52 Weeks Down - Week 18 - Get On A Bike

Sharon August 26th, 2007

Will you all forgive me for the indelicacy of pointing out that the first time I got back on a bike after a while, I noticed that, umm, my butt is no longer as umm, refined, as it once was, and that skinny little bike seats are a literal pain in the tuchus? Will you promise not to laugh too hard at the fact that sometimes I *walk* my bike up the giant hill that I live on (I was once way too cool to ever walk a bike)? And when I say that bike shorts will never come near these thighs, may I hear an “Amen.”?

All of which is not an argument for staying off your bike. What I am saying is that if I can do it, most of you can too. You do not have to be in shape (biking is actually easier on your body that walking), or look cool in spandex, and they make bike seats and are comfy for those of us who have, ummm…back. In fact, there’s a bike for everyone, even the imperfect.

Now why should you get a bike? Well, first of all, it is without question the most fun way to travel. There’s something about speeding along on a bike that immediately returns you to childhood. Now I don’t recommend you return so far that you, like my husband, try riding down a street no-hands, with your eyes closed (hit a parked car) or like me, tried popping a really big curb (knocked out two teeth, needed complicated dental surgery). The great thing about being a grownup on a bike is that (probably) you aren’t an idiot anymore. It is a taste of childhood without the necessity of doing regular stupid things ;-).

It is also the most efficient way to travel, bar none. A human being on a bike uses their energy more efficiently than a walker, a driver, someone on a train. It is good for your health, good for the environment, and a good bike is infinitely cheaper than a car. Most people’s cars will set them back 3K this year in taxes, maintenence and repairs, not to mention the gas, which is more. I’ve bought good bikes for $20, and got them in good road condition for another $20, but optimally, you might want to pay a bit more. Even if you buy a really nice bike, you are way ahead.

Now if you haven’t been on a bike in 5 years, 10 years, 30 years, you will remember how to ride, but it isn’t quite like getting back to being a teenager. As I say, a comfy seat is good, and you might want a bit more stability than you did as a kid. If you have a bad back, you will want a good seat, or perhaps a recumbent. And it takes some time to get your body up to long bike commutes. But the reality is that many of us may not have anything in easy walking distance, but do have shopping, a job, public transportation or family in biking distance. And every trip you don’t need a car for saves you money.

For older folks, the disabled and those hauling heavy loads up mountains, electric assist, or even fully electrified bikes are available. For people worried about falling and stability, there are three wheeled trikes, and some of them come with child seats behind them. My family is looking into adult trikes with two double seats. I recently heard someone describe a bike with wheelchair attachment in which an able bodied person could convey his wheelchair bound spouse around. There are trailers for small children, and tandem and side hitch arrangements for kids who can do some but not all of their own biking. Bikes are a technology whose limit is still being plumbed, and there really is a bike for almost everyone.

We’re working on teaching the kids to ride. We’re hoping eventually Eli, who doesn’t have traffic safety skills will be able to be tandem hitched to Eric or me, and pedal along while we handle the driving. Eventually, I envision a family of four teenage boys, my husband, with their poky mother trailing behind yelling “wait up!” It is a nice image.

Like everything, if you’ve gotten out of the habit, you start slow, and work your way up. My goal is to run local errands entirely by bike. Given that we live fairly far away from nearly everything, that’s a bit difficult, but we’re working on it. I’m not quite there yet -we’re still figuring out if we can afford to build double trikes so that when we have to or want to take the kids with us, we can all go by bike. But the reality is that pedal power is the way to go, both to save money and the planet. Oh, and it is good for me, and my slowly shrinking behind as well ;-).

Cheers,

Sharon

37 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 18 - Get On A Bike”

  1. Sashaon 27 Aug 2007 at 1:46 am

    I have really debated buying an electric assist bike for two reasons: the cost and the fact that the only route I can take to shopping is along a road with a 55 mph speed limit. I am not sure what the solution is although I often think about buying a bike for the future. If there was less traffic on the road, I could use it.

