Your alarm goes off for the third time. You’re officially running late. You hurry through your morning routine, cursing the snooze button and cramming your face full of toast as you dress. You don’t know when the bus will come, but it will either be early or late. Still half asleep, you stand at the bus stop munching the remains of your now-cold toast and wait. The bus lumbers up to the stop five minutes late. The gruff driver doesn’t even acknowledge your outstretched bus pass. You cram on with a mass of other people like sardines in an unopened can.
You only live eight kilometres from school, but it’ll take half an hour for you to get there. Time passes slowly. Your shoulders brush up against a stranger, but you pretend to ignore it, hiding yourself in the music pumping through your headphones. You focus on your phone until your stop arrives and you thrust through the crowded bus to the door.
Edmonton has become a city of cars and construction. People are ferried in and out of the downtown core like exhausted clockwork, clogging the arteries in and out of the city’s centre. There are, however, a few people who decide to do things another way. No matter the weather, they take the side streets and paths on one of the most efficient, cheap and versatile forms of transportation: the bike. We’ve decided to join these folks and ride our bikes to and from work and school.
I could see my breath fog up in front of my face. My rain jacket was zipped high against the wind. One foot was clipped into the pedals on my bike and the other was standing on the ground as I buckled my helmet. Swiftly shooting down the access ramp in front of my apartment building, I silently snuck onto the road and was off. This was what I live for.
The bike beneath me was a fine piece of craftsmanship. The bars were set to a racing angle, the thin tires crunched through leaves that had blown onto the street, and the gears made absolutely no sound. When I shifted gears, there was almost no sensation. For any well-tuned machine, sound is death. The noise an engine makes stems from inefficiency — lost energy that becomes sound waves. My bike had none of that. Instead, it had the silence of a precision tool — a tool that I had made, maintained and had grown a part of.
I’ve been riding my bike everywhere for just over a year now. I made it my personal mission to ride my bike regardless of the weather. I figured I had either the skills or wherewithal to be fairly comfortable riding my bike in whatever weather Edmonton could throw at me. For the most part, I was right. Winter didn’t stop me from riding. I stuck it out through the cold months and had some amazing solo experiences in the winter trails, as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes with rolling up to the university and knowing that I was the only one with a bike on the rack. In the summer, I found the sense of community that comes with group riding. Riding my bike has opened up both a world of solitude, which I craved, and one of companionship.
I rounded the corner onto 102 Avenue, swerving around a driver in a white SUV who evidently had something else on his mind. I dropped my gloved hands into the dropouts and put my head down. I snuck through the quiet early morning, leaving no trace of my existence on the damp road behind me.
Biking has opened a world up to me that I hadn’t considered previously. [pullquote]When I ride a bike, I am automatically a part of my surroundings.[/pullquote] I become a part of the city I am in and must react accordingly. Drivers are separated from their environment. They see it pass by through a window while maintaining relative comfort. They don’t hear the construction beside them, or feel the road beneath their feet at a stoplight. They sit down in a leather chair in their garage and are transported through the city in a containment pod until they arrive at their destination.
I was feeling far from contained as I zipped along 102 Avenue towards downtown. Lightly bundled, the temperature was perfect for riding. The air had a West Coast feel to it that was usually only found on Vancouver Island. It was almost as though I could ride to the ocean; I had to remember that I was actually in the prairies. That’s one of the things that makes Edmonton different from most cycling cities. Here, the city planners were uninhibited by the natural borders of mountains and oceans. They could sprawl out infinitely into the plains that surrounded the city. This, along with the opulence that comes with quick oil, led to an abundance of suburbs, making it difficult for people to commute by bike.
There wasn’t anyone on the path as I rode by it that morning. The early hour made most people more inclined to stay between their sheets for as long as possible. That suited me just fine. I took a left on the multi-use trail leading north to 104 Avenue. While Edmonton’s multi-use trails are few and far between (and tend to go only in one direction), they make zipping through the city much easier and safer. Traffic was crawling on 109 Street as I rushed past on a grassy park path. I could hear the nearby busy street, with its cars, busses and people, but on the path there was no sound. I drew silent breaths to the back of my throat.
To me, biking is an expression of individuality. In a car, the driver is one of a thousand sitting in the same atmosphere each day. There is complacency in the habit of driving, and biking gets me away from that. My bike is an extension of myself. It is an object in which I take pride, and that I have made my own. While it is an expression of individuality, it is also a community builder. People who ride enter into a community that sticks with them for life. The bike bonds us together into a tribe of people with a common interest that is more than just a way of transportation. It becomes a way of life.
As I pulled up to the bike racks and saw the diversity of gleaming metal steeds locked together, I smiled. Having more people on bikes changes the city from an endless line of cars into a group of people who are committed to improving the way things are, one pedal stroke at a time.