Squeal! Squeak! Welcome to the noises made by my tired old bicycle as I tried to slow down while rounding a corner that was banked the wrong way. The intersection is in the neighborhood, so I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors. I also didn’t want to end up in their bushes or in the local emergency room. Okay. Frugality is fine, but safety can’t be ignored. For several reasons I was glad to be back on the bike again and I didn’t want my brakes to stop me from riding. Spend a little. Get a lot. That’s a nice cost/benefit trade.
Allow me to introduce my bicycle. It is a classic, hard-tail, 1992-ish Trek 8000 mountain bike. No springs. No shock absorbers. No disk brakes. It is old, purple, and slightly rusted. It is also the bicycle that I rode from an island north of Seattle to an island south of Miami, from Roche Harbor on San Juan Island to Key West in Florida. Want details? I wrote a book about the ride. It was my first book, before I considered myself a writer. It continues to sell, though that may also be because it describes America before and after 9/11. Or, maybe folks just like the title. Just Keep Pedaling.
Here I am, 25 years later, still riding the same bike. Why change? If it can get me to across North America it can get me (slowly) to the store.
Feel sorry for it. It hasn’t been properly cared for. The squeak came from the front brakes. The squeal came from the back brakes. From what I can recall, those are the same brake pads I used on the ride. Even if I treated the bike to a few new parts after the ride, I can’t recall doing much else to it for the last few years. Money has been tight. Even though bikes are cheaper than cars and trucks, other bills were more important.
Now, bicycling is more important.
The doctor gave me the bad news about diabetes. Shudder. One prescription, exercise. I can do that. About three years ago, I was lucky enough to be part of a 24/7 coworks. Money was even tighter. Gas was expensive. Riding ten miles each way took a lot longer, but that gave me two times each day when I wasn’t staring at a computer. I was a lot skinnier then.
Staring at computers happens more often and longer, now. That’s a good thing, at least for finances. Then, I was working hard at finding work. Now, at least I’m more likely to be working on something billable. Unfortunately, almost all of my paid work involves a keyboard and a monitor. My work world has been largely reduced to a space within arm’s reach. By the end of each day my eyes are getting a bit buggy. A recent set of massages (something like $20 for 15 minutes) is painfully comical as she finds strings of knots. (Thank you, Faith Bushby.) Eye strain and bad ergonomics are causing the wrong ripples down my back. Get out on the bike and there’s a great incentive to look farther and look around.
Now that I’m giving myself one day off each week, I have to remind myself what I did when I had time off. It may sound weird, but I’ve been working so hard for so long that I’ve forgotten how I spent my time. Sitting around the house also means sitting beside my work space. Going for a drive in the truck isn’t exactly relaxing, not at that gas mileage and with its set of probably more expensive noises. When I’m on the bike, I don’t mistake someone’s home oil heat exhaust for a problem under the hood. The turning radius is much tighter, too.
So, out I went to ride. And each ride got noisier and hairier.
More than a year ago, our one bicycle shop closed. Friends talked about it as if we’d lost our last post office or grocery. I may have an epic ride in my past, but an entire peloton of friends use their bicycles as their primary transportation. (Occupy Your Bike!) They regularly put more miles on their bikes than they do in their cars, even the ones with electrics and hybrids. Someone stepped into the gap, managed a dramatic shift as suppliers (and their inventory) fell away and had to be coaxed back. I worried about the reincarnation succeeding. He made it. Bayview Cycles is now so busy that I feel sorry for the guy. He managed to fit my bike into his queue on a day when he would probably work past sunset. And, the sun sets very late this time of year this far north. (He was probably also inundated because we’ve had over 150 days of rain in the last eight months, and now are in a ten day dry spell that’s wrapped around the holiday.)
It is easy to take frugality too far. Habits take many forms, including continuing to avoid something. I was lucky enough to get a small boost in business, could work from a coffeeshop near the bike shop, and use the one to pay for the other. The money balanced out for that day. The longer term effects are much more valuable. Bicycling isn’t a panacea. Nothing is. But, for less than most folks will spend on dinner, I bought the opportunity to get healthier physically and mentally, get some chores done, and have some fun. That’s a nice deal, and one my neighbors may appreciate, too.