Voices: Save the world, ride a bike

Have you ever thought about riding a bicycle to campus?

If you’re the quintessential starving student like me, then chances are you have. For me, the thought first crossed my mind when the price of gasoline crossed the $2 per gallon mark (remember the golden age of $2 per gallon just two years ago?), and every visit to the pump felt like landing on Boardwalk in a game of Monopoly.

Then again, automobiles have no shortage of drawbacks that give rise to such dissident thoughts. Perhaps you’ve longed for an alternative while idling in traffic, prowling for parking spaces or navigating the latest road construction obstacle course. Maybe you dislike air pollution, motor vehicle fatalities, suburban sprawl, expanding waistlines or other secondary effects inflicted on us by a single-occupant-vehicle society, where it seems that all people must drive to all places to do all things.

Let’s face it. Your relationship with your car is abusive, but you don’t have to take it! Kick your car to the curb and start a new, loving relationship with your bike today.

Here is the painless play-by-play to commuting freedom.

Get a bike, and/or get your bike in working order. If you’re buying a bike, check out your local bike shop and not the big box store, because the guy at the big box store who doesn’t know where toothpaste is also doesn’t know how to correctly assemble your bicycle.

If money is an issue, consider stopping by the non-profit SLC Bicycle Collective (www.slcbikecollective.org) that can hook you up with a donated, refurbished bicycle for cheaper than $100. The Collective also has an extension on campus that can help you with all of your maintenance needs (www.ubike.org).

If you already have a bike, dust your ride off and check it out. Any problems? Again, you can visit your local bike shop or the Collective — free of charge — and the personnel can help you straighten them out.

Next, decide how far you are willing to ride. Even if the U is farther away than you want to pedal, chances are that a major bus or TRAX stop falls within your zone. Or, since the U is up a hill, take the bus to school and just ride your bike home.

Either way, it’s important to recognize that riding your bike is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Start with something that you know you can do and gradually increase the distance you ride.

Plan a route. Look at a map to consider your options. If the U is too far away, consult the Utah Transit Authority’s website. If the U is within your realm of pedaling, pick a route that you will feel safe riding. The Collective offers free courses that can teach you how to share the road with other vehicles. Check out this link to find bike paths in Salt Lake City: www.slcgov.com/transportation/bicycletraffic/mapLinks..

Commit to riding to the U once or twice a week. Remember, it’s not all or nothing! Gradually increase the number of days that you ride and repeat the process with other destinations. Most trips taken by car are fewer than 10 miles. Why not try riding your bike instead of driving? Eventually, you can be car-free.

I doubt that anyone disagrees that there are many benefits to cycling. Every time it has come up in conversation that I ride a bicycle, the commentary is unanimously supportive. So, if folks agree that bicycles are great, then why don’t they ride them?

If you ask these same people that question, you’ll get a long list of reasons for why they leave their bicycles in the garage. In reality, the inherent and insolvable problems people see in cycling really aren’t as problematic as they believe.

For example, weather was cited as the top reason for not riding a bicycle by 270 students surveyed last spring in a poll conducted by the Collective. Even though Utah is a four-season state, how often is it really snowing or raining? Furthermore, if the weather is sunny and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but you’re wearing three sweaters and long black pants, is the weather bad, or are you just overdressed? Bad weather can be overcome with a simple solution such as appropriate clothing (you could even change clothes once you’ve arrived at your destination), as can many of the other obstacles people see with cycling, but you have to want a solution instead of a justification for the status quo.

So, the next time you find yourself fuming over how you have been burned yet again by your car or gas prices, remember that you can stick it to both the man and your car.

Whether you are riding for recreation, fitness, competition or as a primary means of transportation, I believe that you, our university and our community will be better because of it.

Jon Wilkey is the co-director of the University Bicycle Collective.