When I moved to San Francisco, I sold my car. It was the smartest, most practical thing I could’ve done after moving clear across the country from Maryland with no job, but I digress…
“You don’t need a car in San Francisco,” they said. “Even if you have a car, it’s impossible to find parking in San Francisco,” they said. They were right on both counts.
The day after I moved to San Francisco, I bought a bike. It was a red Specialized Rockhopper, and it was sharp. That bike turned into my sole mode of transportation — until it got stolen in Golden Gate Park. Then, I got another Specialized Rockhopper, in blue this time. It, too, was my ride, until it, too, got stolen (in Union Square). Then I got a silver Gary Fisher. It’s been my go-to ride for nearly a decade. It hasn’t been stolen yet — at least not all at once. So far I’ve kept the frame, despite having three saddles, two seat posts, two wheels and countless lights taken from it. But it’s still my ride, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Actually, this isn’t a story about bike theft in San Francisco (though it is a rampant problem).
This story is about biking to work, about tapping into that childlike exuberance and turning something mundane (commuting) into something joyful, fun and sometimes scary. Yes, commuting by bike can be an emotional roller-coaster. No, it’s not for everyone. But for those of us with slight daredevil tendencies, it’s heaven.
There’s nothing like being on a bike. Beyond being practical and efficient, fun and empowering, it addresses some of our society’s big issues: being sedentary, not getting outside, causing pollution.
Biking also taps into that feeling of gratitude that, ironically, mostly yogis talk about. When I make it to the office or back home, there’s an element of relief and a major feeling of appreciation, accomplishment and gratitude to the universe for just simply making it. (If you’ve ever biked in a major city through rush hour, you know.) But, yes, unlike my non-cycling coworkers, I’m exhilarated and grateful for being in one piece when I get to my desk. And even though I don’t count my two-mile commute as a workout, it does feel good to have gotten my blood pumping.
Now, I don’t want to sugar-coat it. Every day is a battle. No joke: Me versus Muni buses. Me versus Google buses. Me versus delivery trucks, SUVs, stressed-out people trying to get to work themselves, Uber and Lyft drivers (usually driving silent Priuses), motorcycles and scooters, Chariot drivers, taxis, kids on electric skateboards, middle-agers on electric bikes… the list goes on.
Then there’s the state of the streets. In San Francisco, they’re pretty dismal. Deep and plentiful potholes, everywhere. Then there are metal grates and cable car tracks, and even the paint on the roads gets slick sometimes. And there’s the weather. While the temps stay relatively moderate (between 50–70°F), there’s the wind, fog, rain, winter darkness and other elements to contend with. Oh, and the hills. It is San Francisco, after all.
But, on the flip side, there’s also the fact that I literally pedal myself to work — by my own strength and will. I am self-propelled. My legs — my whole body — physically transports me from home to work and back. Also, there’s that underdog mentality: Little old me on my heavy, old mountain bike. I’m doing this! I pass fancy cars — Maseratis, Bentleys, BMWs, Mercedes — all stuck helplessly in bumper-to-bumper traffic. (You can’t not feel like a badass when a Maserati can’t keep up!)
The bottom line is this: I know that whenever I get to work, I arrive happy to be alive, if not a bit warm.