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I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike
It wasn't quite an epiphany — not even one of those light-bulb moments. Just a slow realization I'm surprised I hadn't made before. This was noon on a Saturday, in the slow lane of Interstate 5 — a thousand cars stretched back to Bakersfield and me going nowhere. And: A few days later, peddling my bike down Palm Avenue when a passing motorist yells, “get off the road!”
The two are only slightly related.
Because, here it is, cars are dumb.
Before you go all retired-English teacher on me, I realize cars are inanimate objects and, therefore, unable to literally be dumb. In fact, let me take that back. Cars aren't dumb. Just cumbersome and a bit selfish and inefficient as a mode of short-distance personal transportation.
Those aren't the reasons I ride a bike, but they don't hurt.
I ride because it's fun. Because there is something about the simplicity of a bike. It goes because I do.
Yes, there are things you can't do on a bike —carry the week's groceries, look cool cruising Blackstone Avenue, make out in the back seat. Then, there's the weather and the bad roads and the smells (last Thursday was a bad, bad day). But that's also part of the charm. You're not locked away behind metal and glass and conditioned air. You feel the bumps and wind.
Riding a bike screams, “This is an experience, take it in!”
And this summer, the number of new cyclists across the county has increased. All sorts of crazy stuff like that happens when gas hits $4 a gallon. People take buses. People take trains. People ride bike. Four in 10 say they've used public transportation, and walked or ridden more since gas prices have gone up, according to a recent AARP poll. Transportation Alternatives, a bicycling advocacy group, estimates that 131,000 people ride every day in New York, that's up 77 percent since 2000, according to a story on Fresno Bike Coalition's Web site.
And you can see it here, as the city paints more bike lanes. There's now lanes on Palm Avenue, north of Shaw. There are more bikes on the road, their lights blink-blinking in the distance, beacons from my brothers and sisters on wheels.
Granted, I've never been a car guy. I grew up in a small town, where everything is in walking distance. I was 25 when I finally got my driver's licence, so carpooling was a way of life.
But the allure of a car is a powerful thing. It is the ultimate symbol of American independence — a ticket to anywhere, at anytime. With a car and a tank of gas, you're never stuck. There's always the possibility of a new horizon, an escape. It's freedom — in very literal terms.
It permeates American pop culture. As cool as Steve McQueen was in “Bullitt,” the star of the movie was the car — a Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 CID Fastback (to be fair, I had to Google it).
Even China, a place known for bicycles, tens of thousands of them, has taken to the car — some 20,000 new cars hit the road each day (thank you, Olympic news coverage).
But the president is fond of saying “freedom isn't free,” and it's true. Y'all can do the math, but with payments and insurance and registration, it's way more than the $4 a gallon you pay at the pump.
Now, don't take me as the voice for bike riders in town. There are plenty of those if you're looking (see: www.fresnobike.org, http://www.myspace.com/fresnocriticalmass). I don't wear Spandex out for a weekend ride, I don't ride a fixed gear, and I'm not up for storming the streets Critical Mass style.
If you are, they're meeting at 6 p.m. tonight on the East lawn of Fresno High.
I own a car. I drive a car. But I also ride when I can. I'm just a commuter, pedaling my way around town.
And car culture is like the Ramones, too tough to die — even though most of them have. People will do what they want and we shouldn't judge (unless they drive a Hummer).
After all, this is a “free” country.
But next time you're stuck in traffic, you'll forgive me when I say, “This, this is dumb.”