Triumphs and Trials of a Cyclist’s Car-Free Lifestyle: Witty stories of getting gritty traveling on two wheels, by @mininthecity

Triumphs and Trials of a Cyclist’s Car-Free Lifestyle

Witty stories of getting gritty traveling on two wheels.

sun2.jpg Sunset ride. Source: Photo by Author.

Flat tires, forgotten wallets, blizzards, thunderstorms, road ragers, dead cell phones… How do these problems affect cyclists differently than car drivers? I’ve learned first-hand the determination it takes to triumph, or at least survive, on two wheels. Some call it grit. Since selling my car and living a more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve felt it.

Deflated.

I’ve experienced two startling tire blowouts while driving cars. (I’m using the word “car” to refer to any four-wheeled motor vehicle). Thankfully I veered into shallow ditches, not oncoming traffic, or a tree. No one was seriously injured although I felt as though my heart nearly stopped. I waited comfortably in the car until help arrived in one case. The next time, I locked the car and left it to be towed later. No grit required.

When a bicycle tire goes flat, I can’t sit comfortably inside its shelter or lock the doors and walk away. I have to carry my vehicle along, at least far enough to lock it to something secure. This is often difficult to find, even within the metropolis I’m usually pedaling in. Currently bicycle theft in Minneapolis is rampant and I’m not confident leaving mine anywhere other than under my derriere (buttocks) for too long. It is my main form of transportation. If I remember to bring a bike lock (I’ve been called “easily distractible”) hopefully a suitable short-term locking option is available. I’ve learned through inconvenient experiences to carry a spare tire tube and tools with me. I’m learning to change a flat myself.

bikeatfalls.jpg Minnehaha Falls. Source: Photograph belongs to Author

Thwarted by thunder snow.

This is an actual weather term here in Minnesota. Most commonly during Spring, we experience storms with a mixture of rain, sleet, snow, hail, lightening and thunder. When “thunder snow” is forecast, any type of precipitation could accompany the BOOMs! As a car driver, one can pull over and wait out the storm, maybe play some smartphone games. If it’s not too severe, it’s possible to cautiously drive home, no rain gear required. When your vehicle is a bicycle, you are in it.

I’ve ventured out in challenging weather, experimenting with winter goggles and a wide assortment of other gear. Finding my personal edge is exhilarating. There’s grit, and then there’s reckless abandon. For cyclists in Minneapolis, it’s a fine line. I am regularly humbled by riders I see killing it in weather conditions that sent me pedaling for home as-fast-as-my-legs-could-move. Or, trudging along carrying my bike because the snow was too deep to ride. (I don’t have a fat tire winter bike — yet!) When the limits of my being and my bike have been reached, there is always someone out there grinding along. At least until a 50 mph gust of wind knocks them to the ground. Are they gritty, or are they reckless? One thing’s for sure, they are inspiring.

winterbike.jpg Greenway Bicycle Trail. Source: Photograph by Author

Raging.

Angry drivers are dangerous regardless of how many wheels their vehicle has. For me, road rage feels more threatening on two wheels because many car drivers target cyclists. Like tantruming toddlers, they don’t want to share. But, I have to share roads to get from A to B. Sure, when I’m out for a joyride, Minneapolis has an excellent recreational trail system. The majority of my destinations are not conveniently located on a trail, though. With a bicycle as my only vehicle, I ride to work, grocery stores, friend’s houses… not just on bike trails. Yes, some roads have “bike lanes.” To many drivers, they are little more than painted art on pavement, ignored or unnoticed. Well intentioned bike lanes are frequently blocked by illegally parked cars, delivery vehicles, or waiting taxis. During winter, bike lanes are often covered with the snow plowed out of vehicle lanes. It has to go somewhere. This is Minnesota.

When angry drivers swerve to within inches of cyclists, or intentionally hit us, we have very little protection. A high quality helmet offers some. And don’t even get me started on distracted drivers who yell at cyclists, without taking their eyes off their phone screen, as if we are the irresponsible ones. Bicycles have not received five star safety ratings and are not equipped with air bags. Take a second to recognize the damage a multi-ton vehicle can do in an instant. Cars are nicknamed “metal death boxes” for good reason.

trail6.jpg Cannon Valley Trail. Source: Photograph belongs to Author

Penniless.

When I owned cars, I kept “emergency cash” and a spare credit card locked in the glove compartment. I knew I’d drive somewhere without my wallet and need food or gas. Or to pay for parking. (I don’t miss that!) There is no lockable secret compartment on my bicycle to stash cash or hide credit cards. I could zip them in a bag attached to the bike frame. Risk theft if I locked my bike and walked away, forgetting about the back-up money in the bag? No thanks. Remember, this situation assumes I forgot my main wallet at home. I clearly can’t be trusted to remember everything, every time.

This lesson is a hard one for someone who eats every couple of hours, and I’m still learning. Earlier this summer I was out riding later than planned and my stomach started growling. When I finally pedaled to a favorite source of cycling fuel, Taco Cat , I noticed a feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with hunger. That sinking feeling when you realize you forgot your wallet and you really want to eat NOW. By the time I grudgingly pedaled home, I had gone from hungry to hangry. (Be thankful you weren’t there to witness my wrath!) I’m learning which restaurants and grocery stores accept Google Pay so I can get food with the power of my smartphone.

nightbike.jpg Mississippi River. Source: Photograph by Author

Dead.

The dreaded dead cell phone battery. In a car, drivers can typically plug phones into a power source while continuing to drive toward their destination. Traveling by bicycle, it takes a bit more preparation to charge a portable power source (if you own one) and pack it along. More often, if the battery dies cyclists survive without a phone until their own pedal power takes them to another charging option. A place with an electrical outlet can be few and far between on long bicycle tour routes. I’ve persuaded staff at coffee shops and restaurants to give my phone a little juice when I forgot my own cord. It’s a great conversation starter!

The most vulnerable experience I’ve had with a low phone battery was while riding the last ten miles of a solo century (100 miles in a day). I was alone and exhausted, on an unfamiliar route from Brainerd to Bemidji. I usually feel confident in my ability and adrenaline being enough to out ride potential threats. At this point, ninety miles in, I was extremely low on energy. I didn’t feel confident I could outpace anything faster than a turtle. It was hours past sunset. Living in a huge city, I often forget how dark it is in rural areas without light pollution. During those (literally and figuratively) dark miles, I fought feelings of dread by repeating positive affirmations and willing myself to keep pedaling. Did I mention my headlight battery was in the red zone, too? After finishing the ride, I felt independent and gritty. I had dug deeply and pedaled my heart out. Next time I’ll pack an extra headlight and a back-up battery charger. Afterall, I might use my phone to buy post-ride food.

biketire.jpg Bde Maka Ska aka Lake Calhoun. Source: Photograph by Author

A bit of life advice.

I recommend venturing out sans phone on occasion. Whether cycling, hiking or running, it’s an incredibly liberating feeling to move through the world by the power of your own two legs. Without worrying about your battery level, stopping to take selfies, or measuring your mileage with an app, it feels like FREEDOM!

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[All photos are my own, featuring me and my bicycles, adventuring in Minnesota.]

mininthecity is the pseudonym of a writer who is passionate about sustainable living and cycling. Sharing words and photographs as an entrepreneur is her dream lifestyle. She writes personal stories with insights about human development, personal growth, sustainable living, education, nutrition, nature, mental health, and more. Powered by nature and nutrition, mininthecity rides through the world on two wheels. Catch her writing on Steemit or at www.mininthecity.com.

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