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April 27, 2009

waiting #2

Posted by dogpossum on April 27, 2009 7:09 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)

This was tacked onto that last post, but it looked stupid. It's not really all that interesting a post, actually, so you might want to skip over it.

I was watching this clip about a roundabout in the Netherlands and it reminded me of some of the things I've written about above. I guess it has more to do with ideas about sharing space on a dance floor rather than intra-partnership communication.

When I watch this clip I compare it to the way motorists and cyclists interact on the road at traffic lights. We live on a busy intersection with a complicated set of lights. At peak hour in particular, motorists tend to approach the lights in these ways:
1. green light: go!
2. orange light: go faster!
3. red light: go really fast! Or stop >:(
When the light turns green again: GO! GO!

They tend not to think actively or critically of the space and people on the road around them. They respond to the traffic lights. When I cross the road there, I wait for the lights to go green, then I look to see what the traffic is doing. I wait before I step out, because cars regularly run these lights - it's a dangerous spot.
But I'm interested in the way motorists do as the lights say, or respond to the lights, rather than to the people on the crossing itself (whether they're in cars, on bikes or on foot). Rather than thinking 'ok, I need to slow down here - it's an intersection with complicated things happening', they think 'the light is green - I must go!'

As a cyclist, I'm out there in the elements. I feel the wind, am very very conscious of the cars physical presence, and I'm ultra-aware of people around me. Cyclists tend to actually make eye contact and smile/talk to each other (or, in The Squeeze's case, challenge them to a race. Yes, really). Riding a bike reminds me that I'm not actually alone. When you drive a car, you tend to forget about the outside world. Things go past you too quickly to really appreciate. You can't smell the bakery doing the morning bread at 2am as you ride home after a night out. You can't stop to help a nanna rearrange her shopping. You can't stop to pat a friendly cat or steal a handful of rosemary from a park. You can't ride through parks - you have to stick to the bitumen. You can't just suddenly hop out of your car and carry it down some steps if you want to take a shortcut. Riding a bike not only makes you feel physically better (and stronger and more independent), it also reminds you that your neighbourhood is sounds and smells and small details, not just blurs or lines of traffic.

This sort of stuff reminds me of some people's general thinking about cycling rather than driving a car. People who drive cars tend to respond to my encouraging them to ride a bike to work or for errands instead with these arguments:
1 it'll take longer - I have to get to work, I spend too much time traveling as it is
2 I'm too tired after work to ride home
3 I don't want to get wet/sweaty/cold/hot
4 I don't want to shower at work
5 it's dangerous
6 I live a long way from my work
7 I have to carry a lot of stuff to work.

They tend to assume that their quality of life will be degraded by riding a bike. Whereas I think - I know that my quality of life is improved by riding a bike:
1 I know exactly how long it will take me to get anywhere. I don't begrudge this amount of time, because I enjoy it - it is pleasurable and good exercise

2 Riding gives me energy and makes me feel, generally, more energetic. It might kick my arse and leave me panting, but overall, I feel more energy. This is especially important if I'm going through a bit of depression or ill health. I've found that dealing with the constant pain in my foot, the exercise of cycling helps me deal with pain and depression; I just feel better.

3 I don't mind getting sweaty/wet/cold/hot. The more you ride a bike, the more accustomed you become to getting wet or hot or cold. You simply accept the fact that riding in the rain makes you wet. Or exercise makes you sweaty. If you're going to work, you shower there. I don't mind getting a bit wet. Or even very wet; I won't melt. I wear practical clothes and I really don't mind the weather - it doesn't kill me, and once you get over the 'oh no! I'm wet!' you can actually enjoy it. Really, getting wet or hot or sweaty isn't so bad. Sometimes it's nice.

4 Showering at work isn't so bad. If you're like me, you need to cool down a bit before you shower or you just re-sweat immediately. If you're like The Squeeze, you get out of bed, step into your knicks, then out the door. You arrive at work, shower, then eat breakfast in the kitchen/tea room/at the cafe on the corner with your co-workers or on your own. He likes doing that. He doesn't have to make sure he looks pretty before he leaves, he knows he'll eat breakfast and have decent coffee. Once you've gotten into the routine, you keep the right things at the office so you don't find it annoying to shower.

5 It's actually not dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous - you're moving at great speeds in a large, dangerous object. Driving your car endangers other people; you make the world more dangerous. It's perfectly possible to take a safe, quiet route to work on your bike where the most dangerous part of your day is passing Sweet Belam without stopping for a cake. Adding a little exercise into your day is very, very good for you. Not exercising every day is dangerous.

6 Living a long way from your work is tricky if you're looking to cycle to work every day. But it is possible. You can take bikes on the train or ferry (or bus in some lucky cities). I'm always surprised by people's sense of distance. I am happy to ride up to and including 10 kilometers as part of a basic commute or errand ride. The Squeeze rides 20km a day, five days a week, up and down hills and at great speed (you can imagine how fit and strong and lean he's becoming).
If your drive is 10km or less, you really should be riding a bike. 10 kilometres is about 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if you're me) by bike. If you're living in a very flat town (like Melbourne), then it's less. If you're a super fit lycra person, then it's less again. but 10km by car in a big city through peak hour is a long journey. It's usually quicker to ride a bike, if you include parking time.

7 Carrying stuff on a bike is far easier than you'd think. Panniers rock - I have transported a week's worth of groceries, four pot plants, giant bags of potting mix and lots of other things by pannier. I carry my laptop, headphones, power cord, water bottle and towel to dancing on my bike in a backpack/back rack combination. And I should mention: I am the sort of person who hates carrying heavy crap. I've noticed that cycling often makes carrying extra stuff in a large handbag unnecessary. If you're showering at work, you leave a set of bathroom things at work (towel, deoderant, soap, etc), so you're not carrying that every day.

It has to be said, though: the only cake that will transport safely on a bike is a fruit cake. But I'm working on that.

There are exceptions, of course. If you have mobility issues, cycling might not be for you. But if you're able bodied and traveling to work by car every day, cycling is often a far nicer option. And you don't have to ride to work every day. Starting with one day a week is often enough to help you find a nice, safe route, and to get you used to the routine. Even just every second day is enough. Commuting by bike regularly (rather than just doing it once and then giving up) is a very good idea - it can take a while to figure out the most efficient, and safest way of doing things. It can take a while to figure out exactly what stuff you can and should leave at work to make your post-ride shower easier. And practicing your route on the weekend is also a good idea. Traveling with friends is another great idea.

Posted by dogpossum on April 27, 2009 7:09 PM in the category bikes


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