Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bikes: Social Transportation

I just took a snap of my bike to show my dad, so I figure this is as good a time as any to talk about bikes. This is Casper. I just got him from the Savannah bike co-op. Someone donated the bike saying that there were a lot of bad memories attached, prompting Patrick to tell me that someone probably died on it. I’m not sure I believe that, but if so, I believe they can be a friendly ghost with enough love.

The bike in the background is Scout, the cubscout colored Team America 1984 huffy. Needs a new back wheel. Since Beth is living here this summer, now we both have bikes. I only have a bike. And only having a bike has benefited my life in ways I didn’t at first expect. This is all going to be really “duhh” to those of you who ride your bike all the time, but I find myself explaining this to people very often, so I’m just going to jot down my thoughts. Let’s start with the most obvious.


Biking is cheap. This should be obvious, but people seem to not realize how much they could save by not having a car. The year before I finally laid my 1990 Camry Hatchback Station Wagon to rest I spent 6,000 dollars on insurance, gas, and repairs. SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS. The next year, I only used public transportation and carpooling (where I usually insist on paying in gas or food). Including extensive repairs to my bike after it being run over, and two thousand mile trips to Massachusetts, I only spent 500 dollars. Big difference, huh? In a normal year I’ll only spend a couple hundred.

I bought Scout for 25 dollars. Casper was in great shape and the money was going to our non-profit co-op so I had no problem spending 275 dollars for that one, plus I can go to the co-op and they’ll teach me how to do any repairs I need, let me use their tools and buy parts for five dollars. Know a car shop like that? Both bikes are vintage and ride perfectly. Is your car 30 years old? The rate that we go through cars is horrendous. They might be the most wasteful machines known to man, though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone proved me wrong. Wasteful to the world and your pocket.

And although it was a little inconvenient sometimes, and I did have to call a cab once, for the most part it was a better form of transportation in this little city. Why?

Speed and Convenience

I no longer had to worry about traffic. Ever. During standard Savannah hours, I usually was able to beat friends traveling by car from and to the same locations. At night, the streets are almost clear and silently cruising them is the most beautiful way to experience Savannah. And guess how much I had to pay for parking? Or how long I had to spend looking for a spot? Or warming up my car to get somewhere? I understand that for long commutes or to transport large amounts of stuff, you need something more substantial. I also am a huge supporter of public transportation and carpooling. But if you are just transporting yourself and a small amount of things (I’ve carried huge framed prints before), your bike will do nicely. There is no reason to use gas.

For those of you who live in a small city, there is no better choice. More and more people in Savannah are beginning to realize this. Which brings me to my next point, which is most important to me personally.

Social Transportation

Biking is inherently good for society. Not just because of the ecological or economic benefits, but because of the actual effect biking has on community and individual people. Sure, some bikers are assholes. Some have an ingrained hatred of cars, possibly because in this country we tend to be overlooked and treated like shit, but I always prefer to smile and wave. Actually, biker anti-car rage is probably influenced directly by rage directed at bikers by drivers. Even when I’m following all the laws and biking safely, I’ve been yelled at to get out of the road, sworn at, honked at, and sideswiped. It’s rare, most people are nice and trying to be safe while driving, but some people have definite road rage.

Why do they have road rage? Cars are antisocial. I’m sure there are some car clubs and I know some people really love driving (I’ve actually always found it very calming and enjoyable, though highway or city driving is another matter). But if you examine the nature of a car, you realize it segregates you from the world. The very thing that makes you feel safe, being surrounded by a steel cage, also keeps you from the world around you. You’re disconnected. This makes it easier to see those other steel cages zipping around as machines, not people. We yell and swear at them in a way we may never react to someone face to face.

Also, haven’t you seen a good friend on the sidewalk, stopped or slowed down to talk to them and instantly had someone honking at you, ruining what could have been a good social moment? Or been honked at by a car zipping by and not known if someone was greeting you or angry at you, or reacting to something else entirely?

Bikes are social. When biking, I’ve had conversations with people in car windows while stuck in traffic. I feel good every time someone smiles at me and waves me on, or I wave them on. I stop every time I see someone I know and at least take the time to say hi and ask them how they are doing. Sometimes I’m in a hurry, but often I can have a small conversation, without inconveniencing myself at all, or wasting any gas idling. I feel so much more connected to this town because of this. I often see other people on bikes and wave and smile if I don’t know them, or bike along side them and converse if I do.

On a larger scale, they encourage social functions. Bikers race, work on bikes together, have critical mass meetups and play bike games like bike polo. Some of these are a bit dangerous (anyone jousting on tall bikes is probably insane) and many activities are generally enjoyed by serious enthusiasts, but critical masses are often meetups of people from all kinds of class and societal backgrounds. Car clubs and car shows tend to revolve around people spending a lot of money fixing up valuable commodities. Bike co-ops tend to revolve around people from varied backgrounds working to help people with very little money have a mode of transportation. Our bike co-op in Savannah is constantly home to tons of little kids learning to fix their bikes, or working in exchange for parts because they wouldn’t be able to afford them otherwise.

I love my bike, but for someone who will always love people at a much higher level, I’m more appreciative of the social connections my bike allows me to make on a daily basis than I am of the actual material object.

On an individual level, you’re going to feel better when you’re biking. The endorphins released through physical exercise will actually increase your happiness. You’ll be in better shape, have more energy, and generally be raring to go whenever you get to where you were headed, instead of already stressed at the start of your work day from your commute.

There are obvious concerns like safety (though statistically cars are much more dangerous) and lack of support and bike lanes in this country, but I think many of us are working towards improving these areas.

I’m never going to buy a car again.

posted by Ian Aleksander Adams at 11:48 am