  2. Gwynon 27 Aug 2007 at 3:48 am

    We bought a double trailor for our two kids recently enough and its wonderul. We don’t live near shops we can buy food at - although there is a trailor model that has a fold out front wheel and handle so it conversts to a double pram - but it is reducing our car usage just because we have another fun thing to do in our local area!

  3. Leilaon 27 Aug 2007 at 4:43 am

    Hah, hah; I sympathize about the behind issue. I’m in the same boat. Eleven years ago at age 34 I got my first car, after spending a dozen years in NYC and then three in Oakland CA using only public transit and my two feet. I gained eight pounds in the first month of driving and have never lost any of it since.

    I would like a big trike for stability; and my own handicapped son also has judgment and depth perception issues that make it necessary for us to think of side car or alley cat. THe cost seems daunting. Those adult trikes cost a thousand bucks. Our 9 year old Honda and 17 year old Toyota cost us about $600 a year in repairs and fees, and we drive them a total of about 6,600 miles per year (combined).

    For now I still like walking. You don’t get there as fast, but you burn more calories. And I *need* to burn more calories.

  4. Leilaon 27 Aug 2007 at 4:52 am

    Let me say this about our house and neighborhood - we live in a 1920s era “garden suburb”, built as working to middle class, so our lot is quite large for Oakland; it supports several fruit trees and could support quite a bit of food garden; the neighbors hang their laundry out on lines because they always have, and many people in the neighborhood raise chickens. We are two blocks from the bus stop; four major bus lines (or is it five?) go within half a mile of us, including the express to San Francisco; we can walk to supermarket, two produce markets, bookstore, bank, hardware store and other basics. THere are even two “99 cent” stores I patronize instead of driving to Target for odds and ends.

    If it weren’t for the social instability of an urban neighborhood in time of crisis, I would feel very comfortable riding out peak oil here. We couldn’t feed ourselves completely from our yard, but you sure can grow greens and potatoes through the winter in this climate - enough to keep from starving. (If the rains hold. We’ve had drought recently; it’s worrisome) If gas prices go crazy, I could still get almost anywhere in the Bay Area by public transit. There are parks and vast open spaces a mile or two east (and uphill). Winter just isn’t that cold - it almost never freezes here - so that’s survivable, and summers are so temperate that we don’t have or need air conditioning.

    THe only big issues are: water and social unrest. OH yes, and paying the mortgage if things get really, really rocky. But we’ve got a decade left on our fixed mortgage so we think we might make it.

    Oh right, the BIg One - earthquake. WEll you prepare as best you can…

  5. Anonymouson 27 Aug 2007 at 10:57 am

    Yes- the bike seat issue….(sigh). Why do they make them so uncomfortable anyway-they either torture your “sit bones” or your crotch……. I picked up a made in China mountain bike at a closeout sale for $40 bucks-and I swear the seat must be a piece of plywood with vinyl glued to it…..

    I tried an electric assist bike the other day for the first time- it was pretty cool- it would really make sense where I live as it is very hilly(on a mountain)- it couldn’t do the “big hill”- no one ever bikes up(or down!) that one- would have to walk it-but would be a help on the other hills as my road goes up to 2,000 ft elevation….

    My big problem with it is really that to go anywhere off the mountain such as to a store, one has to go on the main road which is a narrow 2 lane road with minimal and sometimes no shoulder-no way to ride but in the road- with cars whizzing by at breakneck speed as there is no police presence as a deterrent. Not very inviting and the only bikers I see mostly are the spandexed sorts with serious muscles or else “bike tours” in a large group…..

  6. Kimon 27 Aug 2007 at 11:01 am

    Sharon,

    Way to go. Great post. My daughter and I got on bikes at the start of the Riot. We live in the middle of nowhere–5 miles to the nearest town (population 200). Obviously, no organic at this stop. They have started carrying bananas and apples though. I think because when we stop we always ask, “Any fruit?” We can now get to the mini-mart, library, hardware store, post office, and bank! All in a 12 mile stretch.

