Bike Month, The Sequel:
It's Life Imitating Art,
Albeit Very, Very Slowly

The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.
— Christopher Morley

By Patrick O'Grady

  If a child's world expands when he receives his first bicycle, it contracts for an adult who surrenders his car. That's not necessarily a bad thing — it just requires shifting gears a bit, physically and mentally.

  As I mentioned last issue, I parked my Subaru for Colorado Bike Month after three decades of relying upon dead dinosaurs for locomotion, and it's definitely been educational.

  Cycling for training and for transportation are two very different animals — say, a greyhound and a three-toed sloth. The greyhound is my lightweight Steelman Eurocross, which fairly begs to be ridden quickly. The sloth is my burly Bianchi Castro Valley, which squats ponderously in the garage until I give it a couple swift kicks in the pedals.

  Oddly, the Bianchi is the beast that gets all admiring glances lately. Regular cyclo-commuter John Crandall of Old Town Bike Shop declared himself impressed by the green machine, with its fenders, rear rack and Shimano hub generator, as did my chiropractor, a wine-shop salesman and pretty much anyone else with a velo-fetish.

  Me, I had my doubts. It seemed to lack a certain something. Air conditioning. A CD player. And, of course, a reliable Japanese engine. This thing has an elderly Irish-American power plant with a whole bunch of hard miles on it and a spotty maintenance record.

  Saddle Up. I prepared as best I could for my monthlong ordeal. I redid the Bianchi's cockpit for a slightly more comfortable position; bought some roomy Pearl Izumi Veer shorts and a pair of Shimano SH-MT40 shoes in order to look less like a Spandexed žber-dork while clomping about in public; and laid a critical eye on the extent of the territory I normally roam.

  I do all our cooking, and try to use as many organic ingredients as possible; thus I do a fair bit of business with Whole Foods. Unfortunately, the single local store is in the northeastern clusterplex, 20 minutes away by car on a high-speed, multilane highway, so it got scratched in favor of our unremarkable neighborhood Safeway, which is to Whole Foods as a Loaf 'n Jug is to Dean & DeLuca.

  Booze, banking and other shopping excursions, on the other hand, were literally a ride in the park. I cycled over to the bike path through Monument Valley Park and slalomed through the iPodded joggers toward downtown, just a couple miles away.

  Paper, Plastic or Cordura? Grocery-getting and unseasonable weather proved my biggest hurdles to going car-free. Nixing Whole Foods meant settling for lower-quality grub, and a lack of panniers meant more frequent trips to retrieve same.

  Adding a booze run to a grocery trip required expanding my payload capacity with a messenger bag, as the rack trunk is maxed out by two bottles of wine, wallet, cell phone, cable lock, keys, and a rain jacket.

  That jacket was not optional. Early June proved windy, cool and prone to afternoon thunderstorms, forcing me to adjust my modus operandi. Ordinarily I like to work in the early morning, grab some exercise from mid-morning to noon, return nose to grindstone after lunch, then run errands in the late afternoon.

  But had I stuck to that schedule, I'd have needed a rowboat, not a bicycle.

  So Far, So What? I've only been car-free for eight days, but a couple things have surprised me.

  First, how little distance a guy has to cover to do business in this town, assuming he picks the right neighborhood as a home base. In a week I logged just 41 miles on the Bianchi. We're talking a gallon and a half of gas here, about five bucks' worth at current prices.

  Two, how hard it is to slow down, even on a hefty steed like the Castro Valley. It took a few outings before I got back in touch with my inner Fred, coasting the downhills and reaching for that 26-tooth cog at the first hint of a hill.

  And three, how noisy all those four-wheeled monstrosities are when you're not caged up inside one. These people should really park those beasts and take up cycling — unless, of course, one of them wants to give me a lift to Whole Foods.

This column appeared in the July 1, 2007, edition of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

u n c o l l a r e d

  "Mad Dog Unleashed" is the column I write for Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, a trade mag based in Laguna Hills, California. When I started writing it in the early Nineties it was called "A Consumer's Viewpoint," because while I had spent a good deal of time in bike shops over the years, I had never actually worked in one. Plus it was plain to management that while I was willing to work cheap, I had all the business acumen of a banana slug. The column was rechristened "Mad Dog Unleashed" when it also became apparent that I had a ravenous appetite for the hand that fed me, and over the years it has devolved into a platform for me to expound at length on all the other topics about which I am entirely ignorant. Occasionally bicycles are mentioned.

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