Currently, I’m in a state of mourning for my bicycle. I’ve alternately called “her” by the names of “Zippy” or “Lucy”. She was given to me almost 10 years ago by an ex-boyfriend and former bike mechanic. I have ridden her nearly every day, through harsh Chicago winters and blissful summers, in snowstorms, rainy downpours, and blazing hot days. She’s been with me through several apartments, many relationships, to and from numerous jobs, through tough neighborhoods and into the suburbs, through sculpture gardens to random malls, across train tracks and parks, along the lakefront in Chicago, on a trip through Milwaukee, with friends or alone. She has been the most constant thing in my life, even more so than my closest friends. Whenever I’ve felt alone or bored or in need of adventure, she was waiting for me to hop on and get the fuck on with it.
Last week, I finally took my bike baby to the shop for a tune-up. I tend to run my bike into the ground because I can’t bear the thought of not riding it for one day. It is difficult for me to hand over my only bike, even if she needs a little R&R. Unfortunately, in this recent process, I found out that the frame was severely cracked and unsafe to ride. I didn’t know what to do; I was completely crestfallen. I left her behind to be donated to a local place that teaches bike mechanics and I walked down the street with only tires, lights, and rear fender in search of a margarita (or two) in which to drown my sorrows.
In remembrance, I submit this list to you on why you should definitely, most certainly, fall in love with and ride a bike at some time in your life.
1. Perspective: There are so many other ways to see a city by walking, via public transportation, or by car. However, when you are on a bike, you can go to places where you might not feel safe to walk, you don’t have to deal with the “public” part of public transportation, it’s usually not difficult to find parking and you aren’t a slave to gas prices (other than the food that fuels you). You have to navigate the city in a different way, which is also a great brain exercise. I learned that I could bike further, in unknown cities, and spend entire days alone and be very very happy. Nothing can replace my memories of the smell of a tree-lined neighborhood street in spring and the gentle crunch and muffle of freshly fallen snow under my tires on a cold winter night.
2. Health: Aside from the whole “losing 50 pounds” thing that I experienced in my first year of riding, I also enjoyed having a blood pressure rate that made nurses gasp with pleasure and amazement. Despite belief to the contrary, it is actually one of the best ways to keep warm in the winter and my commute brightens my day with exercise before I have to deal with the stresses of my working life. Most importantly, people will marvel over your powerfully beautiful thigh and calf muscles.
3. Friendship: The only best thing next to riding solo is riding with a friend (or friends) to some destination. It’s like walking with friends, only more adventurous. I like to imagine that we are the “Badass Bitches” bike gang, trolling the streets looking to avenge for justice. But really, we are usually looking to have a good time laughing and enjoying the city together in an oddly intimate way. You can learn a lot about a person on a bike ride and it can make for some very fond memories.
4. Independence: My dear friend who introduced me to biking in the city told me that one of the reasons why she rode was because she is a very impatient person. You never have to wait for a cab, a bus or train, or for someone to give you a ride home when you have a bike. There is also nothing like the feeling of satisfaction you get from bringing home a week’s worth of groceries and cat litter on your back, powered by your will and muscles.
5. Love: Perhaps it’s the endorphin rush of physical activity or the new perspective or the friendships you cultivate or the new knowledge of yourself that makes you feel it, but biking for me is love. Everytime I see an image of a bike, an icon of a bike, someone riding a bike (safely, of course), read about bikes, think about bikes, or check out bikes parked on the sidewalk, my heart flutters. It’s a similar feeling that I have about roller skating. It’s the freedom of youth, the allure of adventure, the promise of self-reliance. For example, within the first year of biking in the city, before Zippy, I briefly owned an emerald green, rickety, battle-worthy Schwinn cruiser that I found at a thrift store. I got it into working order and added a basket on the front. On my own, I decided to ride to Evanston, a 10 mile ride from my neighborhood, to see a movie by myself at their very nice theater. I got out around 10pm and took the lakefront path home. I was somehow one of the only people on the path that night and it remains to be one of my favorite memories of all time to contemplate that night, a clear moon shining on the lake while I huffed it back home on my squeaky new love.
I will greatly miss my Zippy/Lucy; we had some fantastically good times together. We weathered through some hardships and potholes and near misses with cars and pedestrians. She gave me everything she had and then some. I look forward to my new adventures with Lucy #2, wherever she might be.