Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pedaling as butterfly-wing flapping

The Fuji Crosstown 3.0. Image found here.

You may have noticed that gas stations no longer give away drinking glasses with fill-ups. (Yes, you younger readers, there was such a time. Ask your parents to tell you about it sometime.) It struck me yesterday, as I saw that $20 was going to buy me 5 1/3 gallons of gas, that the days of free glassware are probably gone for good. I'll fix Them, I said to myself. I'll get a bicycle. The one you see here is the one I'm leaning toward getting--American-built, despite its name, so I feel good about that as well.

There are all those other reasons, too, some more peculiar to me than others: 1) My car now has 285,000 miles on it; 2) While I have a fairly healthy diet and the metabolism of a shrew to boot, my job is by and large a sedentary one; 2a) I'm now 46 years old; 3) The places I would regularly drive to this summer and fall during my sabbatical--work, the WSU library, the local independent coffeeshop--are within easy biking distance; 3a) While Wichita isn't exactly bike-friendly, a combination of two dedicated bike paths will take me within a mile of my place of employ--that's a 10-mile commute one way by car, and it looks like the bike route will be a bit shorter, not to mention safer. How many more reasons does one need? Biking as an option is actually more pragmatic than romantic.

But I can't help but think about this decision in big-picture terms as well. My car, despite its age, still gets decent mileage: high-20s in the city, mid-30s on the highway. A tank of gas will last me for about two weeks of in-town driving. So my carbon footprint isn't all that big. But the news with its stories about climate change, and the regular trips to the grocery store, watching the prices of things as unprocessed as rice and beans rise because the fuel needed to produce and bring them to me is also rising--all that, not to mention polar bears, really drive home just how bound we are to this oil-based economy of ours and how complicit we are collectively in having let things reach this point. Even if one doesn't buy into the whole global-warming thing, I think it's pretty well beyond dispute that the oil and gas industry produce products that cannot help but pollute the air we breathe and take up space in our landfills.

So, a bike it is, once I get paid in June. Time to start stirring the air, see if we can't cool it off a bit, or clean it up a little.


Winston said...

I've been considering a scooter or small motorcycle, but haven't figured out how to haul my service kits, computers, etc. Maybe a sidecar...

If only a few % of us get bicycles, scooters, carpooling, using public transport, or whatever, it would put a noticeable dent in oil company profits, oil imports and dependency, and might save or delay the demise of a polar bear or three. And, oh, might also give us one less reason to be an aggressive warmongering state, not that some leaders need a reason other than because they can...

John B. said...

Yes, Winston. Little victories, as Bob Seger famously sang. An option for you might be those motorcycle trailers (I assume that's what they are).

I was doing some math for this post that didn't make it here. But what the heck: that's what comments are for. I figured that, once the spring semester begins and my schedule permits me to use the bike just twice a week, I'd still make my car's tank of gas last the better part of another week; over the course of a year, that'd mean buying 9 fewer tanks of gas. If gas reaches/stays at $4/gallon (we should all be so lucky) and a fill-up is 10 gallons, that'd be a savings of $360 over the course of the year, which is just a bit under what I'll be paying for the bike, helmet and reflective vest, lock, and some "saddlebags" for toting books, groceries, etc. $360 isn't chump change 'round the Meridian manse. The only CO2 I'll give off is my huffing and puffing.

I'm no Thoreau, but I can't help but get a glimpse of what he must have felt when living by Walden pond and writing about it: being struck not by the romanticism of his experiment but by its pragmatism. Obviously, this won't work for lots of people, but all of us can examine the choices we make and modify them so as to save energy directly (or indirectly, via such things as buying locally-grown food if possible).

Sorry--I've got religion on this, as you can see. Thanks for commenting.

R. Sherman said...

Just watch out for the idiots in cars who don't look for cyclists.

And wear a helmet!


John B. said...

Yessir. Will do. The helmet is literally second on the To Buy list, after the bike itself.

One day during Finals Week a colleague of mine rode his bike to work and he and I got to talking. He told me about the wisdom of seeking bike-friendly routes in Wichita, that an acquaintance of his, at some point in the past, made it sound as though every day for Wichita bicyclists was like that scene in Easy Rider--you know the one. My colleague is the one who clued me in to the city's online map of bike routes.