Biking will lighten your mood, not wallet

May 28, 2008 

"When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope seems hardly worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a good spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking."

-- Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle may have been onto something with this idea. As National Bike Month winds down, summer here begins. And summer, plus gas prices that will cause you to retch every time you fill up the old SUV, makes for great bike riding time in Anchorage. So I think we should give serious consideration to more bike riding and less car driving until gas prices fall back to 25 cents a gallon. And just maybe, while we wait for that miracle to happen, we'll rediscover the joy many of us knew as kids when the bike symbolized our first real freedom from parental supervision.

My favorite quote about biking comes from a 1902 tome titled "Gynecology, Obstetrics, Menopause" by Alexander Leuf. In response to Doyle's statement about bicycling, he wrote,

"I aver that it is a boon to women. It is a stimulus without reaction, setting her upon a higher plane of health and spirits than she had been occupying. It builds up the weak and it reduces excessive corpulency. It imparts a mental and physical vigor, and a quickness of action, that many have never previously attained ..."

It's clear that over a century ago, a wise physician knew that riding a bike brought with it great benefits of the health variety. Today, it's also a way to keep our money in our pockets and out of the pockets of OPEC. All this and cleaner air. Seems like an argument for more bikes and less cars would be relatively simple to make.

So why was I driving my car to the store today? And why, given the price of a gallon of gas, were the streets still full of people in cars, mostly one person per car? Why were parking lots full and most bike racks fairly empty?

Maybe it's because habits that make our lives easier are very hard to break. Whether it's weaning ourselves from trans fats, excessive snacking or gas guzzling, if it makes us feel good, we don't want to have to stop doing it. But it seems to me that if we gave biking a chance, we might find that we still have endorphins firing in our systems and they would flood us with good feelings about getting exercise while not polluting the planet; getting errands done with time along the way to hear the birds singing and feeling the heat of the sun on our face; dodging trucks that zoom by at 80 mph while waving gamely back at the driver giving us the one finger salute ... hmm, well maybe it's not all positive.

Maybe the problem is that we all need to get a lot friendlier with the earth and each other. Maybe Anchorage needs to create bike lanes that make commuting less of a game of Russian roulette, while also developing a viable public transportation system. It probably won't happen between now and next May but maybe by then we can at least try to improve the percent of time we spend on a bike just enjoying the ride.

Elise Patkotak is a writer who lives in Anchorage. Read her blog at

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