Cheers to 3 years (and new gears)

 

For my anniversary marking 3 years of living car free, I went full middle aged hipster and celebrated with craft beer and a new 1×10 groupset on my commuter (halfway to a fixed gear, which is as close as I’m ever going to get). I have the tendency to put off replacing parts until it’s absolutely necessary (mostly out of laziness), so it feels like a whole new bike now that I have new gears and recently new brakes.

 

 

I changed out my brakes myself this time, and I did a fairly mediocre job if I do say so myself. In the course of planning my summer bike trip somewhere around the Great Lakes, I’ve realized my mechanic/maintenance skills really need to exist be kicked up a notch. You would think that living by bike would have taught me some basic functional skills by default by now, such as changing a flat or derailleur adjusting, but I’ve been pretty lucky over the last 3 years in terms of mechanical issues.

Well, except for the other day when of all things, I went to lock up my bike and found that the whole barrel of my combination lock had randomly broken off:

 

 

Thankfully there’s usually a bike shop nearby when riding around in Greenville, but for a 1,000+ mile trip like the one I’m planning, I’m going to need to be a bit more self-reliant.

At any rate, considering all the worries I had 3 years ago about what life would be like without a car, I wish I could go back a bit further and tell myself to just go for it. I haven’t missed car ownership once, not even through hurricanes, snow, or even moving last summer. It’s not always convenient or comfortable to ride a bike for transportation, but ultimately having 24/7 convenience and comfort aren’t what I’m after. If I’m lucky, there will be many more car free anniversaries to celebrate in my future.

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Cheers to 3 years (and new gears)

March Madness

A funny thing about bike commuting, as is also often the case with bike touring, is that random inconveniences often tend to work out perfectly. For example, today I ended up with a free hour to spend downtown since it wasn’t worth riding home between work and going to dinner. In a car, I would have rushed home for just a few minutes or found an errand to run along a busy, traffic clogged road, since there’s no inherent need to drive downtown and find parking at this hour. Instead, I took a quiet bike route through neighborhoods into Greenville and have wound up sitting and relaxing by the waterfall in our beautiful downtown park.The parking is free and easy, the view is gorgeous, and it’s a perfect opportunity to vote for my town in the elite 8 of the Strong Towns bracket and unwind in the sunshine.

March Madness

#MeTwo

Thoroughly loving this episode of Unladylike that addresses two wheeled street harassment.

Spoiler alert, it’s been around as long as bikes.

I feel lucky that I don’t often experience street harassment, which is to say I’m grateful that I’m not constantly reminded that some people correlate my value as a human being by the level of sexual attraction they have to me. That’s a sad state of affairs, and we can do better.

There are so many obstacles to getting more women on bikes (and thereby making cycling safer and better for everyone), and I would hope that street harassment isn’t a factor, but I’m sure it is. It’s made all the worse when you’re a vulnerable road user as it is, just to be made to feel more vulnerable by getting yelled at and objectified by someone in a giant metal box zooming by you (add in offended, scared, upset, and/or infuriated as it applies to you and you situation).

(I also have to say, I have a pretty low bar here. I’m not offended by hellos or an occasional “Hey Peaches” by a man I pass sometimes who I would judge is old enough to be my great great grandfather. I love it when people compliment my bike and tend to assume that they simply share my level of bike obsession. Being told to smile mildly annoys me, and I often try to smile and wave at people anyway because I’m an evangelical cyclist, and because I enjoy surprising and sometimes confusing people.)

I’m not referring to any of that. I’m referring to the gassholes of the world who think it’s acceptable to install a 500 decibel catcall whistle to their redneck pickup truck that is loud enough to reverberate a rider into a ditch right as they pass by me, in a school zone no less. I’m talking about the teenage boys who yelled “NICE ASS” to me out the window of a mini van and speed away laughing, just as much as I’m talking about the women who told me I should be flattered and that I’ll miss that kind of attention when I get older when I related to them how violated I felt.

Because oh, Hell to the No.

Those instances are few and super far between. Most of the negative reactions I deal with are actually from friends and family worried that I deal with an environment that would warrant me carrying a gun or some kind of weapon (oh hi, South Carolina). I have never felt that I would be safer with one, and never felt that I would need one any more than if I drove a car. Also, if you saw me try to open a jar of pickles, you would not advise me to handle a gun. It also surprises people that I feel much safer in my current neighborhood in a mostly low income area than I do in nicer parts of town. Almost all of the people I come across are incredibly friendly, well adjusted and respectful people, and the few that prove otherwise are not going to ruin my favorite thing for me.

Most women I know don’t bike commute out of a lack of safety in terms of infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, trails or even low traffic routes. But how sad that we live in a society that essentially tells us that we need to put on a two ton “protective” armor of metal when we walk out the door, and that to do otherwise is “asking for it”.

So for the record, what I’m asking for is my physical and mental well-being, transit equity and mobility, a cleaner environment, and a stronger, healthier community. I’m asking to ride my bike, except I’m not asking because I’m going to ride it with or without your permission. It’s unladylike, and I hope you would expect nothing less.

#MeTwo

What’s your life radius?