    We started out with sore bottoms and legs, but after a few months we seem to have adjusted. My daughter has had to increase her food intake to keep from losing weight, and I have lost most of the extra I was carrying around.

    Kim H

  7. Aidanon 27 Aug 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Getting back in the saddle after a long absence is made a lot easier by saddle suspension and cycling shorts. I bike to work and wouldn’t be without either of these.

  8. Anonymouson 27 Aug 2007 at 12:57 pm

    The bikes that push wheel chairs are wonderful. One family I know was able to get one for their daughter through a foundation for the blind. (The daugher is blind and in a wheel chair — the bike is for the parents to ride, but for the benefit of the child, if this makes sense. She’s a school friend of dd the young, and they were thrilled to be able to go on bike rides together.

    MEA

  9. jewishfarmeron 27 Aug 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Leila, I know bike makers sometimes make trikes - you might be able to get a much lower price if you can have someone make one. I’ve not seen any “weld it yourself” plans for an adult trike, but they have them for recumbents (I believe they use two bikes cut apart and welded together in some way - not a metal worker, so this is out of my range).

    You want expensive? What I really want is a two-bike rickshaw set up, with a double row of seats, to accomodate my rapidly growing boys. DH and I could bike together with the boys in the back until they are old enough to take a turn. But I haven’t got a spare 5 grand. I have fantasies of finding someone to build one for me ;-).

    Sharon

  10. Rosaon 27 Aug 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Sharon, how old are your kids? I picked up a 2-seater Burley trailer for $100. I only have one kid but I can fit the toddler & four bags of produce into it if I crowd him - or, small furniture from garage sales with no kid.

    Of course, i’m blessed by the overall bike culture here. There’s a lot of used equipment floating around.

  11. Ameliaon 27 Aug 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Sharon, have you looked at stokers for the older children? It would help them become accustomed to the movement of the bike and pedaling, and I’ve seen them very cheaply on craigslist.

    The community here is pushing for isolated bike lanes similar to those in the Netherlands: completely separate but parallel to the roads. It will take a while to get them — it’s been a struggle to get bike lanes marked on major streets — but we managed light rail after 20 years of fighting: we’ll get there.

    I’m saving up for an Electra Amsterdam and working on clearing out the first small room in the basement for storage: we have a real problem with bike theft in our neighborhood, and I’ve had one lifted from our garage.

  12. ewton 27 Aug 2007 at 3:59 pm

    I have a bicycle but am often too frightened to ride it in busy London traffic.

    Thankfully it folds, so I can take it on public transport. I’m hoping to eventually get to the point where I do not need to use public transport more than once a week, but it will take a while for me to build the fitness and confidence to do this.

    For people who are in urban situations where the distances are maybe not so great but the roads aren’t as safe as one might like, I think a folding bicycle is a very sound investment.

  13. Turtleon 27 Aug 2007 at 4:38 pm

    I notice that my backside tends to get use to the slimmer seats faster than the wider ones…and my backside is certainly not slim. I don’t ride much in the winter, but the spring through fall I spend quite a bit of time on my bike. I basically expect a couple of weeks of sore legs and backside, then it all goes away. Just my experience. Rather it be a big seat, little seat, 2-wheeler, 3-wheeler, upright or recumbant…definitely ride a bike!

  14. Anonymouson 27 Aug 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I started biking again after many years without a bike about 3 weeks ago. Be careful on sizing. Also you can get a decent used bike for 20$, but you might find that you actually ride more, if you buy a nicer and more expensive bike, that happened to my wife.
    -Brian M.

  15. shadowfooton 27 Aug 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Our seats are relatively comfortable, but do take some getting used to. Sometimes I wear my bike shorts because they do have the extra padding in the right places — under my regular pants :) So, I can be comfortable without baring my legs to the world.

