I wanted a red bike more than anything in the world for my 5th birthday. So on a summer day in July of 1971 I was given a beautiful, red, Schwinn Stingray bike with big handlebars, chrome fenders, black "banana" seat with a silver stripe down the middle and a "sissy bar." The front tire had a brick pattern and the rear tire was a wide slick tread. This bike was a no frills bike, I wasn’t having anything to do with flowers or pink or tassels. The bike was way too big for me, but I didn't care, it was mine and I was going to learn how to ride it. My dad took me out on the sidewalk, steadied me and then ran behind me countless times until I was able to ride; training wheels were not an option. I must have fallen a hundred times before I rode it down the street. That single gift changed the trajectory of my life more than any other. On my Stingray I was able to go farther, faster, and be more brave and confident. In a neighborhood of boys and at a time when Evel Kneivel was our hero and BMX was just beginning I learned to be a daredevil on my Stingray. It was only a few years before I had the bike going off jumps, and doing wheelies.
My bike was the center of my world.
By the time I got to junior high I had outgrown my Stingray and was ready to move up in the biking world. I had to have a Schwinn Varsity with a rack to carry my books. I scraped and saved and begged and pleaded and finally got a used Schwinn Varsity from a local bike shop. I had found a new love, my 10 speed. I rode it everywhere; to school, the library, friend's houses, the beach, around the block a million times, to my old neighborhood across town, there was nowhere too far. So it went for rest of my adolescence. My bike was my transportation. If I wanted to go somewhere I went by bike. I rode on hot days, cold days, rainy days and at night. This continued until I graduated from high school and went through every teenager’s rite of passage in 1984 and bought my first car. Over the next several years as I was forced to go farther for school and jobs, my bike sat in the garage neglected. I still felt I should be riding it though. Periodically I would take it out, but not as often. Then one day my younger brother, hot rodding in the driveway in his car, skidded into my Schwinn Varsity and bent the frame. I was angry and devastated. Now what do I do? I went on a quest for a new bike. What I settled on was a rugged, red Univega Mountain Bike with knobby tires and 18 gears. It was awesome until I crashed it on a dirt road, over the handlebars and into the stream I went. I bent the forks, the rim and popped the tire. The bike was never quite the same after I fixed it, so I sold it and moved onto a newer, sleeker more agile mountain bike.
Over the years I dabbled in mountain biking, riding for the adventure and reliving my daredevil days as a child. My life got busy, responsible, and overbooked and my bike got hung up in the garage. It hung there until I had enough of a busy, responsible and overbooked life. My days of mountain biking were over so I decided to get a new bike. I thought long and hard about what type I wanted. Did I want a beach cruiser? Hybrid? Road? How did I see myself as a bike rider? How far did I want to go? I always thought bike touring would be fun. After much thought I decided I wanted to go far, a road bike was what I wanted. I plunked my money down on a Giant Avail road bike, red and black. When I road it for the first time I felt like I had just been put behind the wheel of a sports car. It was swift, agile, and light and the most comfortable bike I had ever ridden. I bought it to be a recreational bike rider. Little did I know, six months later I would become a bike commuter.
A year ago I sold my car and have been on my bike ever since. Surprisingly, it was an easy decision. The car at the time was an unnecessary financial burden and could be used to pay off some debt. When things are meant to be they happen without effort. A few days after deciding to sell the car, a coworker was driving it away and I was on my way to being a bike commuter.
Interestingly, when I told people what I was going to do, the one question I was asked the most was "What if it rains?" I thought it was such a strange question since I live in Southern California where rain is not the dominant weather condition. Nobody asked about 100 degree and humid days, fog, 37 degree morning commutes, or inattentive drivers.
So for the past year I have been on the bike logging nearly 1800 miles commuting. I have learned how to get groceries (pannier bags are awesome). I can get 30 pounds of dog food and a case of cat food (a trailer is a miracle). I ride to work, doctor appointments, errands, and just for the fun of it. People have offered to pick me up or let me use their car and most times I politely decline the offer. I will not be a fair weather bike rider or let distance define my world. This is what I have chosen to do and I will learn how to adapt.
This past year has been an adventure in trying on a new life and it seems to fit pretty well.
Krista Leaders has been mostly car-free since November 22, 2011. She lives and works in Long Beach, CA. as a Project Manager for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, a bike-friendly business district. She recently became a League of American Bicyclists, LCI Cycling Instructor as a scholarship recipient from Women on Bikes.