The bicycle, not the motor car: From personal fitness to national security, you’d be surprised what a bike can bring you

I have made a commitment to use my bicycle as my primary means of transportation. I will drive only if the errand is one that cannot be done on the bicycle, or if the reasons for not using the bicycle are compelling.

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Published January 14, 2007 by The Charleston Gazette 
By Bruce Alan Wilson 

West Virginia – I have made a commitment to use my bicycle as my primary means of transportation. I will drive only if the errand is one that cannot be done on the bicycle, or if the reasons for not using the bicycle are compelling.

By doing this, I am saving money, not only in gas, but in wear and tear on my vehicle. I am also reducing my contribution to Islamic terrorism. Every one of us, willing or not, is supporting Islamic terrorism because most of our oil comes from countries who are giving money and material support to the terrorists. And yes, I’m talking about you, Saudi Arabia, among others.

I’m also doing my bit to cut back on air pollution. If you breathe, you should thank me.

Furthermore, I am doing my part to remove West Virginia from the list of most obese states. Since I have started using my bicycle whenever possible, I have lost a great deal of both weight and girth, and my general health has improved. And, oddly enough, the more I do it, the more I find that I can do it. That is, trips and errands for which I would have felt compelled to use my car, even six months ago, are now very much within the realm of possibility for the bicycle. Most errands are within 10 miles of home, and most of those are within five. For any reasonably healthy adult, this is very much cycling distance. Try it. You might even like it.

Finally, by not being encased in a steel cocoon, I find myself more a part of the community than I was before. I notice what is happening around me. I notice the comings and goings, the changes (for good or ill) along my various routes, and the people living and working there.

To motorists, especially those who blow their horns at me, yell at me and throw things at me, I would remind you that by the laws of the State of West Virginia, the other 49 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, bicyclists have as much right to use the public roadways as automobiles. Perhaps I am not going fast enough to please you, but will anyone die if you are a few minutes late? Not likely. So relax — you’ll live longer.

To those who yell at me to “get on the sidewalk,” by the Charleston City Code, it is against the law for bicyclists to use the sidewalk; most other cities have similar provisions. I have no intention of breaking the law to please you, and it is improper for you to ask me to.

To my fellow-cyclists, I beseech you to remember that by the laws of the State of West Virginia (and of the other polities mentioned above), bicycles are considered vehicles, and we are supposed to obey the Rules of the Road. If we ride at night, we should have lights. We should ride with, not against, the traffic, and we should ride on the road, not on the sidewalk. Riding against the traffic, on the sidewalk or at night without lights, are all not only illegal, but also dangerous, not only to ourselves but to others. And yes, the teenager who nearly knocked me over on the sidewalk when I was walking by the hospital, I am talking to you; and, the middle-aged man whom I nearly collided with on the boulevard bike path because I didn’t see you until I was almost on top of you because you were riding without lights at 9 p.m., I am talking to you. The kid could at least plead youthful ignorance. It is people who do such foolish, dangerous and illegal things that give all cyclists a bad name, and you should stop it forthwith.

Last of all, to those who have reservations about converting the Florida Street railway bridge to a bicycle and pedestrian path, I would invite you to go to www.railstotrails.org to see what a boon similar projects have been to other communities across the country, and indeed, if you will examine the Mon River and Greater Wheeling trail systems, right here in West Virginia. For those of us who, either from choice or necessity, do not drive very much, crossing the Kanawha River is difficult. Between the Southside Bridge and Patrick Street, there is no other way for us, and both of these are problematic for cyclists.

I close with a quotation from A Hovel in the Hills by Elizabeth West:

“When man invented the bicycle, he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.”

Wilson lives in Charleston.