How I became an urban cyclist; or America, where anything is possible

I never envisioned this. How did I get here? Why are there kids on my bike?

Here’s me circa 1993, I think, at a place called Kelly Canyon, a second-rate ski area in Idaho. Mediocre skiing. Excellent mountain biking:

That was my life for a while. Tearing up the environment.

And these days I am embarrassed to admit that I used to load my bike onto the roof of my VW Golf and drive 30 miles in order to go for a ride. I did this three or four times a week.

Why am I embarrassed to say this? It’s the same feeling I get when I make an impromptu stop at the Kiva to pick up some groceries and realize that I forgot my canvas grocery bag. The cashier pulls out a paper sack — and I start apologizing. The mores of society change, I guess. Or else I’m coming down with eco-anxiety.

But back in those mountain bike days, I was riding my bike nearly every day, a couple hundred miles a week — sometimes on a road bike, sometimes on a mountain bike. On most summer weekends I loaded up and drove to a race somewhere.

But I didn’t think of myself a bicycle-as-lifestyle person. Even when I spent one evening — while my roommate and I watched Monday Night Football — putting a couple hundred wood screws into an old pair of mountain bike tires to make studded snow tires.

I wish I had a photo of that. It was like something out of “Mad Max.” They worked great on ice and snow.

This was in the days before there was a widespread urban cycling “movement” — and before there was a disdain brewing for bicycle commuters. A guy riding his bike to work in the snow was regarded as eccentric — not subversive.

And there wasn’t any ideology to my doing this. Gas was cheap. Global warming was off the radar. I was just a 20-something kid looking for something ridiculous to do. And I liked bikes.

Things are different now. Without trying, I have become part of a movement. I don’t race bikes anymore. I don’t even own a proper mountain bike. And things like this happen when I’m out and about:

Are you sleeping?! There’s no sleeping in cycling!

Yes, I think I qualify as an urban cyclist. A family cyclist. A bicycle-as-lifestyle kind of person. Not because I feel some duty to be so. Mostly it is still simply because I like bikes. And at this point in my life, it’s what works.

What happened? Without getting into the details of human reproduction, I suppose you could say life happened.

And here I am.

Whereas I used to fret over what to eat the night before a race, now I worry that I’ve bought too many groceries to get home on the bike.

I took the 5-year-old to Fred Meyer a couple of weeks ago. We rolled the cart outside and sized up the situation:

“Dadda,” says the sweet and innocent child. “It’s not possible.”

I worried she was right, but damned it I was going to admit that. So I start blurting out the sort of aphorisms that my own father peppered me with. (Probably the same ones his father told him.) Tried and true Horatio Alger stuff:

  • “America is a place where all things are possible, my child,” I say.
  • “You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it,” I say.
  • “Thomas Edison once said: ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,'” I say, not quite sure how this is relevant. But it’s OK, because the 5-year-old does not know what “perspiration” is. Besides, Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, which we all know is KILLING THE PLANET!!
  • “Stop talking, and start loadin’,” I say.

So, having put fatherhood itself on the line, I have no choice but to buy into these cliches myself. And it is true that packing the panniers of an Xtracycle is like packing a suitcase. If you try hard enough, there’s always room to squeeze in one more pair of underwear.

I tell this inspirational nugget to the child as well.

  • If you try hard enough, there is always room for one … more … beer bottle …

“Yay! Dadda!”

We were pushing the limits this day. Perhaps the tires were not Even though the tires were up to pressure, I could feel the rim hit the ground on even the slightest bump. But we made it.

Indeed, America is the land of possibility, especially when there is beer to be transported home. And the child learned an invaluable lesson about persistence. And the institution of fatherhood was safe, at least for one more day.

16 thoughts on “How I became an urban cyclist; or America, where anything is possible

  1. Er, “mores” of society. Pronounced “more-ays.”

    Having owned an X-tracycle for all of about three weeks now, I can tell you that it. will. carry. anything. Only, I wish I could carry it all and not give a shit.

  2. Sorry, just reminded myself of an Xtracycle question. Should I start carrying around some big garbage bags to cover all my stuff when it’s raining? The little top flaps to the inside pockets don’t really cover all the groceries. What do other Xtracyclists do? Without giving a shit?

    1. Like Shane said, I’ve been using one of these for years and years: Either the 80 or 100 liter, I forget. REI will let you try one out, so check. Baggy is good so you can load stuff inside it. I also waterproofed the inside (near the wheel) of the bags to keep water from seeping in, but the new ones are waterproof already. See this for tons more details:

  3. Alpha- congrats, welcome to the Longtail Posse.
    Though I haven’t done it yet- maybe this winter, the best rain cover idea I’ve see used is the backpack rain cover. Can’t remember what size but ask Paul Adkins, he and Monica both use them and love them, or Seager of WeBikeEugene.
    I also like to carry a few straps in my bag. Though you know you can connect the straps to each other over whatever you place on the snapdeck too, right?
    And I carry two rectangular reusable shopping bags in my freerad pocket too. The REI bag is my favorite; just the right size and sturdy (like the Trader Joe’s one in these photos). Canvas bags tend to be a bit more ‘sloppy’.

    Too bad you didn’t get a shot with the sweet little cargo on there too.

  4. So… I’ve given two full grown adults a ride on my X, at the same time, and my wheel rim didn’t hit. I call shenanigans on your tire being fully inflated. :)

    Great post! I’ve had the same grocery experience, minus the kid.

      1. Have to agree with Seager. I’ve hauled some HUGE loads on my Xtracycle and don’t bottom out. I’ve run everything from skinny/high psi to fat/low psi tires. Double check that PSI, most folks run their tires way under-inflated. I like fatter/high psi tires like Schwalbes myself.

  5. I discovered something interesting this week that seems relevant to folks who don’t drive a lot, but still own a car:

    In Springfield, after 48 hours on the street, your car is “abandoned”
    In Eugene, if you park on the street and then don’t drive every 72 hours, you’re considered to be “storing” your vehicle on the street.

    In either case, you get tickets and warnings for not driving often enough. Brilliant!

  6. Proper planning could have enabled one to buy limited amount of groceries and enjoy two trips to the grocer shop. But your packing skills are appreciated :)

  7. I found a lot of myself in this post but I have to put a plug in for not abandoning the other bike skill sets altogether. 95% of my riding anymore is on my commuter bike or my recently acquired x-tracycle but I had a meeting in McKenzie Bridge yesterday and took the Mt. Bike out for a while after. It was a great opportunity to remember yet again just how good it is for the soul for daddy to get out and go zoom zoom through the forest. It’s a hard earned skill set from a lot of bumps, bruises, scrapes, broken helmets and broken bike frames. Amazingly the handling always comes right back but ride something other than your x-tra a few days before you go or you will have tractor trailer steering mentality the first 1/2 hour. My daily ride to school in college included trails and jumps, now 20 years later it includes kids counting and singing to me from behind and that’s just fine.

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