long ago for a work meeting and finally got to experience, first hand, the genius that is bikesharing (rich lawsuit-filing Village residents may now kiss my ass). Capital Bikeshare (CaBi, as the cool kids say) is the United States’ largest and most comprehensive bikesharing program. Some of you are probably familiar with these programs. You pay a small fee to rent a bike for period of time and can ride as you please, so long as you check in periodically at a station. In CaBi’s case, you can pay $7 for one day or sign up for a $15 3-day, $25 monthly, or $75 annual pass (by comparison, a 28-day Washington Metro pass will run you a princely $230…yes, that’s $3,000 per year). There are over 200 stations at last count so, you’re never far from a place to park your bike and/or pick one up. The bikesharing concept is one that encourages short commuting trips, limited to 30 minutes or less so, if you need or want to ride for a longer time, just check in at a station and continue on your merry way. The CaBi staff constantly monitor bike availability at stations and reposition bikes throughout the day to serve demand. There’s even a fantastic app, Spotcycle (Just gave them a free plug, didn’t I?) that allows you to locate stations and know how many bikes are available and if there are open spots to park your bike.
Now, I own a car, a 140,000-mile Passat that still runs like a charm. But, I almost never drive it. Hell, I take it to the grocery store on the weekend just out of a fear that I need to turn over the engine occasionally. The day of my Washington meeting, I took the bus six blocks to the train station in Baltimore, paid $14 for a round trip to Washington, took the 7:40 to Washington, walked to my 9 o’clock meeting two blocks from Union Station, and then spent an entire afternoon—for a grand total of $7—riding a good 15 miles all over Washington. To have explored like that on the Washington Metro would have been 1) pointless—it’s difficult to see the sights in a dark tunnel and 2) comparably expensive. At the end of the day, I parked my bike at the CaBi station next to Union Station and took the train home.
What did I accomplish? Well, personally, I got a ton of exercise. I also paid a minimal fee for a highly reliable and easily-used form of transportation (yes, your feet are still less expensive but they also are much slower). From a community standpoint, I kept a car off the streets which means less congestion; greater pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist safety; and less harmful emissions being pumped into the atmosphere. And, while all those are fantastic, on some level, the best benefit was just being out in the fresh air. It sounds corny—it is corny—but it’s also true. We spend far too much time cooped up in our homes, offices, and cars. Even the subway, and I’m as much of a transit advocate as anyone you’ll meet, keeps us cooped up (largely) underground.
So, for all you New Yorkers who are about to get your own bikeshare, Citi Bike, and for those of you living in or visiting other cities with these fantastic programs, get out and use them. Learn or relearn how to navigate city traffic on a bike. If you’re new to it, it’s a little scary. But, just get out there and figure it out. Employ a little chutzpah and some wise caution. You’ll be grateful you learned a new way to get around. It’s true, you really can’t forget how to ride a bike. Get off your ass and get on your ass.