Last month, I was scheduled to testify as a character witness in a trial. Court was scheduled for 8:30 AM, and I was scheduled to testify after another witness. It takes a half hour to bike slowly from my house to the justice center (courthouse). At 8:00 AM I was getting on my bike, when I got a call saying I was needed immediately at the justice center. I said I was getting on my bike and would be there in a half hour. I needed the bike ride to move the anxiety of getting on the stand through my body, but the lawyer didn’t want to take any chances on me getting there late so an Uber was sent for me. I arrived at the justice center flustered and irritated that I had been rushed there in a polluting machine.
It’s common for people who primarily use cars to get around to offer rides and believe they can provide a resource to people who need that resource. What they don’t realize is that, for many of us, cars are not only unnecessary, but negative influences in our lives.
I bike for many reasons. It is extremely rare that I would even think about accepting a ride in a car. Here are some of the reasons I bike:
- Environmental destruction is so 20th-century. In most places I’ve been in the U.S., cars are the primary transportation method. Cars typically burn gasoline or diesel, which not only emits fossil fuels as it burns, it also pollutes the air, water, and land from where the oil used to make the gasoline or diesel is extracted. Destruction in the Amazon has forced indigenous populations from the jungle and led to the dissemination of entire peoples.[i] The oil industry is so strong that it took thousands of indigenous communities coming together to stop a pipeline from going through land without the consent of its inhabitants. I bike to minimize my contribution to these disastrous impacts on ecosystems and people.
- Biking keeps my body moving so I can process emotions. Different people like different settings for engaging in conflict. If my body is stationary it traps stress inside; I need to be moving to work through the stress. As someone who cares deeply about social justice, I spend a lot of time and energy on personal growth (resolving internal conflict) and interpersonal growth (resolving conflict involving those around me as well as myself). I need regular time to myself to let new information and ideas soak in and to develop opinions about them. Biking provides this time.
Biking also encourages my creative processes. Sometimes I write songs or poetry; much of my artwork is developed on a bicycle. I also engage in occasional public speaking; I write speeches and practice them while riding.
Mental health is important. While maintaining or achieving mental health looks different for all individuals, 28% of people who responded to the question I posed on Twitter about why people bike mentioned their own mental health. I know my mental health is improved when I bike because of a few reasons below (specifically #s 5-8), while a lot of it also has to do with having time to process emotions while moving.
- Sexism tells me I’m not strong but my bike experiences prove that to be false. There’s something extremely satisfying about seeing an athletic man’s jaw drop when I tell him I biked up a mountain with a tent, sleeping bag, clothes, and food loaded on the back of my bike (I do this a few times per year). Don’t get me wrong, the ride feels amazing too (see reason #8), but this section is about the joy I get from challenging the assumption that women are weak. I get a kick out of the ignorant disbelief that I can easily haul 300 pounds of food a few miles. Surprise! Take that, fragile masculine ego.
- My transportation mode is a simple machine that I do not have to dedicate lots of energy to fully understand. Its moving parts are generally easily visible and adjustable. Okay, I have degree in mechanical engineering, so my brain is practiced in understanding physics, but when compared to most machines that transport people, bikes are pretty simple. The pedals turn the crank, which is connected via the chain to the freewheel or cassette, which turns the wheel. The handlebars turn through bearings in the headset. The shifters, cables, and derailleurs, and brakes add a little more complexity to create a complete bike, functional with moving parts. It’s that simple. Beautiful.
- I have control over my bike and my schedule. My number one reason to bike is the environment. Carpooling and public transit have low but measurable environmental impacts, while they also involve dependence on someone else’s schedule. When I bike, I can arrive when I want, leave when I want, and take as long as I want in transit. I am in control of my speed and my path as well as my schedule.
- I don’t need to schedule exercise into my day, just commute time. In order to get enough exercise during my day, I just need to leave the house, because the transportation method I use doubles as an exercise method.
- Biking connects me to my surroundings. I understand what lies between where I am and where I came from. I value the effort of moving objects and lives. The breath at the top of the mountain feels more refreshing when I used my body to get there.
- Biking is exhilarating to me. This is very related to #7, but includes an element of freedom. If I even spend one day without getting on a bike, I feel so free the next time I am on a bike. I can feel the elements, which has always been exciting to me and helps me feel alive.
- Because I can. I have the privilege of being able to use my body, so I do. If I bike when I can, I show that it’s possible. People who would like to ride a bike but do not do it might feel more encouraged to give it a shot. I want to normalize biking. Doing it, writing about it, and talking about it make it more socially acceptable. I enjoy to ride and I can. Why wouldn’t I?
- It’s cheap. I eat whether or not I bike, so my fuel prices are negligible. I don’t have to pay for every ride, and I don’t have to throw much money down on maintenance. In fact, my transportation machine – decked out in extra accessories – plus annual maintenance, costs me less than I make in a month of underpaid, part-time work. It’s certainly affordable.
Please note that I have only communicated why I choose to bike. I posted a tweet asking why Twitter users bike. This was responded to by 25 people and resulted in 31 unique reasons for biking and 111 total responses; 28% of responses were unique, and there were more unique responses than there were respondents. Everyone has their own reasons. Here are four of the individual responses I got:
Now it’s your turn. Why do you bike? Post using the hashtag #WhyIBike. Better yet, take a friend on a bike ride!