Just Barely Moving: a Bicycle Love Story

Just Barely Moving: a Bicycle Love Story

I have never owned a car and never want to. I prefer to live by the bicycle.

I ride a bike for transportation, to stay in shape, to invigorate myself in the morning, to clear my head when it’s foggy, as an efficient way of getting around, to save money, to explore my city, to relax, to travel in a pack with friends, to haul things, to ride fast, but mostly I like to ride slowly. Very very slowly.

Although a lot of people bike in DC, there is a minimal bike population on the highway-speed crosstown streets needed to leave my neighborhood.

The car-bike dynamic is unpleasant. Almost daily a driver shouts at me to get off the road; it’s not uncommon for a vehicle to speed up right behind me and pass with a few inches to spare; and frequently drivers lay on their horns without regard for the terror it causes a cyclist not sound-protected by a giant steel box.

Living on this side of town nearly made me hate riding. I was jittery when going to work. Nervous about confrontations, nervous about being run over.

One night coming home late I had forgotten my bike light and was uncomfortable making my way on the streets alone without it. With the speeds that most drivers aspire to on the crosstown streets, I’d be lucky if anyone saw me before running right over me. So I did something a proud and normally confident city rider would never do: I rode on the sidewalk.

And I loved it.

There are rarely pedestrians because there are almost no amenities, and so the sidewalk was a de facto cycletrack! On Michigan Avenue, past the hospital and reservoir, there are nearly two miles of sidewalk uninterrupted by buildings, streets, curbs, or pedestrians. It practically was my own bike path and I’d been riding tensely past it for a year before giving up my city cycling sensibilities and jumping the curb.

And I loved it.

Here in my separated bike lane, I could go as slowly as I wanted. The only person I was slowing down was myself and that was exactly what I needed. Finally, time to breathe and think again. Time to admire the changing leaves and crunch them under my tires. Time that was mine.

The first time I did it I went so slowly I almost lost momentum and fell over. I was passed by pedestrians. I felt like I was ice-skating in slow motion.

I can appreciate speed when riding with others, and occasionally like to challenge myself to some faster motion, but nothing makes me so calm and swoony about my bicycle as just barely riding it.

I like

To see how far one rotation of the pedals will take me.

To feel how light I am riding standing up when I balance my weight.

To ignore the noise and the speed and the panic of the vehicles next to me and to know that that stress does not belong to me.

To feel rested and peaceful when I arrive.

To allow myself the time in my day to do things the way I want, and to move at my own very very tiny speed.

I ride on the street most of the time but sometimes love having the sidewalk to jump on and go as slowly as I want.

I would prefer to have safe streets where anyone can ride without fearing for their life, but for now sometimes I’ll just take the sidewalk, and take an hour to get there.


3 thoughts on “Just Barely Moving: a Bicycle Love Story

  1. That’s an interesting perspective. If the sidewalks are almost empty, why not? I am about to move from Capitol Hill (which is lovely and mostly bike friendly) to Brookland (also lovely, more affordable, but probably more car-centric). I just might take the sidewalks some of the way down to the Hill. I can pretend like I’m in Copenhagen. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed Mikael Colville-Andersen’s talk last week about cycling in Copenhagen. He mentioned planners debating installing a “fast lane” for bikes next to a normal lane, but they decided they didn’t want a fast lane and instead kept a normal speed lane and installed a “conversation lane” instead. That’s my kind of planning!

  3. I enjoyed the talk too. I was a little dismayed to find that a lot of the attendees just didn’t seem to get it. The questions had a kind of ‘oh you wascally wuropeans!’ pretense. Leave it to my fellow Americans to be incredulous in the face of folks *who have already done it for years*. 😦

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