Recently, there has been a lot of talk in Minneapolis and St. Paul about the proper role of cyclists in our communities (including “6 signs you’re a Twin Cities bike-jerk,” Opinion Exchange, June 19), with many traditionalist automobile addicts reminding us that bicycles belong on trails, ridden slowly by families, but should never be used by spandex-wearing 22-year-olds for commuting quickly on roads. I just want to elaborate on exactly why some of us love our bicycles so much:
Cars cause problems. Cars kill people daily, especially when alcohol and phones are involved. They generate traffic — anyone who commutes in the Twin Cities these days knows that congestion is becoming exponentially worse and will definitely not improve without a large shift away from the automobile-commute model. The increased stress, as well as lost time, energy and productivity associated with traffic impose a heavy social cost on our communities.
Oil causes problems. As much as folks in Washington like to talk about America’s role in the world defending the downtrodden and promoting democracy, etc., the only real reason the United States has a military presence in the Middle East is oil. Our federal budget is gobbled up by so-called “defense” spending; a more appropriate term would be “defense of oil.” Climate change seems to be a dirty word these days — who cares about the future of the planet, anyway? — but open any newspaper or magazine and you will read about the devastating effects (local and global) of fossil fuels on the environment that we all depend on for survival.
Bicycles are an obvious solution for the following reasons:
• They are cheap: A basic, ride-able road bike costs on the order of $100 to $200. That’s just about the most accessible form of transportation there is aside from your own two legs and public transit (but people don’t like to ride public transit).
• They promote vascular health: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. People desperately need exercise, and they’re definitely not going to the gym.
• They don’t injure others: Yes, a motorist slamming on the brakes for a bicycle might initiate a chain of events that results in injury. However, a well-planned bicycle system that separates cars and pedestrians from bicycles can eliminate injuries.
• They are fun: Many of the problems in our society can be traced to terminally bored individuals accumulating wealth and reproducing because they have nothing else to do. Folks need cheap, accessible fun.
• They are environmentally neutral: Yes, you’ll be taking in a lot more calories and riding on asphalt roads that both require inputs heavy in carbon emissions. But at least you’re not making the problem worse.
At this point, the only legitimate question I can think of is: What about the rain and snow? With the right protective gear, cycling in light rain is a non-issue. Heavy rain might pose more of a problem, but maybe you can take the bus or carpool those few days out of the year when there are heavy thunderstorms during your commute. Regarding snow, Minneapolis and St. Paul do a great job of plowing the roads (and Minneapolis even plows the Midtown Greenway sometimes). Within hours of a heavy snowfall, I can ride my bike with skinny tires on most roads in the city.
(As an aside, fat-tire bikes are mostly a brilliant marketing scheme to convince everyone in Minneapolis to buy another bike. They might be useful if you do a lot of off-road, back-country mountain biking, but they are extremely inefficient for a daily commute in Minneapolis.)
So, yes — I’ve presented a lot of anecdotal, intuitive reasoning without a lot of numbers or data. But do we even need empirical evidence at this point? Bicycles are a simple, intuitive, obvious no-brainer. I encourage all of the automobile addicts to try giving up their car for a summer, get out their bike and build some dense calf muscles. If you get to September and you’re not feeling and looking great, we’ll talk.
Michael J. Rush lives in St. Paul.