On having bikes that work…

Soooo, we bought another bike. Two, actually!

Once we moved to Seattle, it became immediately clear that the bikes we already owned would not work here. The hills are far steeper than we imagined, and on the off chance that we got overly ambitious and tried to go for a bike ride, we ended up walking our single speed bikes up the hills and arrived at the top sweaty and exhausted. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to have lived in one of the flattest cities ever, where a single speed was more than enough for a comfortable ride. Here, the terrain is our #1 barrier against riding, and we were choosing walking over riding for almost every trip.

Tax return season came at just the right time, and Brian decided to make the jump and buy the Surly Long Haul Trucker he’s always wanted. It has a great gear ratio, the best reviews in the industry, and the only hard choice was whether or not to disc brake. (He chose not). I didn’t have a dream bike in mind, so I decided to keep riding my vintage 3-speed until the right bike came along.

As the weather got warmer, I got increasingly bitter anytime we rode our bikes. It’s absolutely miserable when something that’s been a part of your life every single day for the past 4 years becomes so depressingly hard. It would be the same if a runner had to run in two left shoes, or a writer could only write with their left hand. I knew subconsciously that my negative attitude was being caused by the bike, so I told Brian I was done riding until I found a new bike. I walked to work by myself while Brian rode, and started searching Craigslist for a vintage steel bike that I could start building up.

I contacted three different people about bikes on Craigslist, and scheduled a test ride for a 2006 Soma Double Cross not far from our apartment. It wasn’t the vintage lugged steel I was looking for, and instead it was a new-ish cyclocross style steel bike with high quality new parts.  I wasn’t totally sold on the bike until I threw my leg over the bike and it just fit. It was perfect. It fit me better than any bike I’d ever ridden in my entire life, and it didn’t hurt that it shifted and rode like butter too.

We’ve had our new bikes for 2 weeks, and what a glorious 2 weeks they have been. We have been riding everywhere, and it seems like the city has gotten bigger and more exciting overnight. All of the places that used to be too far, too difficult of a ride, or at the top of a too-tall hill are all of a sudden totally accessible to us.

I’ve wanted to write this type of post for awhile, because I know a lot of people in our lives probably don’t totally understand why we ride like we do. We don’t own a car, and honestly don’t really want to. When we lived in Chicago, everything was completely accessible by foot, bike, or public transit. Grocery stores were 1/2 mile away tops, and work was a (flat) 4 mile bike ride each way. We didn’t start biking as a challenge to be carless, or to prove anything, we just enjoy riding our bikes and it also happens to be the best way for us to get around.

Now that we’re in Seattle, we’ve definitely had to make some adjustments to the lifestyle we’d gotten used to, but not as many as we thought. We chose to live in one of the most accessible neighborhoods in the city, along the only light-rail line, near multiple buses and streetcar routes, and only a mile from our offices. We’d like to move to a different neighborhood once our lease is up, but we’ll definitely be keeping in mind the proximity to transit that allows us to live without a car.

To us, owning a car would be a constant pain. Worrying about where to park it, how much we have to pay to park, paying insurance, paying for gas, etc. When we go to leave the house, it’s easier for us to grab our bikes and go than it would be for us to remember where we parked the car, walk to it, drive, and then pay to park on the other end. If we were to walk instead, it would take us about 3 times as long to get to our destination, and we wouldn’t be able to carry as many groceries or bags, though our transportation would be free.

To most of our friends and family, a car is the first choice for transportation, and bikes are more of a chore. To ride a bike in the suburbs for errands would require pulling the bike out of storage, pumping the tires, changing your outfit to be acceptable for biking, riding a long distance to your destination, and (god forbid) having to wear a helmet. Modes of transport are much different depending on where you live, and choosing to live in a less urban area allows for a much more limited means of commute.

We get it, and 100% understand the differences in lifestyles that allow us to all choose our preferred means of transportation. We actively choose to live in a neighborhood that makes riding a bike an easy choice, instead of living in a suburb where our daily destinations would be out of reach by bike. Being able to hop on our bikes whenever we want is a massive luxury for us, and one that we would be hard pressed to give up. I love writing about this, because I truly want people to understand the freedom that we feel when we ride our bikes. There are obviously monetary benefits that go with, and I’ll attempt to write about those in another post because they extend far beyond what most people would assume. For now, we ride because we love it.

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