From the Bikeful to the Bikeless Years and Back Again!
"It is said that one never forgets how to ride a bike—and for me that was true. But—what I did forget (or maybe as a kid I never had the feeling) is the heightened sense of connection with people and the everyday things that I encounter on my ride. No car bubbled around me to separate me from the world."
Above: Just one in the Mark Bixby's beguiling images of Debi from 2009. To view Mark's entire series with Debi please click here.
WoBSoCal: Share with us the story of how you decided to start riding your bike to work.
Debi: Like all good stories, this one starts with “Once upon a time…”
The 50s- Once upon a time there was a young girl (me) living in Miami Beach who rode her bike just for the joy of it. “Let’s go biking,” she would say to her friends. She even could ride with “hands up in the air” --the dare-devil that she thought she was.
Then, somewhere around age thirteen she discerned that riding a bike was not “cool.” Driving a car was cool—and luckily for this girl, in Florida she could get a driver’s learning permit at 14 and a full-fledged driver’s license at age 16. Now she could be cool. In her 1966 Red Chevy Camaro with hounds- tooth checked printed seats—she was Uber Cool!
The 60s and 70s- The girl-now a young woman had no need or want of a bicycle. Fast forward as she goes to college, marries, has children--moves to Chicago, to Boston to Philadelphia.
The late 80s—watching the joy of the ride through her kids eyes. Small yearning to experience that bikeful joy again. Planned weekend family bike rides through the environs of Philadelphia. Kids grow-up. Start driving. Everyone back to cars. Bikes with banana seats sit in the garage. Kids move on with their lives.
The late 90s - The woman moves west. California sunshine, ocean waves and long, slow, car commutes to work. Then-approaching 50 she is diagnosed with the dreaded Big “C.” Fights and wins the battle. Lucky. Tick-tick-tick-TOCK. Perspective shifts—life really is too short—time is a-wasting.
21st Century—Woman makes conscious choice. Move closer to work or work closer to home. Less time in car-more time to live. Gas prices soar. Long Beach AWAKENS—“Most Bicycle Friendly City in the Universe” (oh- Mark B. thank you, thank you, thank you.) Woman also awakens. Biking is IN. Biking is “cool.” Biking commuting to work is living the life…a new adventure each time.
What an opportunity—60+ years old, gray hair tucked under helmet—and Uber cool again!! The “hands-up in the air” daredevil of a girl returns! Going around and now coming around. Who could ask for more?
WoBSoCal: What was the biggest surprise about becoming a bike commuter again?
Debi: It is said that one never forgets how to ride a bike—and for me that was true. But—what I did forget (or maybe as a kid I never had the feeling) is the heightened sense of connection with people and the everyday things that I encounter on my ride. No car bubbled around me to separate me from the world.
Of course, I probably have one of the most tranquil bike commutes one could ask for—it is about 5 miles each way. I bike from BeSHO (That’s hip-talk for Belmont Shore) to work near CSULB (Cal State Long Beach). My ride is mostly on separated bike paths and takes me around the Marina, behind the golf course at Pacific Coast Highway and up along the Studebaker Channel to Anaheim Street.
Sea, sand, butterflies, people, boats, water skiers, squirrels, trees, birds, dogs, sea lions, other cyclists, skateboarders, runners, babies in strollers, blue sky, clouds, wind, lights, stars, the moon and touches of Hollywood glam (CSI Miami film shoots) - all rolling by at a sweet, not sweating, pace—speed does not even enter into my biking equation.
WoBSoCal: Tell us about your wonderful hand-crafted helmets!
Debi: Well my helmet is not really handcrafted—it is a low-profile helmet made overseas and designed to accommodate different helmet covers—mostly covers that look like hats. I have just designed different hats that fit over the helmet—some a little zanier than others. I even have one for the winter that looks like a trapper’s hat—faux fur ear muffs and all.
I have tried to find someone to help design and manufacture a low-profile helmet in the US that accommodates hat covers, but so far I have not been successful in doing so. I think there is a market here for bike riders who do not need or want aerodynamic helmets. For adults and kids, the hat covers help protect from the sun (an essential in CA) and add a little “fun” to wearing a helmet. If any of your readers are interested in this venture (or adventure) I would love for them to let us know.
WoBSoCal: Do you remember the first time you met Mark Bixby at your office park? How long after that did he ask if he could take these beautiful images of you?
Debi: The first time I met Mark B. is when he walked up to me, introduced himself and asked if he could take pictures of me on my bike. We worked in the same office building and often he would pass me as I was locking up my bike as he was coming into the office building. Before the “May I take your picture?” introduction, we would smile and make small talk about my biking to work each day.
Mark explained that he had a friend who was doing a bicycle movie about bicycle commuting in Long Beach and he wanted to take the pictures to send to his friend. (His friend turned out to be the wonderful Michael Bauch—and the movie, of course—is Michael’s fab Long Beach Indy film- Riding Bikes with the Dutch). After that—Mark and I became friends and he helped me meet more people and friends in Long Beach. I only knew Mark for a few years—but like his name—he left a mark, a beautiful mark, on my life. I miss him.
I must admit that at first I was taken a back a bit—I had never been approached by a man asking to take pictures of me. I was pretty sure that Mark was legit—but I called my husband to tell him about Mark’s request. My husband chose to be there for the “photo shoot.” Pretty funny in retrospect!
Endnote: After I saw the pictures—I asked Mark if he could Photoshop or airbrush out the wrinkles (I’m so vain!). Anyway—he said that he was getting a new camera—and would do a second shoot. Wish it could have been so- but I treasure those pictures—wrinkles and all.
WoBSoCal: What do you wish more women understood about making a bike ride a part of their life?
I wish I had understood sooner the importance of making “joy rides” a part of my life. For me—biking has become one of my joy rides (see my “Story” above) in addition to some other really neat stuff. I wish I could say that I bike to be kind to Mother Earth or for the benefits of exercise—but I am not that good. Those are just fortunate add-ons. I bike because I still can and because it makes me joyful. I suppose—if either of those components no longer hold—then I will stop—but until then—Happy Trails… Debi.