Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Biking in my early years

The Davis Enterprise: Dec. 22, 2008

Davis Bicycles! column #005

Title: Biking in my early years
Author: Christal Waters

    photo caption:
    Davis resident Christal Waters is all grown up now and pulling children and cargo in a bicycle trailer, but she remembers clearly the thrill of riding fast downhill, feeling the wind in her face, as a high schooler in SoCal. Now, however, she protects her head by wearing a helmet. (photo: Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)

When I sat down to write about why I bike, I realized that I’ve always been a bicyclist at heart, but certain personal weaknesses, specifically a predilection to avoiding personal mortification, obstructed the enjoyment of bicycling early in life.

My first bike was a boy’s bike named “Speedy”. I learned to ride Speedy before entering first grade, as he was my ticket to a quicker trip to school, and thus a later rising time. The principal required us to walk our bikes on the school grounds. The distance from the street crossing to the bike racks seemed terribly long and fraught with terror because the sixth grade boys teased me about riding a boy’s bike. I learned to bike all the way around the school and enter at a side gate to avoid the sixth graders.

I rode my bike to school all through the elementary years, and the first day at junior high school. There I found that the ninth grade boys were no more mature than the sixth grade boys, and within the first week, my elementary school friends and I had stopped riding bikes. From that point on, we all walked to school or got rides from parents. Even the most independent kids succumbed to peer pressure about bike riding. This didn’t change even in high school as we started to mature and respect other people’s opinions. There were also no parents who set an example by riding their bikes. Had we seen an adult we knew on a bike, we would have wondered what was wrong with their car.

The peer pressure changed just a bit in high school. We still did not ride our bikes to school, but we started using them for recreational purposes. On Friday afternoons, my troop would occasionally ride our bikes to Peter’s Canyon Girl Scout Camp in the low foothills of Saddleback Mountain. There we’d “dirt camp” for the weekend and ride back Sunday afternoon. I loved the feeling of exploration and independence that came with biking to camp. Plus we had the whole ride to rid ourselves of the pressures of school and be ready to relax or go crazy at camp. Recently I visited a friend and troop member back in Santa Ana and we tried to find our former route to Peter’s Canyon on the map. It was impossible. The entry onto Peter’s Canyon road was confused by a warren of small residential streets, so tightly packed the map used a legend to identify the road names.

One Sunday I bragged to two casual acquaintances about our troop’s trips to Peter’s Canyon and how I knew that the route connected someway to the road coming down from Irvine Park. They said “Let’s bike it! Today!” I was on the spot. I knew that my mother wouldn’t let me go and I didn’t think their mothers would either, so I said let’s check with our parents and grab a picnic lunch. It turned out that either their moms were less strict than mine, or they lied about what they were doing, because when I called, both of them were ready to go. As I’d predicted, my mother had flat-out said “no”. She knew the distance of the full route, the remoteness of Peter’s Canyon and she remembered the steep curvy downhill road from Irvine Park. I had to think fast to save face, so I asked my mother could I just hang out with Doreen and Janie for the rest of the day. To my surprise she said “yes”. Since I didn’t know where the Peter’s Canyon road connected with the Irvine Park road (I just relied on logic that it would), I had no idea if this trip was even doable in a day.

With great foreboding, I packed my lunch, met Doreen and Janie and we started off. I anxiously set a pretty fast pace because I really did want to see where the two roads connected up, and by early afternoon we were on the Irvine Park Road and heading for the downhill stretch. Never have I ridden so fast or so dangerously as I did on that downhill stretch. My glasses didn’t prevent the wind making my eyes tear up and I squinted to try to see the pavement far ahead, as I knew that braking suddenly would be instant injury. I envisioned my imminent death. I had images of my mother visiting my broken body in the hospital and saying “Chris, I told you not to go on this bike trip! You’re grounded until graduation!” We made it safely to the bottom of the hill and home and nobody questioned me about my whereabouts that day. That evening as I lay in bed waiting for sleep to come I thought about the high I got from traveling fast on two narrow wheels that could spin out and dump me at the slightest bump in the pavement or mis-steering on my part.

I still like to ride my bike fast and feel the wind in my face, but not so fast that the wind brings tears to my eyes, and now I wear a helmet. My brain, as I tell my kids, is still of some value to the family. I’m going to protect it and I expect them to do the same with theirs.

Bicycle commute is a total pleasure

The Davis Enterprise: Dec. 8, 2008

Davis Bicycles! column #004

Title: Bicycle commute is a total pleasure
Author: Matt Biers-Ariel

I live in Davis and teach at Winters High School. That’s about 4,500 commute miles a year, and 4,200 of those miles are by bicycle.

Commuting by bike is one of the great pleasures in life. For a glorious hour and a half, I am unplugged from computers and cell phones but plugged into the nature’s rhythms. Sometimes I think of lesson plans; sometimes I obsess over a difficult interaction with a student. But mostly I watch the world.

I’ve never missed the first robins of spring or the pungent almond blossoms bursting open. The rare bluebird rocketing across Putah Creek Road is nothing less than soul food. For a good part of winter, the morning commute is pitch-black except for my headlight and the stars. At 6:30 a.m. the country roads are empty, and I often turn off the light. It’s a slice of the sublime to bike under Orion’s watchful gaze.