    Heather G
    helwen.livejournal.com

  16. emilyon 27 Aug 2007 at 9:31 pm

    If you want a comfortable saddle, you might go ahead and get the kind that are soft and cushy and absorb water when it rains. I refuse to use one, but my husband insists on it. He just keeps a good, sturdy plastic bag on the seat when he isn’t riding, and tucks the bag into his backpack while he rides. (I’d rather just be a little sore for the first 3 days of spring, and not deal with the bag.) If course, if you have a garage that locks, you don’t have to worry so much about the rain or dew.

    Since I live in a not-so-great neighborhood in a university town where many bikes get stolen, I think of my old, uncomfortable saddle as theft deterrent!

  17. homebrewlibrarianon 28 Aug 2007 at 12:08 am

    I’ve been a bike commuter for over 30 years. Of the seven different communities I lived in during that time, only one was so bike unfriendly that I was forced to drive (public transit was nearly as awful). Thankfully, I only lived there for two years.

    Despite all the naysaying about spandex bike shorts and pants, I was delighted when I could find them to fit my ample posterior. No more binding while pedaling! It helps that I absolutely do not care what other people think of what I wear.

    The downside of pedaling all the time is that there is no weight loss. Maybe years and years ago but my body is used to exerting in certain ways so no lost pounds for me. But my cardio vascular system is in pretty good shape!

    But I don’t just pedal because it’s healthy or that it saves me money (both very true), I also pedal because it means one less set of auto emissions every day that I do not drive. About three weeks ago now, I started an experiment to see how many days in a row I could go car free. I’m averaging about once a week - only because I’m going out of town. If I am going to be heading out of town, I make sure to include any side trips for items too large to carry on my bike (like 40 lbs of cat litter - with two big cats, I’d be biking back and forth with the little bags two or three times a week).

    Unfortunately, next week I’m driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks to do a lot of library site visits, all of which will be done in my car. At 360 miles one way, a bike is not the best option. That’s the problem with living in the largest state in the US - nothing is close to anything else. The good news is that I spend the vast majority of my time in Anchorage so until the snow flies, I’ll be able to keep the car parked.

    Kerri

  18. Anonymouson 28 Aug 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Despite owning a double bike trailer, I use a traditional bike seat to bike with my toddler son.

    Of course, the double trailer takes up room in the garage. My wife wanted me to sell or give away the trailer.

    I said no, and when asked why we would keep it when we’re not using it, I explained that the bike trailer will come in handy when I need to transport food products from our local farm(s) in a post-peak oil, apocalyptic scenario when gas-powered travel will be prohibitively expensive.

    She laughed at me. My last phrase was, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

  19. Daveon 28 Aug 2007 at 5:38 pm

    About the lycra bike shorts…

    Nobody uses them because they look so good, rather, thru experience you find that they make cycling enormously more comfortable. Being comfortable vs. hurting is an easy choice, even though they are somewhat embarassing.

    For short trips, they are not really necessary. short as defined as less than 8 miles. Of course, I’m very used to bicycling, so your milage may vary.

    Expect to get a new bicycle seat (saddle is the preferred term) when you get a bike. saddles are very personal, you just have to keep trying them til you find one that works for you. The width of the saddle is related to the posture you will assume on the bike. If you are going to be leaning forward, a narrower one will work better. If you will sit bolt upright, a wider one. The really cushy, wide ones are really only for people who do not ride a bicycle. If you actually ride with some frequency, you will find them uncomfortable.

    Still, its going to take a couple of weeks for you to adjust to the saddle, if you are just starting to ride.

