16 December 2008

What a bicycle means

Posted by todd under: Crashes; Philosophy; Riding .

I rode my bike home from work last night in a rain storm that was turning into an ice storm, despite dire warnings from the TV weathermen.

(Lexington TV weathermen treat snowstorms, high winds, patches of ice, rain, heat, cold and frost as mortal threats to the public well-being. If I governed my life by their forecasts I would spend most of September through March locked in my room, likely hiding under the bed.)

It wasn’t dangerous out there, or even particularly unpleasant — and this very possibly will have been one of the worst nights of the year to ride.

Toward the end of my 3-mile trip, the wind was in my face, there was a little ice in the wind and the going got a little tough. At such a time one might ask himself, “Self, why do this?”

“Self,” I would reply, “Here’s why: Freedom.”

The other day I was buying a toilet, of all things. The proprietor (Day’s Plumbing, the best plumbing store ever) mentioned water conservation as a reason for the purchase. He had noticed my bike and asked me: “You’re green, aren’t you?”

No, I’m not green.

I don’t ride a bike to work every day because I buy all that nonsense about carbon footprints. I don’t think global warming is man-made, and I think Al Gore is a glutenous gasbag.

Thanks to the green movement, there is a certain tight-lipped puritanism and a cloud of fake morality about bicycle commuting these days.

I ride a bike because it’s fun (more about that later) but mainly because it saves money. Lots of it.

Saving money means saving time. Time saved means freedom — freedom to spend more time with my family, to work on church stuff, to remodel the garage, to write on here a little.

If I weren’t riding my bike, my family would need a second car. That means either a car payment (we don’t have one now) or shelling out $5,000 or so for something dependable.

There would be, what, 50 bucks a month or so for insurance.

That second car would need gas, oil changes and tires. It would need to be washed and vacuumed now and then.

That’s a lot of money, which means a lot of time, because it takes time to earn the money.

There are less tangible savings as well.

Since our driveway runs through our back yard, there would be another car parked out there — less room for the kids to play.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have a gym membership. Without bike riding,  I would need to get one, find time for another form of exercise (there’s that time angle again!), or go to seed (more than I am now).

You can get a fantastic commuting bike and all the gear you would need for $2,000 or less — much less, if you get a good used bike. That’s it for your costs, until you need a new tire ($20) or a tuneup once a year or so (around $50) — although I recommend you buy a few tools and learn how to do the tuneups yourself.

For less than $2,000 you could very well be getting freedom from a second car. That’s significant. You might also be gaining freedom from gaining weight. That’s significant also. It’s expensive to buy new clothes every 6 months to a year, as your waistline expands.

I consider the fun of cycling to be a bonus (since I would probably be doing it anyway). I love it, plain and simple. It’s a great stress-reliever. I like the self-sufficiency. I like the wind and sun on my face. I like having to pay attention to the weather and figuring out what to wear.

I realize not everyone lives within biking distance, and that biking might or might not be practical for most people.

That’s fine with me. Drive a Nissan Armada, if you want. Drive it two blocks each way. More power to you. (I’m not “green,” remember?)

If you ARE thinking about cycle commuting, or if you’re trying to remember why you are doing it, forget about the environmentalist noise. Fake morality keeps most people going for maybe a week.

From years of personal experience, I can tell you: Lasting motivation comes from remembering that cycling means freedom. And fun.

8 Comments so far...

Laura D Says:

17 December 2008 at 12:43 am.

Really great post, Todd. And, it’s good to see you back blogging regularly again. I hope it’s a trend 🙂

todd Says:

17 December 2008 at 2:05 am.

Awww … (digging toe into ground, blushing)

Dori Kay Says:

20 December 2008 at 3:48 am.

Agreed, great post. I ride, too, because it’s fun, practical and money-saving. I like that it’s green, but it’s not my motivation. But… (and you know where this is going because we’ve had this friendly butting of heads before…)

Please don’t call it “fake” morality. Why not acknowledge the good that is done by conserving natural resources? It doesn’t have to be your reason for riding, and it’s certainly not up to anyone else to judge your motives. But we can all at least get behind the idea that oil is a finite resource, and gluttony of the few is generally bad for the many. Can’t we?

The environmentalists may make you crazy, but they’re not “fake.” They’re genuine and passionate, and if they tweak our conscience a little bit and make us think about being responsible for creation instead of abusing it, and accountable to our fellow man instead of ignorant of him, well, that’s ok with me.

todd Says:

20 December 2008 at 1:17 pm.

Dori, thanks. Modern environmentalism = fake morality. There is nothing wrong with conserving resources. There is something wrong with a political agenda that’s out to hamstring business and give government more control over average people’s everyday lives, and that’s the Greens in a nutshell.

I do not subscribe to the premise of “oil is a finite resource” as a basis for public policy. Let’s drill all we can, and then we can talk about it. But we’re not doing that now. We don’t actually know how much oil we have, because we’re too busy “protecting” caribou.

