Bicycling by my lights is an affirmative choice. I choose to bicycle when I could take the subway or bus. In New York City, there aren’t that many of us. Many bicycle advocates work for making bicycling a default choice, which I have heard referred to as a “vacuum cleaner” approach, where bicycles are appliances like vacuum cleaners. Everyone has one, and nobody thinks very much about them.
As I get older, I find myself more drawn to my own peculiarities, shading in the twists and turns of my personality, and reveling more in what makes me different from other people. Clearly, bicycling to and from work has the potential to be one of these differences. I love it; it keeps my energy up and my heart strong. I get to and from work faster than I would otherwise, with the help of the Q44 bus to traverse the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.
So my inclination as an advocate, who wants to make it easy and natural for anyone to leap on a bicycle, is leavened by my sheer delight in choosing to bicycle. The delight is largely in the choice and in the self-identification, however, because often the actual act of bicycling is fraught with difficulty and physical feats, which must be repeated regularly. I come home several times a week amped up on adrenaline from the last 15 minutes of my ride, from Boston Road west to St Nicholas Avenue, and it takes me a couple minutes to calm down. Even with that caveat, the riding is still worth it.
When I read Elly Blue’s articles, I always cheer, because she seems to nail the excitement of bicycling without needing to weigh it down with sanctimonious talk about how bicycling must be for everyone. She clearly lays out the fun of bicycling as an affirmative choice, as something special to do, as something that has its own special rewards.
Am I an outlier? I see the attraction in being in the vanguard of a large crowd, but as I get older, that attraction gets less important. The important thing is that I am true to myself and true to the people I hold dear. So when I read Elly Blue on how much she likes hills, I count myself as one of her true believers. Sure, we can revise our cities to create bike elevators on all hills, tunnels to avoid bad weather, gentle slopes for junior tykes on bikes, and protected lanes that are safely insulated from highway travel by grassy verges. And I guess in the fuzzy future, I am all for that. But in the interim, someone has to bike, here, and I volunteer. I want to be out there on the streets.