  20. Sandlinon 28 Aug 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Definitely get on a bike.
    I’m 63, and last spring bought my first bike in 30+ years, to see if I could get my health in better shape after major surgeries.
    I’m addicted, and much the richer. Last summer, just fooling around deciding whether this will work for me, I rode 1,183 miles (actually more, didn’t have a computer at first to log miles/km), saving $3,000 dollars plus! That’s just fooling around. This year I got serious, and expect to get even healthier and save more money. The car stays parked except for long trips that I can’t do on a bike.
    I have the spandex shorts, and love them. The uninitiated laugh at them, but I can now do 100k and get up the next day and walk, and do 100k all over again. The shorts enable that long-distance riding.
    I intend to get a trailer that I can use to haul groceries. The crash is coming, and everyone needs to get ready, both physically, mentally, and financially.
    After conditioning, riding 20 or 30 miles to the store of your choice is not a problem. For most people, that puts most stores within reach. (In Europe, even old folks pull this off as usual daily activity!)
    Right now, bicyclists take a lot of harassment and suffer dangerous situations because of the idiots driving SUVs, etc, who don’t want to slow down and yield to us slower folks, but, as the economy goes further south, and people have to economize and make changes in their life-style, they will recognize that bicycles aren’t an impediment to their need to hurry, but something desirable and necessary instead. Bike lanes and trails will become a necessity for the larger numbers using them. It’s coming.

  21. Sandlinon 28 Aug 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Definitely get on a bike.
    I’m 63, and last spring bought my first bike in 30+ years, to see if I could get my health in better shape after major surgeries.
    I’m addicted, and much the richer. Last summer, just fooling around deciding whether this will work for me, I rode 1,183 miles (actually more, didn’t have a computer at first to log miles/km), saving $3,000 dollars plus! That’s just fooling around. This year I got serious, and expect to get even healthier and save more money. The car stays parked except for long trips that I can’t do on a bike.
    I have the spandex shorts, and love them. The uninitiated laugh at them, but I can now do 100k and get up the next day and walk, and do 100k all over again. The shorts enable that long-distance riding.
    I intend to get a trailer that I can use to haul groceries. The crash is coming, and everyone needs to get ready, both physically, mentally, and financially.
    After conditioning, riding 20 or 30 miles to the store of your choice is not a problem. For most people, that puts most stores within reach. (In Europe, even old folks pull this off as usual daily activity!)
    Right now, bicyclists take a lot of harassment and suffer dangerous situations because of the idiots driving SUVs, etc, who don’t want to slow down and yield to us slower folks, but, as the economy goes further south, and people have to economize and make changes in their life-style, they will recognize that bicycles aren’t an impediment to their need to hurry, but something desirable and necessary instead. Bike lanes and trails will become a necessity for the larger numbers using them. It’s coming.

  22. Leilaon 29 Aug 2007 at 4:21 am

    Just wanted to add - no bike at the moment but I am indeed walking to errands more. Losing weight slowly, too. Tonight I popped out to the store and actually questioned whether to walk or not (it’s after dinner, getting late, the gremlins come out on our urban avenue at night). As soon as I hit the corner I felt better - easy and light and happy to be walking - and laughed at myself for my inertia. Basically I feel too guilty to drive the damned car so I walked, and I carried home lots of groceries in cloth bags.

    THis morning I walked the kids to school (1.4 miles round trip) but I picked them up by car because it was so onerously hot - I was afraid they wouldn’t make it home. I feel guilty about that… but I saved two out of three car trips today.

    Walking actually burns more calories *per mile*, you just don’t cover as many miles per hour, hence biking burns more calories per hour.

  23. Ted Howardon 29 Aug 2007 at 10:04 am

    Hi folks
    After listening to recent talks on peak oil/energy descent/overshoot by Richard Heinberg, David Holmgren, William Catton…they were all saying get out of cars and onto bikes, and even electric assist bikes…I really did get on my bike!