I also do not agree that “gluttony of the few is generally bad for the many,” in the context of energy consumption. America’s energy consumption is not gluttony — it is production. No doubt we use more resources than anyone else in the world. That’s because we produce more than anyone in the world. In this case, the production of the few greatly benefits the many.

I am not saying the environmentalists are fake. I think they legitimately believe what they espouse. I am saying their standard of morality is fake, because it is based on a subjective and false standard. They have a poor understanding of what constitutes abuse of creation. And they are trying to legislate it on the rest of us, to our detriment.

Helen Says:

6 January 2009 at 2:24 pm.

Yes, I love this post, too, as well as the eminently practical nature of your entire website. By the way, I’ve looked over your 2008 commuting bikes many times. Might you be posting a review of the 2009 offerings?

todd Says:

16 January 2009 at 11:35 am.

Helen, thanks for the kind words. Lots of distractions have kept me from starting the 2009 page, but I remain hopeful…

Joe Says:

21 April 2010 at 2:05 pm.


What is this fake morality? What is this subjective and false standard? According to who is it false?

You say you don’t believe global warming is man-made….then how is it made? How you can you be so arrogant to reject proven science and fact that man is contributing to a deterioration of our environment?

You say you choose to bike in order to not spend (consume) so much but then you go on to say in your comments that it’s all about “production” …we’re only big producers because we’ve become big consumers so when you are against consuming in order to save money and time but for production you’re really shooting yourself in the foot with your argument.

You say we should drill it all and then talk about it….how selfish is this statment? Let’s say to hell with future generations right? Let’s not protect this world and all it’s creatures and resources that your God gave you so that future generations can enjoy it. This is quite surprising to hear but then again does one expect from believer of dogma rather than fact.

Has gluttony not showing itself in how much we consume? in how lazy we are? in how out of shape we are? in how much we waste? in how much we polute?….you’re right, if Mrs. Jones wants to drive her mini van 2 blocks to the store that’s her right but it’s still gluttonous

becareful when throwing around your likely dogmatic views on morality….there’s much more to it. Doing the “right” thing doesn’t apply only to ourselves in this moment or time…it’s about us, our neighbors, society, our world and all those in the future who will take over what we leave to them.

I can appreciate the reasons why you bike…and no one will dispute saving money and getting exercise are great things that lead to so many other pleasures in life….. Let’s ride together however to a belief in a mode of transportation that has been around before cars and will be around much long after cars (fossil fuel based ones). Bikes will last for generations and lifetimes and with those freedoms gained by using a bike for whatever reason….this, my friend, is what we should pass along to our future!

Cheers 🙂

todd Says:

28 February 2011 at 2:31 pm.

Joe, thanks! A couple of points:

(1) I don’t believe there is conclusive evidence the planet is warming. If it is warming, no worries — it has in the past and will in the future. What man does or doesn’t do will not and cannot cause it or stop it.
(2) I do not agree that man-made global warming is not “proven science.” Plenty of scientists do not subscribe to this. Check out the East Anglia documents.
(3) Americans consume more than the rest of the world (electricity, gas, etc.) in large part because we use the energy to produce lots and lots of stuff (in manufacturing, for example). Sure, individually we consume more than individuals in other countries as well. That comes with prosperity. It’s good to be prosperous. It’s good to have a warm (or cool) house, running water, electric lights, etc. All that means production (and consumption), and I am all for it.
(4) I do not accept the presupposition behind the stewardship argument being made here — that drilling for oil will somehow permanently change the landscape for the worse. The earth is not delicate. It is resilient. I think it would be worse stewardship to leave the resources untouched. Yes, drill it all. When the oil is gone, dismantle the equipment, and within a few years no one will be able to tell anything happened.
(5) On what basis do you say gluttony is wrong, and who defines it?
(6) There is plenty of dogma on both sides of this discussion, as far as I can see. My views are my views! I would not hold them if I did not think they were correct; I am sure you would say the same. Everyone is dogmatic about something (in some cases, people dogmatically assert that others should not be dogmatic!). The main thing is to pick the right things to be dogmatic about, and to have the right basis for the dogmatism.
(7) I would ride with you anytime! (And buy you a brew afterward — or a whiskey & cigar!) Bikes are the most efficient form of transportation yet invented, and the most fun — I am sure we agree about that!

Roll on!

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About the picture atop the page

Yes, that's me, Todd Van Campen. No, I'm not wearing a helmet. Yes, I usually wear one, so please don't scold! Seriously, I endorse wearing a helmet! Pinky swear! In fact, I almost ALWAYS wear one (while riding a bike anyway). (On the other hand, if YOU don't want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it.) I don't remember what happened on this particular day. Fortunately for all of us it makes for a less-nerdly picture. My exceptionally talented professional photographer friend Charles Bertram took this photo.



Art for art’s sake

I asked my 6-year-old son, Caleb, an avid bicyclist and artist, to draw a bike for me. I think he did a great job!




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