Driving less and biking more

Tired of being all talk and no action

Breakfast at Village Inn

Breakfast at Village Inn

If Travis Norvell can be a “pastor on two wheels” all winter long in Minneapolis, why can’t I use my bike more and my car less in the gentle weather of the Pacific Northwest? This is the question that confronts me because of a brief essay in Christian Century (Nov. 26, 2014).

Norvell’s decision came as he thought about a question posed by his thirteen-year-old daughter a year ago: “Dad, what are you willing to give up so others can have more?”

He answered by selling the car he had used for his pastoral engagements and using a bike and public transportation for his work. Learning how to bike everywhere, especially during a Minnesota winter, was challenging, but over time he has figured out ways to do it.

While I’ve never tried to go carless, even for short periods of time, the thought has often been in my mind. Now that I’m learning a new way of life as a single person (because of my wife’s recent death), this may be the time for me to follow Norvell’s example by driving less and biking (and busing) more.

This shift in transportation habits would be easier for me than for many people because public transportation is so convenient and inexpensive where I live. Buses, light rail, and street cars in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area can serve as the biking supplement for long trips across town and in difficult circumstances. A bike can be the shuttle from home to bus stop at both ends of longer jaunts across town. I already am experienced in taking my bike on buses and trains. Why not do it more?

Following Pastor Norvell’s example, I would have to make a few adjustments in order to outfit one of my bicycles  to serve transportation needs more fully. Already it is set up with tires that are wide enough for this purpose and with fenders required by this rainy climate. The bike has a generator operated front light, which is important for several months of the year in this rainy, often gray (but not really gloomy) climate.

The first adjustment will be to replace clipless pedals with platform pedals and toe clips so that I can wear regular shoes instead of high-tech cycling shoes.

The second adjustment will be to increase the bike’s carrying capacity. The small handlebar bag now on my bikes  can carry only a limited supply of groceries. The volume and weight of my load could be increased if I were to use a larger saddlebag and carry a fold-up backpack for occasions when I want to carry bulkier items like a loaf of bread. What would help even more would be to install a strong front rack and mount a commodious front bag the could accommodate a gallon of milk and other bulky, heavy items.

What does a cyclist wear when riding to life’s ordinary activities? Certainly not performance-oriented bike clothes, although they will continue to be an important part of an aggressive cyclist’s wardrobe. Instead, transportation oriented cycling calls for items chosen from a wide range of clothing options that are serviceable on the bike and presentable in many off-bike activities.

Pastor Nervell discovered that there is “no better outfit for clergy work than a pair of khakis and a clergy shirt with a removable tab collar.” My choices differ a little from his, but there are ways to dress so that cyclists readily can make the transition from bike to serious off-bike adult activities. I’ve been collecting clothes like this, and I need to wear them more often.

Norvell admits that sacrificing his car “has caused some stress.” He has to plan his days more carefully and on occasion find a way to be driven to locations. Yet, the benefits, which he describes in his story, outweigh the problems.

The key to driving less and biking more starts in the mind as Norvell indicates by the statement that he “was tired of feeling helpless in the face of climate change, tired of being all talk and no action.” At the end of his article he states the attitude that can help many of us make significant changes in life style. The realization that these changes can take place will never be made visible “unless people start living differently, making some small sacrifices for the common good.”

For some of us, that could mean driving less and biking more.


4 Responses to Driving less and biking more

  1. Thanks Keith. My colleague & cyling friend at the Mennonite Church here cycles 8 miles to church each day. He is blessed to have a parishoner at the adjacent Mennonite retirement village who lends him a car to use when Tim is at church if he needs to make a pastoral visit or go to some other activity that is better suited to a car. He is a good model of using his bicycle for commuting. I confess that I have wanted to increase my cycling for daily activities, but find the clothing & weather issues to be daunting, & the ease of jumping in the car way too tempting. But I do work at increasing my use of the bicycle for errands & events other than just my more lengthy bike rides. Thanks for your reflections & reference to Pastor Norvell’s commmitment & practice. As you & he say, it comes down to a matter of the mind, of making a choice & exercising our will to follow through for our own good & the good of our planet! Have a great Christmas!

    • Joe, I appreciate the example of your friend. With respect to my own cycling, I have to admit that I talk a better line than I actually am able to perform. I can tell by my lessened ability right now that I have to spend more time on the road on my two wheels in order to slow down the decline that is, unfortunately, inevitable as people age. Keith

  2. Jean says:

    What is helpful is choosing to live in a cycleable, walkable neighbourhood where services and shops are within a 15 min. walk…which then makes cycling doable and gives you choice if you cannot bike on certain winter/very rainy days.

    • I agree about living in a neighborhood where people can walk to services and shops, and I that’s the kind of place where my condo is located. I also have access to public transportation that puts downtown Portland, a wonderfully walkable and bike-friendly place, within easy reach. I will read some of your blogs during the next few days. Thanks for your comments.

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