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I don’t know anything about bicycles

Posted on 26 May 2012


This Monday is the start of Bike to Work Week.

I have been biking to work in good weather for three years now. For the last year, even weather hasn’t been a factor. I biked in the winter, even when my shift started at 5 am. I’ve pretty much become the definition of a hardcore bike commuter. And I want you to know something.

I don’t know anything about bikes.

I think this is important to share, because I believe one of the biggest reasons people don’t bike to work is because they’re scared of their lack of knowledge. They think they need to know a bunch of stuff and have a bunch of gear if they ever want to be able to get from point A to point B twice a day, five days a week.

I’m here to tell you don’t.

Let’s start with knowledge of how to fix and maintain bikes. I have none. You want to know what I can do? Inflate a flat tire and put the chain back on. I don’t count either of those as knowing about bikes, because, seriously, they are the easiest things in the world to do. Have you ever inflated  an air mattress or a basketball? You can inflate your tires. Have you ever put anything on anything? You can put a chain back on.

I can say that you can do this with complete confidence, because I am one of the least mechanically, technically inclined people around. Ask my parents or my wife. They’ll tell you. But I can deal with these basics of bike care. Everything else you can go to a shop for.

Which brings me to gear.

A lot of cyclists like to talk about their bikes. They like to talk about gears and brakes and suspension and stuff that I sort of get, but only in the vague sense that I “get” physics or conversational Spanish. Which is, I might fake it for a minute or so, but then I’m completely lost.

These people have their $1000 rides or their lovingly restored vintage bicycles. You know what I have? A Sears special my parents bought for me when I was in high school over ten years ago. You could buy a bike this good for $20 in just about any garage sale you go to. There is absolutely nothing special about it. And yet it has gotten me to and from work successfully nearly every day for the past two years– rain, sleet, sun, snow.  I’ve taken it in to be fixed up something like three times. Aside from the initial purchase price, it’s cost me maybe $500. This includes tire changes, new chain, and headlight. Again, I’ve had it for over ten years. And I ride it on a near-daily basis.

And well we’re on the subject of gear and costs and knowledge, here’s a complete list of clothes I have bought specifically for biking:

  1.  a helmet

That’s it. This year I got a balaclava and goggles to share between winter biking and skiing.

Most of the time, I wear jeans and a t-shirt. The same ones I wear to work in. When I had to wear a suit and tie to work, that’s what I biked in. In the winter, I put on a toque, gloves and coat. In the summer I wear shorts. If it’s particularly hot, I might throw a different t-shirt in my bag so I can change it. That’s it.

Biking to and from work is not just for biking advocates. It’s for everyone. Advocates are great, but without knowing it or meaning to, I think many of them scare non-bikers off by making biking seem more complicated than it is. The people who are most likely to bike to work are also those who are likely to bike recreationally. They go up mountains and on tours and in races. And those things are complicated and require specialized gear. These bikers then take all this knowledge and gear and use it go to and from work, and then it looks like if you want to take your bike to and from work, you need a bunch of knowledge and gear.

Which is nuts. No one thinks they need to have the knowledge of a NASCAR pit crew  to drive to work, so why would you have to know anything about the Tour de France to hop on a bike? Biking is not difficult. That’s why whenever people want to describe how easy something is, they say “It’s just like riding a bike.” So biking to work means you do something really easy to and from work. Biking is the healthiest, most sustainable, and– dare I say it? — most enjoyable method of commuting ever dreamed up by humankind. And it doesn’t belong to just the specialized few. It belongs to everyone.

See you on the road.

Filed under: Best Of, bikes

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