Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day - Should I Ride My Bike To Work?

Wouldn't be much of a ride...since I work at home.

But one of the many tiny things you could do on Earth Day is curtail your pollution by driving less, and since the weather favors it, you might even bike to work. I know this will come as a shock to many people who know me, but in a distant past, I actually did bike to work quite frequently.

Me on a bike. What a picture that would be, now. I don’t think they build one strong enough to hold me.

My friend Glen Gardner is up on his bike all the time, maintaining that trim and muscular body he worked so hard to attain a couple years back. In fact, he bikes so much that he actually wore out a bike last year. Like me, his office is in his home, so he doesn’t have to “ride to work”.

For a while, not too long after the first earth day, I was in “California trim” (or ‘sconnie slim, if you prefer) and I lived about six blocks from the radio station where I worked in Oshkosh, and if the weather permitted, I jumped aboard my bike for the quick commute. It was more a matter of economics than defending the earth. My car was a pavement-ripping, modified, high-horsepower Mustang, and it was just too unkind to it to start it and run it six blocks and shut it off.

In my New Orleans days in the early 80’s, I biked a lot, just for exercise and pleasure. I was in the process of losing a hundred pounds at one of the most expensive fat-farms in America (Thompson Clinic) after having spent the better part of a year eating my way through every famous restaurant in N’Awlins, and getting ready to move back to Los Angeles, where fat people are not allowed. Biking helped burn off calories.

I have no idea what happened to that bike. I dragged it from Louisiana to California to Wisconsin, and lost track of it.

Mayor Cieslewicz made some very interesting observations in his blog Tuesday, pointing out that the dominant bike in America is the ten-speed road racer, which does not exactly lend itself to the “commute to work”. On his recent visit to Europe (the volcanic ash plume has diminished to the point that he and County Exec Falk finally caught a flight back to Madison) he noted that Europeans ride sturdy bikes with upright handlebars, low crossbars, and chain guards, so they can ride to work in “work clothes”.

With one of those ten-speed racers and the low-down handlebars that make you lean forward, you have to wear your Lycra to ride to work and pack your “business clothes” to change into. The mayor says “it’s as if we’re all driving sports cars when what most of us need is a reliable mini-van.” (And you thought he hates cars.)

He claims in the European cities he visited, one of every three trips is made by bike, while in Madison it’s about 4 in a hundred. He suggests that if we’re ever going to improve that ratio, we may have to, among other things, rethink the basic American bike.

Not a bad idea to contemplate, on Earth Day today, or any other day.

The three-speed Raleigh bikes that I owned as a kid in the 50’s and early 60’s might be just the ticket for the 21st century.

Or that Schwinn Black Phantom that I coveted back then…and couldn’t afford!


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