The commute is not always bliss. Sometimes I have the wrong gloves, and the cold burns so hard that it’s a scream fest all the way to work. Sometimes it’s rain of biblical proportions or fog as thick as a Frappuccino only colder. But the times I don’t ride, all day long I’m anxious that something isn’t right, like when you brush your teeth but forget to floss.

Like all my friends, colleagues and students, I live a frenetic life. The only thing bigger than my “to do” list is the pile of ungraded essays. I rush to finish one thing in order to rush to the next. But by its nature, the pace of life changes when you are traveling at 17 miles per hour versus 60.

In “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury observes that people are always in a hurry, that they have no time to enjoy anything. My students always nod when we read this passage. When they learn that the book was published in 1953, two generations before text-messaging and 30 years before phone answering machines, their jaws drop, for they know that life moves exponentially faster today and just keeps gaining speed.

Cycling is a built-in daily workout. There’s no need to join a gym. Its carbon footprint is minuscule; and it’s the cheapest form of commuting outside of hoofing it to work. Currently, the IRS figures that a mile of driving costs 50.5 cents. Rather than annually spending $2,200 commuting by car, a bicycle commute costs less than $200.

Using a ton or two of car to carry a person and a few papers on a 25-mile round trip makes as much sense as using a clothes dryer instead of a clothesline on a summer day when the ambient temperature is above 90 degrees. Sure, I can use the dryer, and sure, I can drive the car, but given the state of the atmosphere and the thickness of my wallet, better options exist.

My students are always fascinated by the bike. I suppose that if someone were to take a poll five years after graduation and ask students what they remembered from Mr. Biers-Ariel’s class, some might say, “He showed us the dirty jokes in Romeo and Juliet,” others, “He always yelled about those stupid commas,” but I bet there would be a larger contingent who would answer, “That dude rode his bike from Davis.”

And if that were the case, I wouldn’t be sad.

Matt Biers-Ariel lives in Davis with his family and teaches English at Winters High School.

Enjoy velo holidays

The Davis Enterprise: Dec. 1, 2008

Davis Bicycles! column #003

Title: Enjoy velo holidays

Holiday gift ideas are about to flow. Your ideas will be tailored for each person on your list. Your gifts will be locally purchased, promote exercise and outdoor activity, and serve up clean transportation with free and convenient parking. Completion of your holiday shopping is within reach.

We are talking about the gift that keeps one biking: the velo-based “missing link” that will propel your gift recipients to enjoy biking still more. Some sly research is required. You’ll need to call a friend or design a conversation that teases out your target’s secret biking wish or dream, or both. Once you know this, you will be good to go.

“I wish I didn’t have to shoo walkers out of my way.” A bell. “I’d shop more by bike if I had better baskets.” Get some big sturdy baskets and a bungee or two, or go all the way and get an Xtracycle extender to achieve the SUV of bikes. “I always forget the key to my lock.” Voila, a combination lock. “My seat’s thrashed.” “I need more pieces of Flair.” Include the promise of installation as a garnish.

Importantly, the giftor’s wants can’t be too transparently imposed on the giftee. Getting overly utilitarian at the holidays does have a downside. My friend Tim is regularly given a Standing In role by Mr. Dunning. He insightfully exposed Alphabet Moon for selling crafts disguised as toys. So make sure your motives aren’t too transparent. Mistakes here can last a lifetime. Not a holiday season passes in my family without mention of my mom giving my dad a fertilizer spreader for Christmas. Ouch. Here, the crossover gift may be your solution.

Crossover gift? Nice pair of medium-weight gloves. “I bet those would also keep your hands warm for biking on cold mornings.” Cool new backpack just for sports stuff. “Oh, and come to think of it, you can use that to ride to badminton practice.” Skateboard helmet. “It works as a bike helmet, too.” Clip-on bike light. “It’s a great flashlight to have handy, and it came with mount for your bike, too.” ‘Nuff said.

Coupled with the crossover theme, this holiday tip is open to abuse. Say another member of your family reads this column and has motives less pure than yours? Beware when you hear them talk about that parka they want from Outdoor Davis, with the final artful addendum: “You know, that’s also what I need to bike in the rain.” Disingenuous? Yes. But you have what you need; run with it, and then make sure they don’t use a drizzle to cancel a ride.

Another path to finding the unique bike need is to look at other bikes. In a bike shop, on campus or at the Co-op, stop and look at a bike and ask why it is the way it is? There’s an idea behind every customized bike. See if those ideas might fit the person on your list.

Detroit has the Big Three. Davis has its Big Four. Chat up the sales folks at Freewheeler, Wheelworks, B&L and Ken’s and they’ll have a custom response to your biker’s need or dream. Don’t forget the other shops. The Davis Bike Exchange (Fifth and L streets) has rebuilt and vintage bikes, and adds the element of recycling. APEX Cycles at 117 D St. can reincarnate that old road bike in the garage into a hip single-speed! The Bike Barn on campus is a quick gift stop on the Davis Bike Loop.

And if you are wondering, yes, I think my family knows what’s coming.

Joe Krovoza volunteers for Davis Bicycles! and helps organize this column. To submit a column or suggest an idea, write to