Bikeless in Portland

I have a confession to make:

I am not a bike person. I know that’s a horrible and awful thing to admit, especially in Portland, the place for bike-friendly commuting, and at PSU, the bike-friendly campus, but I just am not a bike person. Period. In some circles, that earns me the unfair title of lazy car lover contributing to pollution. But my reasons for not being a bike person have nothing to do with an obsessive love of cars or a lack of desire to be active. I just don’t see bicycles as the end-all, be-all for future transit options (nor are cars my favorite means for commuting, but given the obstacles to commuting via horseback, I opt for either buses or driving a well-maintained car with good gas mileage).

That doesn’t mean I don’t like bike people. A sizeable subgroup in my grad-school cohort commutes to and from PSU via bicycle, and has much fun (and are in excellent shape to boot). I can admire their lovely wheels, their discipline and diligence, the pragmatics of bike baskets that fold up or down as needed – but those dang bikes just don’t work for me.

I’m bike-impaired. I always have been. Even back in my broke undergrad days at the U of O, I rarely rode my bike to classes. Sometimes I got bold and commuted via bike, but even when I lived a mile and a half from campus, I found it easier just to pull on the tenny runners and hike the distance rather than straddle the bike. The commute was level and pretty easy, with a lot of non-busy street route, but I wasn’t into the bike. I’m not sure why that was. Later on, when I had to lug the heavy-framed thing up and down a narrow staircase near campus, that might have been an issue, but before then … I don’t know.

Maybe it was the years I lived in the country, when biking on the roads meant dancing with log trucks on a narrow, busy road with soft gravel shoulders and deep ditches. I always felt safer on horseback with the nasty-tempered witchy mare. Perhaps because in dire straits I could jump her out of the way and stay upright; perhaps because a thousand pounds of horseflesh was a more substantial obstacle when facing cars than a bike. In any case, I didn’t do much bike riding as a kid, and as a middle-aged adult, still feel uncomfortable on a bike.

Exercise aversion hasn’t been the issue. I have no problems with walking. I ran regularly when I studied at the U of O (until I tore a hip ligament), and I happily ride an exercise bike when I work out. Meanwhile, my 10-speed collects dust in the garage and I flinch at the thought of pulling it out and hitting the street. I’d sooner hop on a bus if I don’t drive. After all, what are bus passes for, anyway, if not to use for commuting to and from school?

The rants of hard-core Bike Nazis don’t help me, either. Most of the time they spew shame in an attempt to promote the use of their favorite mode of transport. But all I see are the idiots who run red lights, or folks like the fellow a couple of years ago who came whizzing up on my right-hand side at a stop sign, then turned sharply in front of me without looking or stopping. Then there’s the horror story of one of my fellow students recounting the challenges of being a slower bike rider on the Hawthorne Bridge during the summer. Seems some of the Bike Nazis have no qualms being rude to other bicyclists (as well as pedestrians) if need be. And as for Critical Mass … well, let’s not go there, shall we?

The reasons for my lack of bike-riding pleasure pile up quickly. I don’t trust my balance on a bicycle. Never have. The concept of shifting gears hasn’t worked for me. No matter what I do, I end up in the hardest gear of all. Either that or I manage to pop the chain off the gear with the greatest of ease. Someone else can ride the cussed bike without popping off the chain. Not me.

For pleasure, I’d sooner amble along on my own two feet or ride a horse along the trail. It’s much more fun on horseback (especially with the “Oops! There’s a horse-eating stump over there!” moments) than when I’m grimly hunched over the bike.

Still, I admire the ingenuity of the fellow featured in the daily paper who did his entire move via bicycle (with the help of his friends) and those folks who incorporate bicycles into their daily lives. That doesn’t mean I’m about to take up the practice myself.

After all, someone’s got to keep Tri-Met in business. Failing that, I’ll resort to the time-honored practice of walking, or, if I get so lucky as to live where I can commute via horseback, on the back of an opinionated but trusty four-legged beast.