Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going By Bike: Goodbye Sheila, Hello Dorothy!

One of the many reasons I was excited to get back to life in Portland was because that means, for me, going by bike. I have commuted by cycle since moving to Portland for college, and the only car I have owned was Lucy, our faithful old van in New Zealand. Now that I'm home, I am so happy to be back on two wheels, riding familiar streets and enjoying Portland's awesome bike culture, with zero carbon footprint. Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the states, and you can get just about anywhere by bike, on designated low-traffic bike routes or in bike lanes on main streets. You can take your bike on the bus, streetcar or MAX (light-rail train system) with very little hassle, and there's a bike shop every five blocks or so throughout the city. These days, a lot of businesses are giving incentives for biking to work, and more and more people  are doing so because the cost of gas and the environmentally friendly nature of biking.

All of that said, I was stoked to get home and pull my bike out of storage, which I did last Monday.  Sheila, a 7-speed Centurion road bike that I bought used for $200 in 2003, has been my trusty steed for my entire life in Portland, and I've loved her dearly.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

We've clocked countless thousands of miles together, been in two wrecks together (one, a me-vs.-train tracks fiasco, the other due to a driver who made a right turn without looking first), and once hit a cat together (which is terrifying and emotionally heart-wrenching when you're in a car, and epically more so when you're on a bike. Don't worry, the cat was ok, just very sorry it jumped out of a bush right in front of us!).
However, in the months leading up to our departure for New Zealand, it became apparent that Sheila was getting increasingly decrepit, and as she had never been a great fit physically, I began to think that maybe I'd get a new bike when we got home. When we came home with less money than we'd anticipated, I thought I'd try and keep Sheila limping along for another year or two. Then on Monday I noticed that the rubber tread on one of her (admittedly ancient) tires was actually peeling off from the side of the tire, and knew it was only a matter of days before the tire completely self-destructed. I guess that's what five years of wear and tear and then nine months in storage will do. After biking around to a couple different shops for professional opinions, it became abundantly clear that the work it would take to keep this bike functioning well and safely for another couple years would amount to about $300-- approximately what it would cost to buy a nice used bike in better condition. Thus, I made the decision that it was time for Sheila to retire (at least from my use), and to go up for sale on Craigslist.

I assumed that I would have to go with another used bike due to my budget limitations, but today I am the proud owner of a brand new 21-speed Trek commuter bike that fits me to a tee, and cost me $455, six months of tune-up service included. I have always gotten amazing service from the Bike Gallery (of which there is a branch about 10 blocks from our new house! Also they are a local, family-owned business.), and once again they wowed me with their great deals and service and helped me find a bike that fits my proportions and needs and is very durable, and yet doesn't totally break the bank. She has been christened Dorothy, and is an absolute dream to ride.

This is one of those up-front investments that will pay for itself a hundredfold in the long run. If I can make a $200 used bike last for 8 years of constant use, surely this one will last me at least 20.

Getting around town by bike is one of those things that is absolutely integral to my life, and I hardly know what to do without it. Sure, sometimes it's a pain to ride up a big hill or make the 5-mile trip home after dark in the rain, and it can be tempting to drive, but ultimately I love traveling under my own steam, feeling my own physical power pushing me along. I love having exercise built into my day, and not having to set aside time to get a workout. I love being outside, smelling the flowers and feeling the sun, wind and rain, and laughing when the elements get a little too ridiculous (ever had to walk your bike home through 6 inches of unexpected snow? Or biked across a bridge in 40 mph winds? Sometimes you just have to laugh...). I love not having to pay for gas, parking, insurance, or any of the other huge expenses that go into owning a car. And I love knowing that my pedals don't need any petroleum products to make them go, and don't leave anything behind them but the traffic jams; no exhaust, no smog, no negative environmental impact. I also love that time on my bike is time to think. When I'm on my bike, I can't be doing anything else; it's just my time to pedal and think, and process what happened that day, or plan out what I need to do when I get to work or home, or just enjoy the scenery passing by while my body works out its kinks and burns off its day. I think it's the best kind of therapy, and I always feel great when I arrive at my destination!

I'm proud of my decision to get a new bike that is wonderfully comfortable for my body and makes riding easier (hills are so less intimidating now!). I know that this is a way to keep myself healthy, be kind to the earth and my fellow citizens, and save myself a LOT of money. This bike cost me $455 up front, and I already have my helmet, bike gloves and rain gear, and this morning I transferred my fenders, lights, and light brackets from Sheila to Dorothy. I do need a new U-lock, because my old one won't fit around Dorothy's slightly beefier frame. Apart from that, a bike takes approximately $60 worth of maintenance per year, and depending on what kind of tires you have and how much you ride, those need replacing every 2-5 years (at $25-40 per tire). One of my goals for the next year is to do most of my own bike maintenance, and their are loads of free clinics in town where I can learn, so hopefully this will cut down on my tune-up expenses. When I think that right now a tank of gas alone costs around $60 in Portland (for a sedan), the decision is already made for me.

Hopefully if you don't already go by bike, this will inspire you a little. I know for many people it's not an option- living out in the country, having a disability or injury or a job that requires a vehicle can make biking next to impossible. But if you're able, think about using a bike to ride to work even just a couple times a week, or to the farmer's market on weekends, or whatever. There are so many kinds of bikes, and ways of biking with kids and even babies (over 6 months old), and trailers and panniers for groceries and textbooks, that there is something available for almost everyone and every situation. Every little bit counts, and it can be such a fun thing besides. We all rode bikes as kids--how did that get to be a thing that people grew out of?


Brenna said...

Sigh. I wish that my city was more bike friendly. We have a few bike lanes throughout, but the hills are CRAZY! Plus it gets to be well over 35 degrees celsius all summer long, so pedalling up those hills would not only be exhausting, it would be dangerously hot! Oh well, maybe if we move I will get one! I am so with you in regards to what happened to bike riding. I was a hardcore biker as a kid, and probably haven't been on one for years now! So sad.


DEB said...

I've got to 57 years old and have never learned to ride a bike. I think I would look ridiculous at my age with training wheels. So if I could say I have any regrets in life, not riding a bike would be it.


Liz said...

Deb- It's never to old to learn! And, they make trikes for grown-ups now, too! :) Always worth a shot...