When the idea first passed through my mind, I could bike to work, I dismissed it outright. Two long demanding hills a day, Route 34, Triphammer, Elm St, Westhaven. Ten miles in, 10 miles out. Is this insane? People still give me that look.
I’d been a runner all my life—I’m in my 50s– and just recently cut back due to the need to preserve my knees. I was not new to biking up hills: 10 years ago when I lost a job I loved (and hated too!) I bought a light-weight Fuji and after 6 weeks of working at it, I conquered the Elm St/ Westhaven hill without once dismounting. And there was a time in my life when three of us were sharing a car, so I’d secure my Fuji in the back of the Honda and my boyfriend would drive me into work in the morning, and I’d bike home. That was doable for me, yet I was burning just as much gas as if I’d driven myself in and out. Still, faced with Elm Street and Westhaven at the end of a 10- or 11 –hour day was physically demanding for me and the lazy part of me said, No. No way. Not every day.
I had thought about buying an electric bike but I got busy, there were family illnesses to address, so the electric bike went to the back burner. I drove the Honda until last July, when my very good friend, Judy, said “Do you want my old electric bike?”
I took it of course. And I let it sit in my garage. It sat there for a while. Everytime I passed that red Diamondback bike, a little bit more good old guilt pulsed through my veins until action prevailed and I bought a lithium battery and the charger. My boyfriend, Mike, an electrical guy, hooked up a switch for me. I was ready to go! Or was I? What was I afraid of? Fear is such a powerful emotion and can stop you cold, as we all know, from doing something that might benefit you. Best to maintain the habit of the car. I can’t do it. It’s too far. What if I get a flat? What if it starts raining? What if a deer runs across my path, or a squirrel or a cat, and I can’t stop? What if a car runs into me? Actually a car did run into me, many years ago, and that was in Houston and back then I was a little bit of a dare devil, but I am wiser now. (I think.) I had a headache for a day, but having had a concussion when I was six (smacking my forehead on a swingset’s concrete pole) I knew I would survive, but I learned my lesson: do not to race through intersections, be wary of autos with dark windows.
Still, what if for all of my bravado, I failed?
If someone gives you something as grand as an electric bike, only an ungracious and wasteful individual would allow it to rust in the garage, so against all internal objections, I prepared myself: I bought a good solid front light, good solid tail light. Powerful lights. Thirty-five lumens! Judy’s bike came with a sideview mirror – essential for my commute. I had a cell and the number of the mechanic at work who would give me a lift if something happened. I thought carefully about my route: State Street, Cayuga Street, Route 34, Burdick Hill, Triphammer, work. The route home would go through Cayuga Heights – Rt 34 south into Ithaca was too dangerous, the bike lane narrow and lacking an escape route.
Early one warm and bright August morning, I set off on my bike and 45 minutes later, I was triumphantly wheeling the bike into my office, where I plugged it in. It would take a few cents of electricity and 3 hours to juice up for the ride home. My car would have used 2/3 of a gallon of gas (20 miles total), participated in the downtown 4-6 pm Ithaca gridlock, and added about 12 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Burning one gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide – when hydrocarbons break bonds to release energy, the liberated carbon combines with the oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide. I got my exercise and would therefore, save myself some gym fees. When I left work that first night, one of the guys I work with saw me along Triphammer – Not visible enough! – hence, I left the next afternoon wearing a safety yellow vest.
I bike every day into work except when I feel that biking is dangerous for me, and that means, pelting rain, ice or snow. I don’t own any special bikewear, but I do dress in layers and have wind-resistant clothing. I want to be warm when I’m biking, and I can always remove a layer. I have an extra front light, and an extra back light – just in case. I listen for vehicles and watch the road in front of me for obstacles, especially when I bike in the dark. Biking in the dark on empty streets is for me a great pleasure. I’ll never forget discovering the giant glowing Elvis on North Cayuga Street, or how the full moon rose over the lake, or the Halloween and Christmas lights at 6 am. I was there. And when I’ve had a long day at work, each revolution of that Diamondback wheel soothes me, and helps to ease the day’s stress.
I do still drive my Honda, but I don’t drive it nearly as much as I used to. And I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as my ebike. The experience is totally different: on my bike I am experiencing the city, in my car, I am getting through the city.
To make that change from a car-dominated to a bike-dominated lifestyle – and people for the most part are loathe to change anything in their lives – you have to have an imagination. What I’ve discovered about the people in the newly formed Ebike Ithaca organization is that they– Laurence, Chris, Judy, Elan – are all creative people. Creative people are willing to take a risk, which means they are willing to fail, but when they succeed, they move communities forward, and in ways that you might not have ever imagined.