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Think outside the box: Beyond trains, planes, and automobiles

What if I were to tell you there’s a type of transportation that has no engine and consumes no fuel?

Photo by Andrew Gook on Unsplash

How many of you think of “transportation” as an engine in a box? Such as trains, planes, and automobiles?

How many think that the closest you can get to carbon-free transportation is electric vehicles, even though electricity itself isn’t carbon-free?

That’s what I thought. What if I were to tell you there’s a type of transportation that:

    • Has no engine.
    • Has no box.
    • Consumes no fuel.
    • Generates no carbon. (Literally none. Zip. Nada. Not a molecule.)
    • Costs almost nothing to buy and maintain.
    • Uses simple, reliable, well-known technology.
    • You probably already have it. (You don’t need to spend a dollar or a day.)

Hear me out: It’s a bicycle. All you really need, besides the bike itself, is the original two-stroke engine: your legs. And the most confining box isn’t metal, it’s mental.

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Misconceptions about biking

It’s too dangerous. Drivers in the Twin Cities are good about “sharing the road.” Minneapolis has been called the most bikeable city in the U.S.  In general, if you behave predictably on your bike — i.e. follow the rules of the road — drivers know where you’ll be, and will give you space. If you prefer physically protected bikeways, Minneapolis and St. Paul have miles of them, in addition to miles of separate bike trails, e.g. Three Rivers or the Greenway. For more information on biking safety, see Minnesota Bicycling Handbook by BikeMN.

It’s too far. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, in 2017 nearly 60% of all vehicle trips were less than six miles. That’s the perfect distance to hop on a bike.

It’s too expensive. I’ve seen used bikes for $35. My annual tune-up ranges from $100 to $200. AAA says the true annual cost of a car is $9,282. Besides, how much do you spend on that gym you never go to? Roads are free.

It’s too cold. As we Minnesotans say, dress in layers.

I’ll arrive at work sweaty. See above (dress in layers). Take your time. Or shower when you get to work.

I need a sexy biking outfit. Use whatever is in your closet now. Go for comfort.

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I need buns of steel. This is how you get them.

It takes too long. There are never traffic jams in the bike lane.

Keith Heiberg
Keith Heiberg
It’s too tiring. You don’t have to hurry. Some folks like to take longer, faster rides on weekends, then they’re in shape for their regular slow weekday commute. More physical energy also means more mental energy. Even if you’re sitting still, you’ll be able to focus better. And when your body is strong and flexible, you’re less likely to get stiff and sore.

I’m too old. When my grandmother turned 101, I told her I was looking forward to her 102nd birthday. She said, “It’s just a number.” And she was right. Age is not a number, it’s how you live.

I can’t carry stuff. Add baskets or panniers. I just use a backpack.

I can’t travel at night. Add lights and reflectors. Lots of folks also wear high-visibility clothing.

I can’t haul kids. Add a trailer. Or consider a cargo bike or a Trail-a-Bike.

I need go with someone, and my friends don’t bike. There are lots of biking groups. Try Meetup.com. Or google it. Or check out Eight reasons why riding alone is better than riding in a group.

There’s no good biking music. My favorite is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

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A bike helmet looks dorky, and gives me helmet hair. The Hövding bicycle collar is an alternative to the traditional helmet, and is increasingly popular in Europe. Or you can shower when you get to work. Or, if you wear helmet hair with enough panache, you can create a new fashion.

I might catch cold. For most of my life, with the arrival of cold weather every autumn, I would stop biking and come down  with a cold or flu. But the first year I lived in Boston, the winter was so mild that I kept biking — and didn’t get sick!

It sounds counterintuitive, I know. Here’s what I think happened: As I biked, the weather gradually got colder, and my immune system had the chance to gradually ramp up. (That’s the key: gradually.) So when the usual cold and flu bugs made the rounds, my beefed-up immune system handled them easily.

Maybe someone could survey the number of sick days by workers who commute by bike vs. bus vs. private vehicle, and see who stays healthiest. They might also see who arrives with oxygen pumping through their bloodstream, ready to hit the ground running. (My guess: the cyclists.)

Need more? Check out “Drive Sharper, Live Longer, Look Sexier And 42 Other Reasons To Ride A Bicycle In 2019,” by Carlton Reid, in Forbes.

Ready to escape the box, and the carbon cycle? Hop on your bike.

Keith Heiberg volunteers for MN350, Our Streets Minneapolis, BikeMN, and First Unitarian Society’s Climate Justice Team. 

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