A quarter of a century on two wheels
BY MARY O'BRIEN
The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created. Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon. — Bill Strickland, The Quotable Cyclist
My bicycle is 25 years old this year. It's a heavy clunker, with moderately fat tires, a milk crate-type basket, a bright blue bell with fishes painted on it and dozens of spots where the paint is chipped. It has a 25-year old pedal-powered headlight and a good padded seat because mine isn't. I don't have any bike clothes.
I wanted a bike to commute from the northern edge of Eugene into town. I didn't want thin tires that might go flat on my way to a meeting. I needed the handlebars to stick up so I can watch Canada geese and clouds.
I do lock my bike when in town, but the bike is so plain and worn, it's vulnerable only to someone who steals bikes as an unfortunate obsession rather than for re-sale. To her credit, Sue Kelley at Blue Heron Bicycles has never asked me whether I would like to consider getting a better bike. She and her fellow mechanics patiently replace headlight components, wheels, gears and tires, year after year.
Over the past quarter century of bicycling in and out of town, I've learned a number of lessons first hand:
• Eugene's bike paths along the Willamette River and Amazon Channel and through the West Eugene Wetlands are among our city's finest investments. I miss them when I'm away.
• A car may sound quiet to those sitting inside, but it's noisy to everyone else. Forty bikes, on the other hand, are still quiet.
• Many (non-native) nutria cross the Willamette River bike path. Which means even more nutria live nearby.
• I am passed by bicyclists about 15 times for every time I pass a bicyclist. This helps me remember my place in the world.
• Most Eugene drivers are careful of bicyclists.
• The curves built into Ayres Road between Delta Highway and Gilham Road are especially pleasant streets for bike riders and pedestrians even though car drivers can't drive as fast. Which may be one of the reasons the curves are pleasant.
• The smell of emerging cottonwood leaves transforms a spring bike commute along the Willamette into a trip through Paradise.
• If you pick up your feet while driving through a two-foot deep puddle in order to keep your feet out of the puddle, you will fall wholly into the puddle.
• Ducks are willing to fly very near a bicyclist's head, which makes for memorable intimacies with their flight.
• A milk-crate basket can carry a lot of groceries and other heavy things. (North Vietnamese could carry 400 pounds of rice on a bike along jungle paths.)
• Rain plus rain gear equals an exhilarating bike ride. Bicycling just once in jeans without rain gear helps you remember to always pack your rain gear.
• If you usually ride your bike to town, you'll become inept at locating parking garages.
• It is hard not to crash if you cross your hands on the handlebars and then the path curves.
• Bicycling (or walking) during dawn is to feel alive. During sunset, it is to feel fortunate.
• At dusk, cormorants congregate in big trees near the bike path behind Valley River Center.
• It's wise to leave enough time on your bike commute to stop and watch when, inevitably, some extraordinary natural event catches your eye.
• Imagine an environmentally sound parking lot just feet away from everywhere you want to go. That's bicycle parking.
• It's hard to remember having ever felt down while bicycling.
• I hope I can find a good three-wheeled bicycle when I'm 90.
As someone named Grant Peterson* put it, "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world." Eugene is a great place for rideable art.
Mary O'Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org *For a set of interesting quotations regarding bicycling, see www.quotegarden.com/bicycling.html