Using a bike as transportation brings pure joy

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The day I got my first bicycle is etched in my memory. It was a warm spring day just outside Raleigh, N.C., and we all piled into the van and headed to the flea market. That is where we found it: blue and white with a banana seat and ready for fun. I don’t really remember the trials of learning to ride that first bicycle; I only remember pure joy.

A couple years later I graduated to BMX bikes. They looked like they could jump. My parents told me I could have one if I paid half. Deal! I saved money, and finally brought the bike home. So much of my childhood was spent building trails through the woods, building jumps in strategic places and riding for hours.

Then came mountain bikes. I spent my early teen years traversing the canal banks and rock strewn sagebrush of the Columbia Basin and riding 9 miles to Othello to mow lawns. I remember a family trip that took us from arid central Washington to the Blue Mountains and riding the 20 miles from the Deduct Springs trail head down to Harris Park. At the end my hands were numb, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

As with many teenagers my focus shifted from bicycles to the joys of driving. Soon my beloved mountain bike was collecting dust while I spent some quality time with my car. I bought a new mountain bike in college, but I spent most of my time in my car.

In 2004 I moved to Boulder, Colo. for graduate school and took my mountain bike along just in case. Within a week of arriving my Jeep leaked oil all over my driveway, and I couldn’t afford to fix it. So I dusted off my mountain bike. By the time I was able to repair my Jeep a year later I had rediscovered the joy of the bicycle. And I just kept riding.

Now, nine years into my new relationship with the bicycle, I’m more in love than ever. When I skip a day and drive to work I miss bicycling. Some mornings so much joy wells up inside of me that I cannot help but laugh out loud! I get to say good morning to my neighbors, smell spring flowers and listen the birds singing along Garrison Creek. The bicycle gives me a powerful sense of connection to my community and the world around me. Every day I get to experience the pure joy I felt as a 6-year-old on my first bicycle.

Racks, baskets

and a pannier

It is hard to find a better place to start using a bicycle for daily transportation than the Walla Walla Valley. We enjoy sun much of the year, the winters are pretty mild, and, although all the roads slope up to the east, there aren’t too many hills to navigate. Although you don’t need a special bicycle to get you to work or the grocery store, you might want an attachment for carrying things. A rack is usually attached to the frame of your bicycle just below your seat and near the dropouts for your rear wheel. A rack is useful for strapping down things or for attaching various types of cargo containers.

Baskets come in many shapes, sizes and materials. A front basket usually mounts on the handle bar; it can be used to carry around 40 pounds of cargo, depending on design and construction. You can also get rear mounting baskets and carry even more cargo. Check out companies such as Wald (waldsports.com), Nantucket Bicycle Basket Company (nantucketbikebaskets.com) and CETMA Cargo (cetmacargo.com), then stop by one of our local bike shops to view their selection.

The word pannier comes from the old French word for bread basket. Applied to bicycles, it refers to soft bags that are attached to a rack. Panniers come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and patterns. Some of them, when removed from the bicycle rack, convert into a backpack for easy use while walking. Check out companies such as Ortlieb (ortliebusa.com), Timbuk2 (timbuk2.com) and Arkel (arkel-od.com) then stop by one of our local bike shops.

Trailers and Cargo Bikes

A lot of you probably have a bicycle trailer for carrying children. If your children have outgrown it, consider repurposing it for cargo duty. These trailers work great for grocery runs and other light cargo duty. A two-child trailer can be rated for 80 to 100 pounds. Even if you are still using your trailer to transport your children there is often space for a couple bags of groceries.

If you don’t already have a child trailer, or you want a trailer with more capacity, consider a trailer purpose build for cargo. Cargo trailers are generally available in two basic designs: two-wheeled or single-wheeled. A single-wheeled trailer has the wheel behind the cargo area and works well for lighter loads. A two-wheeled trailer does not always track as well but can be larger and carry more weight. Check out companies such as Burley (burley.com), Bikes At Work (bikesatwork.com) and Surly (surlybikes.com).

My favorite cargo and family carrying vehicle is the cargo bike. Cargo bikes were common across the United States in the early 1900s, and they’re making a comeback. A cargo bike is a bicycle that has a frame specifically built for carrying cargo and/or passengers. These great bikes come in several designs including the longtail, long john, cycle truck and cargo trike. Several longtail style cargo bikes are available locally including the Kona Ute (konaworld.com), Trek Transport (trekbikes.com) and the Yuba Mundo (yubabikes.com). Small companies around the U.S. hand building cargo bikes include CETMA Cargo (cetmacargo.com), Metrofiets (metrofiets.com) and Ahearne Cycles (ahearnecycles.com).

Ready to Try It?

The idea of using a bicycle for day to day transportation can seem daunting, tiring and like too much trouble. You may be afraid of arriving to work sweaty or spending too much time getting where you are going. But the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. I challenge you to give it a try. You’ll find the experience well worth it. And you’ll be smiling in no time!

Luke Waggoner is the Secretary of the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club. He can be reached at lww76@yahoo.com.

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