Driving makes me irritable. I loathe traffic. I despise looping around crowded streets while searching for a parking space. I feel guilty whenever I fill up my gas tank, not only because of the cost, but also because this liquid I burn contributes to air pollution and climate change. Unfortunately, the automobile has become a crucial part of American life; sometimes we can’t complete our daily functions without one. Cars have their benefits: they allow us to carry a trunk full of groceries, drop off our children at school, and get us places quickly and conveniently. However, our dependence on cars is a major inconvenience to the air we breathe and the earth we inhabit. The majority of car trips made by the average American are less than 5 miles long — distances reachable by other modes of transportation, my favorite being the bicycle. Sure, hybrids and veggie oil-powered cars play their part and are a step above the average gas-guzzler, but they can’t compare to the benefits of riding a bicycle.
Before moving to San Diego, I lived in a small town in the San Francisco Bay area where cars are necessary to go anywhere. The nearest grocery store was a 15-minute drive away. The only bicyclists on the road probably were training for triathlons. As soon as I moved to San Diego, the first thing I wanted to do was buy a bicycle. I was determined not to drive my car anymore unless I really needed to. I wanted to rebel against the petroleum and car culture for the sake of the planet.
I bought an $80 used bicycle from craigslist and was on my way to defying automobile society. I began riding short distances around my neighborhood — to the post office, to the store, to dental appointments. Early on, I realized that commuting on my two-wheeled apparatus had its challenges. As a bicycle novice, I had difficulties riding up hills and I felt uncomfortable being on streets alongside cars. My cheap bike had a rusting chain and poorly shifting gears. I had my share of honks and hollers from restless drivers, and close encounters with the swiftly opening doors of parked cars.
It’s been over two years since I began using a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation. I traded in my ratty bike for a better, lighter, faster one. I’ve become acclimated to biking on busy streets, and riding up hills is not as difficult as it was before. I now proudly call myself a cyclist and drive only when it’s absolutely necessary. I attached a pannier rack, which can hold saddle bags for grocery shopping, to the back of my bike. Luckily for me, most of my routine destinations are within biking distance and I drive only once every week or two. I no longer worry about parking because I just lock my bike to a pole. One of the best parts is that I fill my gas tank only once every few months! Additionally, my doctor told me I have excellent cholesterol levels and that I’m in great shape.
Co-workers and friends are often impressed by my bicycle-commuting commitment, and many would like to do the same but, for various reasons, have not become enthusiasts like me. Many people haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids! Biking can be daunting, but realizing its positive impacts on your life and on the environment makes bike riding all worth it.
Advice I give to people who would like to begin bicycling:
- Find a bike that fits you and your needs. Finding the right size and style of bike is extremely important for your safety and comfort — whether it’s a commuter bike, a serious road bike, a hybrid bike, etc.
- You need bike lights if it gets dark (It’s the law!), a bike lock if you need to park your bike, and a helmet. Also, reflectors or bright clothing helps drivers see you.
- Go slow and ride short distances at first. Then try going for longer rides as you become more comfortable and physically fit.
- Be safe! Obey traffic laws. Make yourself visible and watch out for inattentive drivers.
- Remember to keep your bike in good shape. Bicycles need basic maintenance every so often. You can learn to service your own or go to your local bike shop for help.
You don’t need to be an expert cyclist to do the environment a big favor. Replacing those short car trips with bicycle rides makes a significant difference in greenhouse gas emissions while saving you money and improving your health.
Check out these links to see how much money and greenhouse gas emissions you can save by riding a bike!