May is Bike Month: It's easy once it's easy

“Wanna have a beer?”

At 7:44 PM, on Friday night, when it looked as though I would spend the evening excavating my garage, that text message popped into my phone from my friend Chuck Cheesman.

Later that same minute, I replied that I indeed would like to have a beer.

Beer InvitationAnd during that minute before I sent my reply, these logistics popped into my mind like a three-point plan that had been waiting for years to be executed:

  1. Remove my nice bike headlight from the handlebars of my commuter bike. (It’s a Light and Motion Urban 500 which removes and attaches easily. And, actually, it’s my wife’s bike.)
  2. Attach the light to my helmet, (The helmet mount came with the light, and I just keep it on the helmet, as you may recall.)
  3. Take the folding bike so it’s easy to throw into Chuck’s car in case he wants to give me a ride home.

The simple plan came together in my mind so spontaneously, and I was already prepared. I didn’t wonder where my gear was, or if it was in working condition, or how I was going to pull off this nutty idea of biking somewhere on short notice. I killed a few more minutes on the computer machine before grabbing my jacket and heading to my destination, Hops on Birch — which is about one-and-a-half miles from my home.

As I was pedaling toward Chuck and beer, it occurred to me how this bike stuff has become second nature to me. New bike commuters and other want-to-use-their-car-less types can be daunted by a simple expedition like this because it takes awhile to acquire both the habits and the equipment.

I like to say that owning a car, and having one in your lifestyle is a pain in the ass — it’s just the pain in the ass that most people are used to. For a habitual car user, it would have been a different three-point plan that came so naturally to mind.

My instinctive plan also ruled out the need for a backpack, or panniers, or a bike trailer — all equipment that I have ready go had Chuck asked me instead to, I don’t know, haul firewood or something. Attaching any or all of those accessories would have added about two minutes to my departure.

Chuck Cheesman: Imagining Dancers
I'm named in the liner notes 'cause I'm special.

Chuck and his wife are pretty dang green. They spent a gazillion dollars retrofitting their house with solar panels, in-floor heat, and other upgrades. They have a hybrid car too.

Having made all of these investments, he is now entering the next frontier: changing from a set of habits where the car is the default choice for mobility, to another set of habits where he reaches for the car keys only when he’s run out of reasonable alternatives. (I’m not 100% sure that’s his goal, but I’m going to act as though it is.)

Chuck is professional musician, a songwriter and guitarist, so his workplace is mostly his home. When he commutes, it’s to gigs — performances, lessons, etc. His transportation needs vary from day to day, as well as his cargo carrying requirements. But at least he’s thinking about it. He has a decent bike. That’s a start.

National Bike Month  is for guys like Chuck; people who don’t need a whole bunch of convincing. It’s not for twisting the arms of die-hard motorists. Some people just need a little motivation, or logistical support. There are many Web pages that tell someone like Chuck how to get into bike commuting. (I understand there’s a whole Web site about it.) But the personal support and tips from a friend are the kind of thing that makes the experiment seem… less experimental, and more of a proven achievable goal.

The cover of Chuck’s most recent CD shows a disused car — which warms my heart.

So who is your Chuck?

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13 thoughts on “May is Bike Month: It's easy once it's easy”

  1. BluesCat says:

    Oo! A ’59 El Camino! That was the first year of the car, and so Chuck should talk that guy into selling it to him … for cheap. Although, it probably isn’t a “disused car” as much as it is a Backyard Queen the owner is letting “age” properly before restoring it.

    Last year, when I went to my company’s awards dinner, one of my service awards was a $200 gift certificate to my favorite local bike shop. As the CEO handed it to me, he mentioned to the audience that I commute by bike.

    The husband of one of my coworkers asked “Really?” His wife nodded and replied “Yeah, eight miles each way.” Ever since then, she has relayed his questions to me about commuting gear, the “right” bike, etc. I guess he’s up to bike commuting about two days a week now.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I have a different friend who owns a ’59 El Camino that is ripening in his back yard. He’s a professional truck driver, and I don’t think he even owns a bike. So, although I don’t think he’ll be consulting with me about National Bike Month, he knows the rights of cyclists at least as well as I do.

  2. Karen says:

    My “Chuck” has been my cousin Angie, down in Phoenix who subsequently found her “Chuck” in her friend Emily (who bought my Specialized Expedition last fall). In both cases, it all began with someone being intrigued by doing something that looked both fun and functional, followed up with questions about “how’d you do that?”.

  3. Chuck says:

    Thanks for the bicycle fame Ted. Truth is, I lived in Chicago for six years without a car or bike. I used to commute by foot, bus, or train everywhere I went. The change I need to make now is to take my bicycle out for more than a fitness or joy ride. I do make regular trips to the post office on my bike, but it’s admittedly not my default. it should be. But it’s a lot more difficult taking my kids or sound equipment somewhere on my bicycle. The kids are five and seven. They’re starting to pedal themselves around. The sound equipment isn’t going to pedal anywhere.

    The El Camino on the cover belonged to the photographer’s neighbor. He was going to restore it. Sadly, he died unexpectedly and never got to fix it up. I loved the photo, but when I heard that I knew I wanted to use it for the cover. I suppose it’s a bit of a reminder to not put off doing the things we want to do. It fits with the themes of a couple of my songs. Plus, it is a really cool photo.

    I didn’t know it was National Bike Month. I’ll try to use that as motivation to leave the car in the driveway more often.


  4. Tom Bowden says:

    Ted – you’re right – it’s easy once it’s easy, and then it gets hard to even contemplate NOT riding to work. It always feels like a missed opportunity to me.

  5. BluesCat says:

    Tom – Oh, yeah, and MORE than just a “missed opportunity” for ME.

    Even if there is a valid reason for my taking the car to work, when I park it and walk by the office where I park my bike … I feel GUILTIER than a Republican recommending a TAX HIKE!

  6. Tom Bowden says:

    BluesCat – You are showing signs of growth in your admission that Republicans can feel guilt. Indeed, we have the capacity to experience the full range of human emotions, but we have learned to temper their influence with reason and logic.

    One of these days we will find a place and a time to ride together and I will explain it all for you. 😉

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Don’t believe him, BluesCat. I rode 100 miles with a certain Republican, and I was the only one feeling anything.

  7. BluesCat says:

    Tom –


    The Cat will be a willing padawan, Master.

  8. riding today says:

    You’re a great advocate for biking in moderation, Tom. A clip which joyously advocates cycling for all ages, mostly recorded in Amsterdam where seperate lanes make it so much safer, “why cycle!” is here

  9. norm says:

    The difference, to me, was a pair of good basket panniers that could hold all my work stuff (clothes, lunch, etc) and/or grocery bags. Now I can just do things on the way to or from work without having to use the car. Piece of cake.

  10. Tom Bowden says:

    riding today – thanks for that – you made my day! One of these I’m going to get to Amsterdam and see the whole city by bike!

  11. Cecilia Werger says:

    Thank you so much for stopping by and for leaving a kind reply. Much appreciated.

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