Often described as one of the toughest bike races in the lower 48 states, the Arrowhead 135 challenges even the most prepared riders. This is a journal by a non-athlete's participation in an event where starting is often just as much a challenge as finishing.

Set smug to "stun"
April 4, 2011
Generally speaking, I try not to be annoying about being a cycling advocate. I try not to go around telling everyone they ought to bike. Still, some will offer an unsolicited justification for not using their bike more. Some people will tell me "I'd probably bike if ____" and they insert something about bad roads, bad knees, distance, safety, etc. Whatever, I don't really care. I kind of think that people need to be lead into cycling softly - tell them its fun, I've lost weight, its not that hard - and get them to make a decision to ride on their own. Some do, some don't.

This was actually one of the great motivators behind Bike City, my Facebook app. I wanted to "share" all my rides with friends so they could see that I ride a lot, while not being all direct and in their face about it - Facebook is perfect for that sort of thing.

But today I was a little smug, actually, when I was stripping off my wet helmet and shoes and a coworker said "You must be really die-hard! I got my bike all ready last weekend, but I didn't want to ride today in the rain". Then someone else posted to twitter that they wimped out and rode the bus because of the rain. Ok, I admit that it was not the most pleasant ride as snowy drizzle pelted me. My feet were wet (no rain covers) and they got cold. My hands were starting to get cold as I finished my commute, so any longer and I'd have been sorry. The headwind was a bitch. In short, it was a grind the whole way.

But at the same time it was reasonably warm (aside from my poor choice of hand and footwear), the snow and ice are gone, it wasn't raining very hard and the air smelled fresh and clean. It's April, and this is sometimes what April is like and it's nice to feel spring come in. I enjoyed the ride.

It would have been easy to say "yeah, the ride sucked" and validate my coworker's excuse. But I was feeling like calling bullshit - it wasn't that bad and I said that. I told him the wind was tough but otherwise the ride was pretty good.  This brings to mind Eric's "begin with one step" philosophy. So this person has taken that first step - bike commuting a few times a month in good weather. That is a good thing. But as I look around the country and the world, I'm increasingly jaded about these steps: changing a few lightbulbs, using a reusable bag at the store, maybe buying a hybrid car, and yes, bike commuting on the pretty days. These are not bad things, really. But on the scale of the planet and the problems we are facing both in terms of climate change and heath issues in America, its not even close to enough. Not only is it not enough, but its hardly even a start.

Facing problems like obesity, climate change, dependence on foreign fossil fuels, chronic poverty and urban sprawl is going to require a lot more than just these first steps. Its going to require an all out culture shift in America. It means yes, getting some people to take those initial steps, which IS a good thing. However, it also means getting people who have taken a first step to take another. And another after that. It means going to one car instead of two. It means getting to the point where you start demanding that those we elect start doing something on a national level, because until you start demanding that large-scale inefficiencies - corporations, manufacturers, builders, energy producers - change habits, either though tougher standards or restrictions on what they can and cannot do or emit, nothing is going to change. They are not going to do it voluntarily because it could maybe impact profits in the short term, and "market forces" won't compel them to change, plain and simple. This also includes a demand for better infrastructure - for more transportation options, smarter building codes, zoning and sprawl restrictions.

It's easy for people to think that buying a hybrid car or biking a couple days a month to think they're doing enough or their share. And its easy for politicians to encourage this sort of "happy thinking" because then they don't have to face hard political moves like removing oil subsidies. The sad reality is that it ISN'T enough, and we need to stop pretending that it is and accepting the excuses for not going further. Buying a few lightbulbs is easy. So is sorting your garbage for recycling. Showing up at city council meetings is more difficult.

So yeah, as I was trying to warm up and get my wet jacket and shoes off I wasn't in a particularly accepting mood for excuses. If we as a culture keep excepting the excuses of our neighbors for not changing our behaviors in the face of these dire outcomes, well, then we're all complicit and we deserve what we get. Life does not have to be 70 degrees and dry at every moment. If we, as cyclists, can and do always fall back on cars when the weather isn't perfect, we're not going to change.

Granted, this isn't what was actually going through my head at the time, but my ideas we more focused on cycling and acceptance of cycling as transportation.  But when considering the situation later, it does go directly to the bigger issues. Bicycles are a part of the solution from the very poorest of countries to the very richest. Poor countries suffer from a lack of personal mobility that breeds chronic poverty, rich countries suffer from oil addictions and health epidemics directly related to cars. Addressing this requires a shift from the thinking that bikes are toys for kids, for weekend recreation or just for the pretty days.

To change the world means biking in the rain once in a while.

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