In the Rabbit’s Head

When it comes to looking out for myself, I often think I would do well to think like a rabbit.  I’m specifically thinking about my bicycle trips to and from work.

Yesterday was “bike to work day”.  I had planned to bike to work, but with the rain coming down, I figured I’d skip it.  Then, while eating breakfast early in the morning, I checked my email.  An email from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia notified me that, rain or shine, they would have stations set up in Philadelphia with La Colombe coffee, snacks and other support for the thousands of cyclists that would be biking to work that day.  There would be a special group ride (I assume for people with unfixed work hours) starting at 8:30, and a press conference at 9:00 with civic leaders about making Philadelphia more bike friendly.  My commute is in South Jersey, so no chance of grabbing that cup of coffee, but this gave me the impetus to go ahead and ride, and not worry about the rain.

While I enjoy biking to work, it is far more dangerous than driving.  Adding rain to the ride makes it that much more of a challenge.  We have a few rabbits living in our backyard.  They munch on our grass, look longingly at our fenced-in vegetable garden, but are always on critical alert.  Their long ears stand up, and turn to face the sound of the gate opening.  Their eyes are ever open, and they are ready to move, or bolt, when they sense danger.  I think of the rabbits often as I ride to work.  I’ve gotten to know the route very well.  I know every grate, pot hole, rough spot, crack, traffic light, narrow spot, entering roadway, curve and even where deer sometimes come running across the roadway.  If I leave for work at 6:00 AM, I get passed by only about 20 cars and pickups on my ride, which is about 25 minutes.  If I leave at 6:30, that number about quadruples.  If I leave at 7:00, there is a constant stream of traffic all the way.  I like to imagine that the drivers at 6:00 are less likely to be talking on their cellphones, since there would be fewer people awake with whom to talk.  Most days, I need to be at work by 6:30, so the decision is made, but even when I’m not due in until 8:00, I will leave early to make the ride safer.

I think having a rabbit-like sense of danger is healthy for bike commuters, for we are the small, vulnerable animal on the road.  Keen hearing, sharp eyes, and an ever-present sense of danger are critical elements of the ride.  Why do it, then?  I will list several reasons.

It is a way to work in some physical activities into my day which I would otherwise not be able to do.  Twenty five minutes of riding twice a day adds up when done regularly.  While I can only ride three days a week, I definitely benefit from the exercise.  Not driving the car means less products of combustion ascending skyward.  Less oil consumption.  Granted, it is an infinitesimal subtraction from the total emissions of the day if one looks globally.  But, this brings up a question I’ve considered while riding, which is, what about my CO2 output and my energy consumption.  Is there no consequence of increasing one’s metabolism to ride to work, burning calories and producing CO2?  As it happens, a study has been done.  According to a study done by the European Cycling Commission, the CO2 produced by a cyclist is about 21 gm per kilometer.  For a driver in an efficient car, that amount is 271 gm and for a passenger on a bus, the average is 101 gm.   What about the cost of the fuel to ride my bike?  By that, I mean, the cost of the food I need to eat to cover the energy expenditure of my ride.  One could calculate this in many ways.  But, if I burn about 750 kcals total for the round trip, one can put that in food costs.  If I were to replace that with a muffin from Starbucks, about 380 kcals for a blueberry muffin at about $2.25 each, I would need to eat two to get my calorie needs met.  By eating some rice and beans, the cost would be far less.  Your choice.

I enjoy the sense of freedom I get riding my bike.  Maybe this hearkens back to childhood, when one’s bike was a ticket to adventure.  I also like the camaraderie with fellow cyclists on the road, who, at 6:00 AM, are frequently commuting to work.  On the way to work, the cars pass me.  But, on the way home, with traffic tie-ups, I can frequently breeze by a long line of cars waiting at a traffic light.  Ultimately, they catch and pass me, but it may be several miles down the road.

Yet, the danger is there.  Rain adds another dimension, of slippery roads, decreased visibility both for car drivers and for me, and reckless motorists who don’t think physics applies to them, with decreased tire friction, longer stopping distances, and so on.  I dress in bright yellows and reds, and have my blinking tail light and headlight on.  I put my mind in the head of the rabbit, knowing that those beasts of steel and glass are eying me as a target, keep my ears tuned and eyes open, look for the cues that tell me someone is about to do something evil, keep my hands on the brake levers, have an escape plan, and hopefully, get to work in one piece, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

DSC_1253a

Set to ride on a cool morning.

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6 Comments

  1. Maria

     /  May 19, 2018

    I enjoyed reading your blog as always, Frank! I’m curious how much of the year it’s possible for you to make the commute by bike.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I usually get my first rides in in March, but can’t really make a habit of it until it is light at 6:00, in May. I can go to late September.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

     /  May 20, 2018

    Keep it up Frank!
    I occasionally see a rider bike commuting (I assume) on Rt.38 prior to 5:30am when I’m driving to the gym to teach spin class. This time of year there is some light but I’ve seen him at any time of year and he rides in the dark, in dark clothing, with no lights front or rear. It’s only the reflectors on his pedals that make him the slightest bit visible!

    Reply
  3. It depends a lot on the road setup for the route into work. I live in Richmond, VA and I’ve been doing this for at least 5 years. I’m well aware that it would be incredibly easy to just be mowed down, due to malice or distraction, but that’s a very constant and actually small threat. I think it makes sense for bicyclists to try to be as friendly on the road as possible to help minimize these. When I pass someone at an intersection, I usually smile and wave, and mostly get the same response back. I think that nudges awareness a bit. It also feels good.

    Safety should always be in your mind, but it need not be a source of constant fear. I’ve had some falls over the years, and that has taught me to be very focused on my ride. However, I can’t say that I spend much time worrying other than to review my safety procedures and to make sure I’m paying attention. Paying attention also makes rides more rewarding.

    I did look around and found the following site on bicycling – http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet_crash.cfm#No1. I do find it encouraging that at least one insurance company gives life insurance discounts to regular bicyclists.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your very interesting and thoughtful comment. I agree with what you say. I also don’t worry too much, but these are automatic responses like instincts. I also practice courtesy and obey the laws, and feel that makes, as you say, for driver awareness and better relations. Thanks again.

      Reply

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