The other day, I found myself riding my bike through a beautiful morning with near perfect temperatures along tree-lined and low traffic streets and it was a bit of a wake-up call. I hadn’t been out on my bike much lately and I missed it. Why not? I talk about this in the following post, as well as one PERFECT use for a bicycle….
The last 6 months have been pretty turbulent for us, as we decided to close our retail location of Cycle 9 and also relocated to a new city and moved houses, twice! We’ve moved from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Boise, Idaho! Yes, Idaho – that weird looking state between Oregon and Montana, the one most well known for potatoes (from an apparent historic State Branding campaign), homophobic senators who turn out to be gay, and white supremesist militias hiding out in the woods. I can’t say the public campaigns have been very inviting for this beautiful state (Montana seems to have that down much more than Idaho), but think mountains, rivers, trails, and a lively and interesting cultural mix.
We thought Boise would be a reasonable town with great outdoors access, but have been really pleasantly surprised at the hip (but not hipster) culture, variety of good places to eat and hang out, friendly nature of the people, and ease of getting around without a car! For one thing, the city is built in a river valley, so the terrain in town is primarily flat (hurray! such a change from Chapel HILL). And secondly, much of the old city is built on a grid system of streets, so it’s really easy to find less-trafficed alternate routes among that part of town. THANK YOU old time city planners of the West who were not hindered by geography. And thirdly, the town has an active bike culture that has resulted in a reasonable network of bike lanes on busier streets, as well as lots of people out on their bikes (and the more people out = the safer it is!). There are also huge crowds of mountain bikers and road riders who hit the foothills trails and roads before or after work. These were all surprises to us, and have made us like the town even more.
But wait! That car is getting used all the time
Despite these great bike advantages, however, I’ve found myself using the car a lot more than usual over the past few months. It’s been a bit depressing, actually, to fall back into this habit. It happened as a matter of course, and I didn’t think about it too much until recently when we’ve gotten out pretty often by bike. As it occurred to me, I contemplated the bike vs. drive question again, and here’s what I came up with for why more driving as of late….
1. We’ve had to take a lot more “errand” trips than usual to help us get the new house(s) organized (hardware store, Target-type stores, etc), as well as shuffling boxes and belongings between a storage unit and the house, and do all those things like setting up bank accounts, looking for office space to rent for my partner’s business, and all that other not-so fun stuff about moving.
I think I could have done more of these errands by bike, but it also took awhile to figure out good bike routes and just routes in general of how to get from point A to B. It seems like any time you move, the map of the city in your head takes awhile to grow. And also those types of stores are usually located in the boon docks! Well, at least the boon-docks when considering a bike ride.
2. I actually think the main reason why I haven’t biked as much is not the above, but rather the lack of a daily routine. When you have a (more or less) set routine, it’s much easier to bike to your usual places. You know the route, you have all your gear in one place (not the “now which box is the tire pump in?”), and you just get on the bike and go without a lot of thinking. By contrast, there’s a certain amount of energy drain that comes with the chaos of a broken routine and it’s just harder to get motivated to look up a new route and attempt a long bike errand trip.
Exploring by bike
However, there is one particular activity that I’ve found biking is perfectly suited for in a new town, and that is getting to know the town! When you’re in the car, you just go from one point to the next and rarely see much of what’s in between. However, the bike is a completely different way to explore, and one I’ve had a lot more fun with. I find that “map in my head” gets filled in much more quickly with little details and alternate routes when I explore on the bike. We take different streets to check out the houses, run across random little stores tucked away here and there, and take much more notice of what’s around us when we’re out biking.
We’ve found the best routes between the coffee shop and the book store, how to get to the pizza place and park out front without circling the one-way grid system for 10 minutes looking for parking, and explored downtown museums and the library along with bike rides along the river-side bike path. We’ve even met a few other people with Xtracycles and one person with a Madsen (even though no shop in town sells those bikes).
There’s something about riding a bike around that is just more accessible and friendly to the local environment. I think it’s probably a combination of the slower speed and the exposure to the elements that allows one to interact with the environment more than when in your little steel box. Whatever it is, I certainly FEEL much more connected to the city and it’s people when on my bike, and for that it’s an ideal vehicle for exploring.
What do you think? Why do you find yourself driving vs. biking more? and have you explored cities by bike via other means? Leave your comments below.