Because my talk was not matching my walk, I've turned to an old friend—my bicycle. Second only to my dog, my bike is my most loyal companion these days. For the past several months, I've used the vehicle to get around town, to the grocery store, post office, doctor's appointments, the library, government offices to contest tax bills.
Since I work out of my house, I can't say as I'm using the bike to commute, but I would if I did have a workspace within a reasonable distance. My daily rides of five to 10 miles are not strenuous. They are, in fact, energizing. And because I am not anyone's idea of a finely-tuned physical specimen, it is within the realm of possibility that 90 percent of the people reading this can do the same thing. Adam Bulger's "Car Free in Hartford" (Hartford Advocate, May 29, 2008, www.hartfordadvocate.com) is proof positive that anyone can do it!
Some people my age who know me and see me out on the bike shout things like, "Way to go!", as if riding a bicycle were some admirable thing or quaint nostalgic throwback to childhood. But then I get just as many strangers saying things like, "Wish I could join you, pal." Ah, but you can, my fellow Americans. In fact, here is the "nut graph" of this thing to help you get motivated:
Most car use in America is done during daily errands; 82 percent of all trips to destinations five miles or less from home are made by car. According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, one-quarter of all car trips are made within a mile of the home, and 40 percent of all car trips are within two miles of home.
This means that you are out there snarled in traffic for most of the day, and once you reach the destination, you still have to putter around for a place to park (often for an additional charge). All the while, you could be on your bike, which you can pull up to the entrance of most buildings and park anywhere, for free. You can even bring a bike on MetroNorth trains into New York, with a bike permit (caveat: due to crowded trains, you can only bring them on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and after 8 p.m.). You can also bike from commuter "park 'n' ride" lots, saving yourself miles of wear on your car.
And guess what you see when you ride a bicycle? Your community, up close and personal. You actually notice houses and buildings you had only previously sped by. You have conversations with people you've never actually met before even though they've lived around the corner from you for years.
You also notice all the trash and litter (and you can make some pocket change while you're riding by picking up redeemable cans and bottles). And you notice the profound disconnect from reality that defines the American lifestyle. Maybe if enough people see it from this angle, the lifestyle will change.
Statistics show that more people are indeed seeing it through new eyes. Bike stores are seeing an increase in sales of from 20 to 30 percent. Many of the sales are for "comfort bikes," with racks that can carry grocery bags. Also, many communities are hosting "bike to work" programs, including many towns in Massachusetts that take part in Bay State Bike Week (www.baystatebikeweek.org). Similar programs have also been sponsored in the Brattleboro, Vt. area by Upper Valley Rideshare (uppervalleyrideshare.com).
Mass Bike Pioneer Valley is a non-profit group that advocates for bike trails and commuting programs in Springfield, Holyoke, Greenfield, Northampton and Amherst, as well as at the Five Colleges. It meets the second Thursday of every month (next meeting is Sept. 11 at Smith College, Seelye Hall, Room 304 at 7 p.m.). Its Web site, www.massbike.org, will put you in touch with kindred spirits, events and programs, and help you make your bike a greater part of your everyday life.
These people are serious. Would that more people get as serious as they are. See you on the streets, my two-wheeled comrades!