Biking in the City

[ed note: originally written April 16, 2011]

Why do people hate on bike commuters?  I’m not going to call us cyclists because, well, we aren’t…necessarily.

I may have ridden my bike across most of the country, bike everywhere I go in town, started a free bike rental program, and advocate for biking on every level–from institutional to international–, but I am absolutely not a bicyclist.  If there isn’t a lot of traffic in the streets or a lot of weight on my bike frame, I don’t even like biking.  I do it to help save (what’s left of) the environment.  I do it to be outside the confines of a car or building.  I do it with my friends.  I do it to get a rush of adrenaline in traffic.  But I absolutely do not do it for exercise, fun, or sightseeing.

Today, I rode my bike pretty far around Salt Lake.  I left “my house” around noon.  It’s 9:30pm and I haven’t returned yet.  Biking is an excuse to stay out all day, removed from the incarceration of the indoors.  It promotes relationships, productivity, and alert relaxation.  A few hours on the grass in Sugarhouse Park with an old friend.  A haircut at Jed’s Barber Shop downtown.  Sitting in the award-winning Salt Lake City Public Library until it closed.  A Subway sandwich for lunch.  Sitting on the grass surrounding the city courthouse.  Now, Coffee Connection for hours of work.  Biking supports efficiency because it isn’t practical to run home between errands.  Biking encourages days spent enjoying the city and its people.  For a while before sunset, I just sat outside of a bookstore, near TRAX (the train), watching weirdos be…weird.

Biking through the minimal urban traffic is liberating and thrilling.  It’s an excuse to stay places longer.  An excuse to watch patrons come and go, knowing that you’ll be there for hours on either end of their stay.  Cycling is a way to see how new haircuts will live up to the rigors of a wind tunnel.  A method to test your jean’s crotchal durability.  A reason to yell at people opening car doors and give dirty, disapproving head shakes to oblivious right-on-redders.

By virtue of riding a bicycle with a backpack, pedestrians and drivers alike understand that you’re going somewhere.  Even when riding like an idiot, cars tend to yield to me (knock on wood carbon fiber) and be understanding when I’m passing them on the right.  Or the left.  Police officers scare me more when I’m riding my bike than when I’m driving my car (why is it called “riding” a bike but “driving” a car?  I have far more control of my bike than I do of my car), mainly because I ignore virtually all frivolous rules of the road.  An empty road and a red light?  In a car, I won’t even consider blowing through it.  On a bike, I won’t even consider slowing down.  

Some shops offer discounts on their goods and services to those who arrive on 2 wheels instead of 4.  Some businesses, conversely, don’t even have bike racks.  I’ve learned that many hair salons (A new concept to me, “salons” are similar to Great Clips and Best Cuts in that they offer people who cut your hair while partaking in mutually disinterested conversation.  The difference lies in the professionalism and care with which they do it, the beverage they offer you upon arrival, and the hands of magic with which they massage your shoulders fact that they massage your shoulders at all.) survive without bike racks, but don’t even hesitate at a shiny and clean bike parked beside their front counter.

I don’t wear a helmet.  I weave between traffic that is slower than I.  And I don’t hesitate to aggressively reverse the direction of an opening car door in the bike lane immediately in front of my briskly bicycling self.  But you know what?  I’ve entertained the theory of safety that front and rear lights provide…and I’ve submitted.  I’ve studied the biking laws and I am not careless; I am much more mindful on a bike than when I drive; and I do not do anything to force a vehicle to alter its trajectory, projectory, or fat guy eating his double meat sandwich-ectory.

Chasing winter year-round is not conducive to fun days on my bike.  Even biking across the country doesn’t provide the same rush as urban biking in a bike-friendly city.  So when I’m around Salt Lake–or any other city–with my fixed-gear bicycle and a reason to run an errand, I don’t hesitate.  I grab my bag, put on some headphones, jump on my bike, and roll with (or against) the traffic simply because it’s a fun way of getting where I need to go.


About @brodyleven

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10 Responses to Biking in the City

  1. mother says:

    I get it….all except for the part “I don’t wear a helmet”.

  2. Maddie says:

    I am with your mom on this one. You need a helmet Brody. Don’t wait to tell yourself that when your tire gets stuck in a crack and you fly off (in front of large audience watching from inside their cars) and end up with a shiner on your right eye. Luckily I had my helmet on. You should too.

    Yesterday I road up emigration canyon and then up to big mountain. As I reached the top I asked myself “how do people live life never biking?” They are missing out big time! Best adrenaline rush ever and no cost for gas. It’s like free rides at an amusement park without paying, but 100 times better.

    • brodyleven says:

      OK people, I promise to wear a helmet while touring.

      I wish I could do the kind of biking that gives you the same adrenaline rush as an amusement park ride! that’s awesome.

  3. Dad says:

    “For a while before sunset, I just sat outside of a bookstore, near TRAX (the train), watching weirdos be…weird.”
    I read the above quote and wondered if this bookstore had a mirror outside!

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  6. Danny says:

    I am so glad that you don’t wear a helmet and are proud of that. I also don’t wear a helmet. My reasoning is that if we really want people to ride bikes it needs to be easy and convenient unfortunately helmets discourage people from riding bikes. Cities that promote helmet wearing are the same cities that dont have bike commuters.

    Also riding a bike is t dangerous, getting hit by a car is what is dangerous. The more bikers there are on the road the more drivers are aware of bikers and the safer riding is.

    So in short, not wearing a helmet encourages more people to ride bikes and this makes bike riding safer for everyone. The dangerous thing to do then is actually wear a helmet

    • brodyleven says:

      That’s a really interesting point, Danny. I have a friend who doesn’t wear one because he says research (could be his?) shows that vehicle drivers drive CLOSER and more RECKLESSLY to bikers wearing helmets, out of a false sense of security, than to bikers without helmets.

      I do believe that helmets act as a strong detractor from the popularity of cycling and if there was no fear of vehicle contact, more people would bike without helmets, thus meaning more people would bike. Good point, and thanks for sharing.

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