13 March 2010

escalating equipment demands.

This afternoon I find myself staring out the window, wondering if I'm really willing to bike it to my evening social commitment this evening.  I have great rain gear, but it is raining so hard.  Like tons-of-standing-water-on-the-road-hard, drivers-hitting-huge-puddles-that-would-leave-me-soaked-to-the-bone hard, I-can't-really-see-myself-journeying-into-unfamiliar-territory hard.  It's not that I'm unwilling to ride in the rain, I tell myself.  It's just that I need a poncho.

A poncho? Really?  What have I become?

It hit me that my experience as a car-free adventurer has been marked by the steady acquisition of increasingly sophisticated equipment.  Arriving in Philadelphia, I owned the Old Dutch Treat, a basket, and a seldom used Blinkee light.  Then I bought the Dahon so I didn't break myself doing the stairs with the ODT every day.  Then I realized doing so many miles probably mandated a helmet, so I bought the Nutcase.  Then I got rain gear because I realized it was going to be a long wet winter.  Then I found I needed a better headlight for all the night riding I wanted to do on the Dahon. After the bike-deprived onslaughts of blizzardy, I found myself plotting how I might build up a snow bike for next year (I don't know that I ever blogged that fantasy, but I sure felt it) (ha... back in Utah I thought I was so cool for riding in the snow).  And the good lord knows that I would always like a road bike.  

I often find myself thinking that the only thing keeping people of their bikes is having a bike, or the only thing that it takes for me to ride successfully in the rain is a little bit of waterproof mascara.  It irks me a little to realize the reality of my lifestyle-- and the roadblocks that it might present to others wanting to make the change-- is that it is marked by consumerism.  I'm ok with that for myself-- I have no qualms about spending some of the proceeds from my car's sale on bike paraphernalia or, to cast it in even holier terms-- supporting bike related companies that I think are doing good things for the world.  I have no problem sleeping at night because I have a good raincoat or a folding bike.  But when I think about making cycling accessible and appealing to everyone, how to mediate the goods issue is quite the quandary.  I'm glad there are programs in Philly like Neighborhood Bike Works that help to improve bicycle access, but I'm curious as to what other solutions to that issue might look like.  Sure, you can bicycle commute on a bike-shaped-object, but it probably sucks not to have fenders or to be invisible to motorists without lights.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to meditating on how I might acquire a poncho without getting soaked.


Matt in Tacoma said...

At some point, you have to draw a line between consumerism and necessity. The bikes are your primary transportation mode, so outfitting them/you for all conditions needs to happen.

portlandize.com said...

I think partly this is a problem you don't have so much in other countries, because the bicycle market is more based around people who only own bicycles or who at least use them for a good chunk of their trips, and so almost all bicycles are sold with front and rear lights run by generators (no batteries), fenders, chain guard/case, racks, etc.

You don't have to go buy a bike, and then piece by piece add all of those things that make riding in different weather conditions and carrying stuff easier. All bikes have them, from the $300 to the $1500.

We don't have very cold winters here in Portland, but we do get a fair bit of rain, and the only piece of rain-specific gear I have is a poncho, which I just throw on over normal clothes if it's really dumping. But I find that in most normal rain, I don't really get that wet in normal clothing, on a half-hour or so ride, and just a normal hat with a brim helps a lot to keep rain out of my eyes. But really, whatever you would wear to keep yourself dry while walking will work on a bike too.

Anyway, I think the whole getting started with bicycling as transportation has a much higher learning curve in America, due to the lack of available practical bikes, the lack of good street design and city planning, and the fact that the people teaching the "how to get started biking" classes tend to make it seem like you're getting into an extreme sport.

I think for me, since I've started riding everyday, it really has been a simple, easy, (mostly) pleasant way to get around, all year, and because I've had the right types of bikes, quite hassle-free. I think it can be much simpler and easier than it ends up being for many people.