In an effort to stave off fat-bastardness and to get in a little better shape I have started riding my bike to work. Before you get too impressed you should know that I live two miles from work so my ride each way is around 15 minutes. This is not much of a bike ride but it has got to be better for you than driving your car while guzzling a Mountain Dew.
What I do enjoy about the ride other than the energy it gives me to start my day is how being on a bike or walking allows you to interact more intimately with your neighborhood. In cars people stare straight ahead or into their handheld device. Biking to work is like camping. You and the rest of the tiny percentage not whizzing by in cars can say hello to each other and are at the mercy of the elements. Or, if you are fixing to pass a walker on on you bike while sidewalk riding, you interact with them by saying, “On your left!” and then they move.
It can also be a lot of fun. I’m a sidwalk rider so I get to jump curbs, zoom around pedestrians, duck under low lying branches and ride down the brick sidewalk that goes around the Southpark Mall. But it’s not all fun and games, bike riding or walking in Charlotte, NC can get a little hairy.
I am a sidewalk bicyclist because riding your bike on the road in Charlotte is akin to drinking products from under the sink, eventually you are going to end up in the hospital. Also, if you ride in the street you have to keep your speed up so you are more in sync with traffic. I don’t go that fast. I am a casual sidewalk rider, I don’t wear spandex pants and special shoes or own a $2,000 road bike and, because I am a child of the seventies, I don’t wear a helmet. I have a Fuji Sunfire that’s over five years old that cost me $200. I’ll be on the sidewalk taking it nice and easy, thank you. When I want to hang it out a bit I ride in my neighborhood where I can ride on nice wide streets and the motorized vehicles are going 25 mph not 50.
The most dangerous aspect of using the sidewalk as a pedestrian or a bike rider is that in Charlotte the lines at intersections are taken by drivers as a suggestion. The consistency that I have to detour around a car parked in the crosswalk is shocking. What is especially humorous is that once they are parked on that crosswalk the pedestrian becomes invisible. They won’t look at you and become quite self absorbed when you are moving out into traffic to move around the hood of their car. I didn’t properly appreciate how insanely dangerous it is to be using any other mode other than a personal car in Charlotte until I walked in Charleston, SC. A Charlottean doesn’t know how to respond when a driver stops before a crosswalk and waves a pedestrian across. It happens all day in Charleston. When it happens here you become suspicious that the driver may have had a bad day at work and he’s looking for a pedestrian to send airborne.
The scariest moments while commuting on the sidewalk can come when you are facing a vehicle making a right turn because the driver never, never, never looks to his right to see if someone is coming his way down the sidewalk. All he will do is look to the left for oncoming traffic. I am guilty of this myself. Sometimes they will look to the right and if they see you they may wave you across. If that driver is on the phone, forget it. You’ll just have to wait for him to make his turn. He can’t see you because his right arm is blocking his view of world on the passenger side of his car. You think seeing someone yacking away on their phone is discomforting while driving? It’s terror inducing when you aren’t surrounded by steel and you are counting on the driver of a vehicle that outweighs you by a couple of tons who is using the reactionary portion of his brain to navigate.
Riding my bike to work also requires some extra effort on my part. What I try to do is drive my car to work on Mondays and take my clothes for the rest of the week with me so I can ride the bike Tuesday through Friday. Since the library is closed now on Tuesdays and Fridays I only have to bring enough work clothes to get me through Wednesday and Thursday. Because I have to change I have to leave my home 30 minutes before rather than the fifteen minutes I used to allow my self.
Now if I can only get in the habit of not stopping for a Mountain Dew on the way to work.