    Though I had a bike that I occasionally used, I really got the message, got some info on transport bikes from my friend Robert at http://www.oilcrash.com , and soon sold my van after I got my Xtracycle sorted: http://www.xtracycle.com/
    Go check out this story about me at a fellow Xtracyclist’s blog:
    http://radio.weblogs.com/0128644/categories/xtracycling/2007/02/03.html#a954

    Now my bike is electric assist, and it’s absolutely awesome….check out this guy and his similar set-up in San Fransisco, “The SUB That Ate Detroit” http://home.comcast.net/~manewal1/wsb/html/

    I reckon this “on ya bike” can be fun, and either padded bike shorts or a padded saddle helps us older folks get back on the bike and keep on it!

    Interesting times…

    Regards
    Ted Howard
    Nelson
    New Zealand

  24. Ted Howardon 29 Aug 2007 at 10:07 am

    Hi folks
    Trying again…here’s the link for that story:
    http://radio.weblogs.com/0128644/
    categories/xtracycling/2007/02/03.
    html#a954

    Regards
    Ted

  25. Patriciaon 29 Aug 2007 at 4:56 pm

    My wife has been biking as often as she can for many years, and she tried to get me pedaling back in 2004, when we’d been dating about a year. After 27 years of not biking, while doing a lot of damage to my knees in the interim — I took up figure skating for 11 years — followed by a period of gaining weight, I was very sore after my one 20-minute ride and resistant to doing more.

    However, with peak oil on the way, we both knew I needed an alternative. So we scouted around, and this spring bought a Sun EZ-3 recumbent tricycle, outfitted with carry basket, and I am now working my way up, more slowly than I’d like, to using it for as much of my local transport as I can.

    I have had very little pain, right from the start. The only day I’ve had aftereffects is the first time I did 6 miles. The seat is comfortable and my knees rarely complain, which is not the case with walking. I have not lost any weight yet, but my riding has been more sporadic than I’d like. A protracted upper respiratory infection in May/June, and a sprained ankle in early August have set my training schedule back a bit.

    I can haul 3 bags of groceries, or 5 gallons of water and some small tools to the community garden. I love riding, either alone or with my wife. That’s maybe the best part!

    Drawbacks — yes, there are some. The EZ-3 is really awkward to walk; the frame is long and heavy, and I can’t control it very well while pushing from behind the seat. It doesn’t fit on a bike rack or inside the Honda Fit, so I’ll have to borrow a pickup or get a repair person to come to me if I need help. (I’m going to take some maintenance lessons.) I can’t wear a skirt and ride, because of the angle of the seat, so I cart along a skirt and change when I ride to church. The shift mechanism is very low to the ground, so I avoid unpaved places that are not perfectly smooth.

    Overall, I’m happy with my investment (I saved all winter for that $1000 machine), and glad to be less dependent on my car. As a woman who is over 50 and about 80 pounds overweight, I am glad that I have this option.

  26. Christineon 30 Aug 2007 at 8:38 am

    I’m Patricia’s wife, and it’s such a joy to see her biking and loving it. I recommend recumbent trikes to anyone who finds regular bikes uncomfortable. Riding on one feels like sitting in a chair compared to straddling a fence.

    Re price: A bike is a essential tool that can last a lifetime. You’ll probably be using it for hours a week. Rather than trying to get the cheapest one possible, why not invest in a quality product that will be comfortable, efficient, and trouble-free? It’ll be worth every penny.

    More advice: ALWAYS wear a helmet. Other essential safety equipment includes horn/bell, lights, flashers, bright-colored clothing, first-aid kit, and mirror.

    It’s also important to have the bike properly “set up” to fit your body–this can make a tremendous difference in comfort. It’s worth it to have a professional do it.

    Also, quality adult bikes come in different sizes. I have short legs, and spending some time and money to get an “extra-small” size frame for my present bike has resulted in much better safety and comfort. I also ordered a special part to raise the handlebars 3 inches, resulting in a more upright posture and a lot less pressure on the saddle.

    Take some time to get a good fit, just as you would a piece of clothing.

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