Triumphs and trials of a car-free cycling fanatic
Flat tires, forgotten wallets, blizzards, thunderstorms, road ragers, dead cell phones… How do these problems affect cyclists differently than car drivers? I’ve learned first-hand the determination it takes to triumph, or at least survive, on two wheels. Some call it grit. Since selling my car and living a more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve felt it.
I’ve experienced two tire blowouts driving cars. [I’m using the word “car” to refer to any four-wheeled motor vehicle]. Thankfully I veered into shallow ditches, not oncoming traffic, or a tree. No one was seriously injured although my heart nearly stopped. I waited comfortably in the car until help arrived in one case. The next time, I locked the car and left it to be towed later. No grit required. When a bicycle tire goes flat, you can’t sit comfortably or lock the doors and walk away. You have to carry your vehicle along, at least far enough to safely lock it up. If you remembered your bike lock. I’ve learned to bring a spare tire tube and tools. I’m learning to change a flat myself.
When I owned vehicles, I kept “emergency cash” and a spare credit card locked in the glove compartment. I knew I’d drive somewhere without my wallet and need food or gas. Or to pay for parking. There is no lockable secret compartment on my bicycle to stash cash or hide credit cards. I could zip them in a bag attached to the bike frame. Risk theft if I locked my bike in a public space and walked away, forgetting about the back-up money? No thanks. Remember, this situation assumes I forgot my main wallet at home. I clearly can’t be trusted to remember everything, everytime. This lesson is a hard one and I’m still learning. Earlier this week I was out riding later than planned and my stomach started growling. When I finally pedaled to a favorite source of cycling fuel (Taco Cat, for the locals) I noticed a feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. That sinking feeling when you realize you forgot your wallet and you really want to eat NOW. By the time I grudgingly pedaled home, I had gone from hungry to hangry. Be thankful you weren’t there!
This is an actual weather term here in Minnesota. Most commonly during Spring, we experience storms with a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, hail, lightening and thunder. When “thunder snow” is forecast, any type of precipitation could accompany the BOOMING! As a car driver, you can pull over and wait out the storm, maybe play some games on your smartphone. If it’s not too severe, you can slowly drive home, no raincoat or goggles required. When your vehicle is a bicycle, you are in it. I’ve ventured out in exciting weather, experimenting with goggles and other gear. Finding my personal edge is exhilarating. There’s grit, and then there’s reckless abandon. For cyclists in Minneapolis, it’s a fine line. I am regularly humbled by riders I see killing it in weather conditions that sent me pedaling for home as fast as my legs could move. Or trudging along pushing my bike because the snow was too deep to ride. (I don’t have a fat tire bike - yet!) When the limits of my being and my bike have been reached, there is always someone out there grinding along. At least until a 50 mph gust of wind knocks them to the ground.
Angry drivers are dangerous regardless of how many wheels your vehicle has. For me, road rage feels more threatening on two wheels because many car drivers target cyclists. Like toddlers, they don’t want to share. But, I have to share roads to get from A to B. Sure, when I’m out for a joyride, Minneapolis has an excellent trail system. Can the bike fly from my garage to the bicycle trail? What about pit stops? When a bicycle is your vehicle, you ride to work, grocery stores, friend’s houses… not just on bike trails. Some roads have “bike lanes.” To many drivers, they are little more than painted art on pavement, ignored or unnoticed. Well intentioned bike lanes are frequently blocked by illegally parked cars, delivery vehicles, or waiting taxis. During winter, the bike lanes are often covered with the snow plowed out of vehicle lanes. It has to go somewhere. This is Minnesota. When angry drivers swerve to within inches of cyclists, or intentionally hit us, we have very little protection. A high quality helmet offers some. Our vehicles have not received five star safety ratings and are not equipped with air bags.
The dreaded dead cell phone battery. In a car, you can likely plug your phone into a power source while continuing to drive toward your destination. Or, in many cases, stop to buy a charging cord at a gas station without major inconvenience. Traveling by bicycle, it takes a bit more preparation to charge a portable power source and pack it along. Most likely, if the battery dies you’ll have to survive without a phone until your own pedal power takes you to another charging option. A place with an electrical outlet can be few and far between on long bicycle tour routes. I’ve persuaded staff at coffee shops and restaurants to give my phone a little juice when I forgot my own cord. It’s a great conversation starter… The most vulnerable experience I’ve had with a low phone battery was while riding the last ten miles of a century (100 miles in a day). I was alone, long after sunset, on an unfamiliar route from Brainerd to Bemidji. Living in a huge city, I often forget how dark it is in rural areas without light pollution. During those (literally) dark miles, I fought feelings of dread by repeating positive affirmations and forcing myself to keep pedaling. In the end, I felt independent, brave, and gritty. Next time, I think I’ll bring a back-up charger though 😉
A bit of advice before wrapping this article up: If you enjoy cycling, I recommend you go without your phone at least once. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling to move through the world by the power of your own two legs – without worrying about your battery level, stopping for selfies, or measuring your mileage with an app. The same advice applies to runners, hikers, and really everyone. It feels like FREEDOM!
Bonus photo: How to get your slice of pizza home when cycling without a bag!
*All photos are my own, featuring me and my bikes, on cycling adventures.