Tevlin: April indeed is the cruelest month for holding a bike challenge

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2013 - 7:34 PM

This is how it was supposed to end: A warm day with a slight undertow of cool breeze, on a bike trail heading west as the morning traffic thrummed somewhere far off. Red-winged blackbirds dipped down from trees, and a passing rider gave me the biker nod.

Tuesday was the last day of my 30-day bike pledge, in which I promised to ride my bike every day for the month of April, and it was lovely.

The challenge, “30 Days of Biking,” was conceived by Patrick Stephenson and Zachariah Schaap. The goal was to get people on their bikes every day, in effect patterning them to think of riding instead of driving.

I had once been crowned “bike hater of the week” for criticizing the explosion of bike lanes and lack of explanation of them. Bike enthusiasts suggested I try biking regularly to experience the joy and hazards.

So I did.

It was a bad year to start. We had four snowstorms in nine days. Some mornings were bitterly cold. Baseball players paid millions to play outside canceled games.

But I had made a pledge, and I was going to keep it, right?

What do you think I am, some sort of sorority girl?

Of course I didn’t keep it. It was nasty out there.

Mother Nature 1, columnist 0.

The first couple of weeks went pretty well. Rode to work a couple of times. Did the lakes. Even rode a few miles on one cold, rainy evening, and it wasn’t unpleasant. I even played the “lifeline” card and rode an exercise bike a couple of times (allowed in emergencies).

Then one day I stood by the window to see if the sleet and snow were abating so I could at least lap the block. My wife took notice.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” she said.

I drove to work instead and on the way confirmed my decision. A young guy was slogging through the slush, wobbling in and out of traffic. Finally he picked up his bike and began carrying it. OK, now you are just showing off, I thought.

A quote by Emerson popped into my mind: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

So, I didn’t ride that day, nor any other day when it seemed silly, or dangerous, to do so.

I called Stephenson to admit I had failed him. Luckily, he’s one of those everybody-gets-a-prize guys.

“That’s entirely OK,” Stephenson said. “If you biked more than you normally would, it’s a success.”

I had. On “nice” days, as my legs acclimated, I was actually excited to get on my bike.

I found cars to be generally aware of me, especially if I was following the law. I had only one near-miss, a cabbie who was texting and veered into the bike lane just ahead.

“Pay attention to your life!” I yelled.

Pedestrians were actually more problematic. I counted nine in one stretch of Lake of the Isles strolling casually in the bike lane.

Ding, ding, people.

I know some people see riding a bike as a lifestyle or a political statement. In fact, there are several bills going through the Legislature right now either expanding or restricting biking rights.

When I got my first Schwinn Pea Picker as a kid, I could never imagine bikes would become a cultural wedge issue, dividing the save-a-tree left from the don’t-tell-me-how-to-live right.

“We are apolitical,” Stephenson said. “We are more about community and expressing ourselves artistically through social media.”

When I bought my bike three years ago, I saw it largely as a toy. Now, maybe I see it as part toy, part tool. I don’t think a few more days of snow biking would have self-radicalized me into a two-wheeler hysteric.

A bike can be used in an everyday commute for some, but not for anyone who has meetings in Blaine and Bloomington, or who has health issues that prevent it, or has to drop off the kid, or dog, at day care.

I still don’t quite understand all the bike lane hieroglyphics and don’t think many drivers know the difference from a “buffered bike lane” and a “cycle track.”

Most of this is common sense; let’s not overthink it.

Who knows, maybe I’ll commit to 30 days of biking again next year. If I do, I have a one word suggestion to the organizers:

May.

 

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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