Peddling Backward: a Brief Personal History

July 4, 2008 at 4:23 pm 2 comments

I’ve been pumping pedals as a regular form of transportation since I moved to the Bay Area from Michigan in early 2000, though I’ve had bikes off and on throughout most of my life . I had a driver’s license back in Michigan, though I rarely drove and was always a nervous wreck when I did. Even into my 20’s, my parents white-knuckled it on occasions when they handed me the keys to their car (I never had one of my own), to say nothing of my own pale digits on the wheel. I required having the radio down low and practically no conversation as I put the pedal reluctantly to the metal. I know this is somewhat illogical, because bicycling can be more dangerous than being in a car, but there you have it. In most cases, carpooling was an option for work and whatnot. I rode a bike when I was away at college, though my parents’ houses–we moved a number of times–were rarely in bike-friendly environs. In fact, if anything they were in actively unfriendly places for riding a bike, as motorists not uncommonly hurled insults–or worse–from side windows.

Because my commutes were often shorter back then, requiring much less wear and tear, and I wasn’t very knowledgeable about bicycles, I got them from random places such as garage sales and not very reputable shops like *gasp* K-Mart. This lack of prowess around bicycle culture once led to a humbling experience at a shop in which a mechanic in so many words told me my bike was a piece of crap not safe for the road and that I might want to leave it by the side of the street for trash removal.

When I moved here and realized that Northern California weather affords the possibility of almost year-around bike riding, and I noticed that the East Bay is chock full of bike lanes and bike trails, to say nothing of the bikes on BART policy, I decided I could realistically get by without a car. Having bicycling as my main form of transportation necessitated a good quality bike; however, this was a daunting realization on what at the time for me was a VISTA volunteer stipend, especially when I found that even the cheapest used bikes at local stores such as The Missing Link and The Bent Spoke were in the $200 range.

A number of bikes later, I now have a used mountain/street hybrid I picked up from the Bent Spoke about two years ago. The frame had been painted over, so I can’t say for sure what model it is, though everyone seems to agree it’s well made and was probably worth $700-$800 new. It has been very comfortable and sturdy. Nevertheless, it was a desperate and reluctant purchase at first, due to one of my most humiliating and expensive blunders ever.

I’d just gone to the trouble of purchasing a new bike from Mike’s Bikes just weeks before with a number of additional features tacked on. I had gotten a pay raise and decided it was as good of a time as any to spring for a new one. I had taken it out to get lunch while at work one day. There is a gate at the elementary school in which I’m employed, right near my office, and I often entered the school this way. However, the door on that side of the school was locked. I decided since I was inside the school grounds it would be safe to leave the bike and my backpack next to that door while I went around to open it up from the inside. I suppose it would’ve been safe for a few minutes had I not FORGOTTEN to open the door from the inside. Somehow, in the two or so minutes it took me to go around, I got distracted and went back to my office to do work as if nothing else needed to be done. Some THREE HOURS or so later, I just happened to walk out said door to notice my open backpack had been riffled through (They also got my cell phone), and surely enough no bike was anywhere to be found.

I walked aimlessly around the campus for a few minutes, perhaps under some delusional notion that somebody had just moved it, though also with the nasty, sinking feeling that I’d been robbed of something for which I’d just paid, there was really nothing I could do to get it back, and it was all my fault!

I called a cab and waited outside the school for some 20 minutes which felt like insult to injury. I rode BART to the Ashby station and walked as quickly as I could to The Bent Spoke, on a mission to have wheels of some kind under me by the time I left. I did a much less thorough job of bike hunting than usual, quickly finding a bike that looked good enough and was my size, so I got the attention of one of the shop’s personnel. He suggested taking it out for a test ride, which I knew full well was a good idea, though I was almost too impatient to do this at the time. I just wanted some bike–ANY BIKE. Anyhow, I rode it around the block, paid for it, and rode it home, hoping to put my mind-bogglingly stupid error behind me. A couple years and many many miles of wear and tear later, I’ve come to adore this bike and believe it to be the best I’ve ever owned.

Now that I’m married, I feel an increasing need to renew my driver’s license, if for no other reason than to share the driving load on long trips. Still, because we have only one car and commute in completely opposite directions, I suspect that everyday will be Bike to Work day for me for a long while. And I’m OK with that.


Entry filed under: National. Tags: , , , , .

Unplugged: Urban Living on the Grid wheelies

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. villagebicycle  |  July 4, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I love the pic of the bike in the trash — where is that?

  • 2. bananaseatjones  |  July 5, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Thanks, it is a great shot. I found it on Google images since I don’t have any photographs from when this really happened–and in reality I just left it by the side of the street, not in a garbage can. I, too, tried to figure out where it might have been shot and came up inconclusive. It appears to be either near a very modern college campus or a high-tech industrial park.


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