Why cycling—and the world—would be better if we all stopped driving to rides
Ours is a culture that thrives on dichotomy: iOS versus Android; Coke versus Pepsi; the current presidential administration versus pretty much everyone; and of course the eternal battle—cars versus bikes.
Despite all the acrimony out there on the roads, the fact is that cars and bikes are not mutually exclusive. The anti-bike contingent may blather on about how those entitled cyclists don't pay for the roads (a claim too profoundly stupid to address here), but most of those cyclists also own cars. Indeed, many of us even use those cars to drive to our rides.
I say we should stop.
Now I should disclose that over the years I've done more than my share of driving to the ride. I still do it sometimes. And I'm definitely not above hitching a ride back home with friends or family if we just so happen to wind up at the same place at the same time.
Nevertheless, as my responsibilities increase and my riding time decreases I'd give anything to have back just a few of the many hours I've squandered behind the wheel in my youth. When I consider how that two-hour ride book-ended by an hour of driving each way could have instead been four hours of solid saddletime (something that as a parent I mostly just dream about now) I am wracked with regret. This is how it must feel to have been an investor in Juicero, Inc.
The fact that I was wasting my cycling life by using a car to ride didn't dawn on my right away. It was more of a creeping realization, reaffirmed by watching people pull up to suburban mountain bike trails in large SUVs, don body armor, and inflate their tires with air compressors just to ride over a few logs for 30 minutes.
Hey, I understand the temptation. When you've got limited time, hopping in a car can mean the difference between doing the same old thing and changing the routine. It's also fun to get a group together, pile in, and take a little road trip. And maybe your immediate surroundings simply aren't conducive to cycling.
But that last reason is exactly why we need to disassociate cars and bikes. Few inventions are as seductive as the motor vehicle, but they also turn everything they touch to shit. The story of the car is one of suburban sprawl and urban blight. It's convenience run amok. It's pollution, crumbling infrastructure, and over 30,000 road deaths a year. It's kids no longer riding or walking to school because thanks to car-dependence the drop-off has devolved into something that resembles troop deployment. It's why your neighborhood is such a lousy place to ride a bike in the first place, and why you're now loading your bike onto your car to get away from it.
And the car is doing to your riding what it did to your suburb. Let's consider that rider in the full-face helmet and shin guards unloading his Rube Goldberg-esque full-suspension pedal-powered motocross bike from his spotless 4×4 complete with Armor Alled tires and unsullied winch. He's traveled maybe six miles to get here, and he'll squander more time loading and unloading his gear than he'll spend actually riding–which is why he's not very good at it. (Though this won't stop him from uploading videos of himself riding over those small logs.)
It's different when you ride to the ride. First, you choose a less stupid bicycle. You know, one that can handle the trails but also doesn't suck on the way to the trails. Maybe it's even (gasp) rigid. Same goes for road riding. Plenty of riders shuttle their aero bikes to the regional Strava segment so they don't have to fight all those crosswinds or wobble awkwardly through traffic on their aerobars. Anyway, that's all just "junk miles," right? Of course not. Miles are miles, and the only wasted ones are those spent splayed out over your cockpit with your head down like you're getting a cavity search. In any sane world all road bikes would be comfortable and there would be no such thing as aerobars.
This in turn makes you a better rider. You build endurance. You arrive at the trail already warmed up. Instead of loading a bunch of crap into a car you think about what you're going to need and you figure out how you're going to carry it. Sure, if you're into gear then loading up a car can be fun, but racks, bags, and panniers can be even more fun.
All of this leads to better decision making. Ever drive three hours to a road race only to get dropped five miles in, or drive six hours to a 45-minute cyclocross race only to get lapped? What's the lesson there? Is it to train harder so you do better next year? Or is it that instead of spending an entire day traveling and paying to ride your bike for a very short time you could have rolled right out the front door and spent all day on your bike for free?
Hey, if you went with lesson one I'm sure there are some great fitness tips on this website, but if you went with number two then congratulations, because it only gets better from here.
Most importantly, more people riding closer to home means…more cyclists close to your home, and this is ultimately what moves cycling forward. If nobody advocates for bike paths or trail access they don't happen, and if everyone's going somewhere else to ride it just helps the NIMBYs who overwhelm those municipal meetings claim that "nobody around here bikes."
Of course everybody's situation is different, and there are doubtless plenty for whom driving to the ride is the only choice. As for rest of us, sure, driving to the ride is better than driving to a gym to ride a stationary bike, but only slightly. And while it may seem easier sometimes, this is also the same attitude that gave us the shopping mall, so at the very least give it a little thought beforehand and ask, "Is this trip really necessary?"