By Peter Burns
I can trace most of the main roads in Chittenden County in my mind. Sometimes in the winter, I like to remember the rides I took in the summer, retracing them in my mind. As I leave Chittenden County the mental map starts to fade out. When I am planning a local recreational ride, my mind automatically explores a few different routes, along with the possible road conditions. Traffic and wind direction also important. I want to avoid busy roads, especially during rush hour. If the wind is blowing at more than ten miles per hour, I ride into the wind on the way out, and with the wind on my way home. Sometimes I change my route during the ride. In the evening of June 17th, I was riding back toward Winooski on Middle Road in Colchester. My original plan was to take a right on Route 2A and head home by way of Mallets Bay Avenue. But I was low as on water and wanted to use the facilities so instead, I took a left on 2A and went to the Burnham Library for a break. Because I have a clear mental map of the area, it was easy enough to figure out the way home from the library.
In the summer I get a tan on my face, forearms and lower legs, the areas that are exposed when I am riding. The rest of me stays relatively pale. When cold weather sets in I gradually lose my tan. A couple of years ago I went to a dermatologist for a regular check-up and I mentioned tanning in the summer. He said that I was lucky to have skin that tanned safely. Having an Italian grandfather helps. I still have to use sunblock at the beginning of the summer.
Pain and Discomfort
Pain and discomfort are part of my bike riding experience. Sometimes my back gets sore, and I also have had difficulties with my left knee and left wrist. My hands, feet, and ears get cold in the winter and on really long rides my legs get very tired. From time to time, after a long ride, my legs cramp up. I have also fallen off my bike and hurt my shoulder and scrapped my arm. I get paranoid about flat tires and have unpleasant encounters with cars. I accept that these difficulties are part of my bike riding experience. They are the price I pay for riding, and I am glad that the discomfort is immediate. There is a price to be paid for driving a car, but the negative consequences of driving are often hidden. The cost is usually invisible unless you are actually at the pump or in the process of paying for all the other expenses that car ownership entails. The effects of sitting for long periods and the cost to the environment are also largely hidden until you notice lower back pain and changes to the climate. I drive a car from time to time, although I do not own one. I don't wish to make anyone feel guilty about driving, but I do want to point out that the feedback loop when riding is much more direct than the one experienced in a car.
Anyone Can Ride
I teach Everyday Bike Riding and Winter Bike Riding classes for Local Motion. I often mention that it is possible for anyone to ride a bike if they really want to. Equipment and programs exist so that you can ride even if you are blind or physically handicapped. I recently met a woman who had difficulty with balance, so she gave up riding. I suggested a tricycle but she thought she might look funny on it. Sometimes we have to compromise if we want to ride. For many, electric bikes are the answer. A little electric boost can make the difference between riding frequently and not riding at all. Any commute in Vermont can include a bicycle if you are willing to use a bus or a car with a bike rack. Unfortunately, driving a car is too easy. You don't need special clothing or preparations. Unless the car is covered in snow, you just jump in and go. Bike riding takes a little more preparation and planning. If you have a long commute and want to include a bike ride portion, you have to figure out where to park so you can ride. This means getting your bike on and off of a rack. The same thing is true if you want to ride the bus and then the bike. I believe that the extra effort is worth it. It does take a commitment. For many people, putting bike gear out the night before provides the nudge needed to ride the next morning.
Not for Everyone
Bike riding is not something that everyone enjoys. I accept that fact, although I think that more people would find it rewarding if they gave it a chance. I believe that everyone can benefit from the self-propelled movement. There is a great pleasure to be had in walking, running, rollerblading, roller skating and skateboarding.
About the author:
Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in Burlington. He writes amazing monthly blogs and teaches a variety of Everyday Biking workshops. In addition to his work at Local Motion, he also works at a group home for people with Psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.