This article from Blue Zones hits on just about every point for changing the way we think about our public spaces. It’s impossible to summarize, but I particularly liked this graphic:

 

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The more compact the radius, the more time people are given to be with the healing wonders of family, friends and “tribal members.” As more people are “bumped into,” strangers are no longer strange, but novel characters appearing on the unique neighborhood stage. Inside a compact life radius, people celebrate living with complexity and stretching intellectually, leading to fuller, richer, more complete and meaningful lives. Inside this radius, comfort is achieved, creative thoughts spring to life, bonding and community building occur naturally.

 

In my quest for a car-free existence, which took about 5 years from inception, my life radius changed dramatically, although I didn’t think about it in this way at the time. I can picture exactly when I came across the the blog High Heels and Two Wheels, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment in West Ashley in Charleston. The only walkable aspect (the pool doesn’t count) was that it shared a parking lot with Costco. The saddest part? We drove a car the few hundred feet over. The striking gap between what is possible for West Ashley and what the concrete archipelago reality of living and commuting there is probably what spurred me to move to a different area of Charleston. But there was still a problem with that plan.

 

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You see, no matter where you live in Charleston, if you want to get from one area to another, you pretty much have to get on 526 to get there (red lines above indicate ‘no way in hell’ unless in a car). Granted, if you live downtown or in central Mount Pleasant, you have the Ravenel bridge (that one green connection line, denoting an adequate protected bike/pedestrian lane). Meanwhile, the debate over adding a common sense bike lane to the Legare bridge connecting West Ashley to downtown Charleston rages on.

When I mention to people that I used to live in Charleston, at least half the time I get a response along the lines of “oh biking must be great there”. Which confounds me to the point where I feel the need to pull out my phone and ask if they have seen a map of Charleston. Sure, you can bike around the peninsula (where arguably cars should be banned in favor of high density design, but that will never happen because it’s Charleston). And I could bike with ease around Daniel Island, which was a big step up from living in West Ashley where you *could* technically ride your bike (denoted above in orange), but it was super unpleasant. Within any neighborhood, biking is feasible, but there is virtually no connectivity the way there is in, say, New York.

The essential problem I had was illustrated perfectly by the life radius: I could go a couple of weeks without getting in my car, but ultimately a job assignment, errand or social event would require going to Mount Pleasant or downtown. The abysmal state of public transportation in Charleston meant that the car was the only option.

 

Fast forward to Greenville, where my life radius isn’t perfect, but I’m 3 miles (15 minute bike ride) from downtown, 4 miles (20 minute ride) from work, 1 mile from a grocery store and within a mile of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Most importantly, none of my life radius necessitates getting into a car. I’ve come a long way from West Ashley and the drive of shame across the parking lot to Costco.

 

So. What’s your life radius? What would your neighborhood/ town/ city look like if you could design it for yourself and your community? And with that in mind, what are you going to do about it?

What’s your life radius?

Year of the Bike

Every year for me since 2015 is the “year of the bike” by default, but 2017 was exceptional.

Following a conversation at my local bike shop, a handful of shop regulars started a friendly competition to see who could ride their bike at least 1 mile (logged on Strava for proof) per consecutive day of 2017, with a  “last wo/man standing” approach.

It was said that as a commuter, I would surely win. But with the time I have off with a school district job, and my inclination on some weekends to stay at home and slowly drown in cat hair, it was a challenge nonetheless.

Strava did let me down unfortunately, with a total of 362 days logged for the year between times that I saved my ride the next morning and an overnight, 2-day logged ride while on the Natchez Trace with spotty reception.

But scout’s honor, I did ride the minimum mile each day, for a total of 5k logged miles at years end.

It was a sad day when I broke the streak on January 2 of 2018. I half considered keeping it going, but a) I do feel bad clogging up people’s Strava feeds with often underwhelming 1.1 mile or repetitive commute logs on many days, b) it does add pressure and an extra complication when planning a trip, and c) I would rather set a total 7k mile goal for 2018 instead. Oh, and d) I currently have bronchitis and haven’t left the house for 3 days.

The best result of this experiment was creating a photo diary of sorts for the year. I think I took more pictures than usual, in part to add some interest to my boring commutes and short rides. Between the title, pictures added and comments among friends, I have a capsule of sorts for 2017 to remember the literal and figurative ups and downs of 2017. In a year where the need for self care was pretty much unprecedented, riding daily was also a thoroughly needed catharsis and mental break from the general chaos that often seemed to reign supreme.

Some highlights of the year?

Marches and rallies, because 2017:

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Group rides that might otherwise blend together:

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Getting a beautiful new road bike:

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Crossing items off the bike-it list: Georgia Guidestones, Silver Comet Trail

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The Natchez Trace in April

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Good times with friends and family:

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Road trip ‘side rides’ with borrowed wheels along the way:

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Buying and renovating a house.. with some interesting trips to Lowe’s

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Sharing ongoing progress with house projects:

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Not to mention countless other memories.. it’s hard to fit a year into a post.

There were some challenging days (Marked by neighborhood loops during Irma, which took out our power for 3 days)

And icy snow days that I had off of work but managed a slow roll down the street or around a salted parking lot)

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But I can’t recall once regretting the yearlong commitment.

 

Not to mention I finally got my gummy bear prize, hand delivered:

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I would highly recommend a month or year long experiment like this; I may even try it again myself down the road. In the meantime, I’ll keep rolling through 2018, open to new adventures✌️

 

Year of the Bike