By Leon Witherspoon
On a beautiful afternoon last August, I was driving during rush hour in the typically hectic Foggy Bottom area of Washington, DC when I experienced an event that greatly impacted my life. I made a left-turn and in the blink of an eye, my car was involved in a severe accident with an oncoming SUV that slammed directly into the side of my car. My airbags deployed, my passenger doors were unable to be opened, and my car was no longer able to be driven. Thankfully, the other driver and I were both able to safely walk away from the accident. Unfortunately, the accident had instantly rendered my car worthy only to be hauled to a salvage yard many miles away in the countryside.
When faced with this sort of car accident, a perfectly rational decision for most people would be to purchase another vehicle – but I decided to do something different. Since I live about five miles outside of downtown Washington, DC and in a bike-friendly community, I chose to forgo purchasing another car and instead I decided to get “back on the bike.” Somewhat surprisingly, my decision was received with mixed reviews including lukewarm and puzzled responses among people closest to me. Some friends and family members believed this decision was a little silly. For those that thought the decision was plausible, they found it a bit impractical. While their concerns were valid, I had certain advantages that made my transition more practical than they might have initially realized:
- I am relatively healthy
- My job has, and continues, to be accessible using public transportation
- I reside in a neighborhood close to Washington, DC
- There are both local and well-known stores, shops, public services, etc. in my neighborhood
- I am familiar and comfortable with ride-sharing services and car rentals
To be fair, the process of getting “back on the bike” was not necessarily an easy task. It required me to learn how to shop for and maintain bicycles, bike terminology (seats are evidently called saddles), bicycle gear, improve time management, and how to maneuver through life without an automobile. Maybe even more important was that my “hiatus” from biking – only made possible after earning my driver’s license as a teenager – meant I hadn’t been on a bicycle for almost 20 years, so I needed to re-familiarize myself to basic riding fundamentals (i.e. balance, endurance, safety, etc.). This all took time, dedication, patience, and a level of humility.
Nonetheless, I decided to make the leap and have not regretted the decision. I continue to believe biking is a practical, healthy, cost-saving, and environmentally responsible mode of transportation. I have been introduced to a local culture of bicycle riders and enthusiasts. Since biking has become a primary source of transportation, each time I run errands, go to the gym, or explore my community, I’ve been able to get routine exercise and am able to enjoy the outdoors more than I ever did driving an automobile because I’m on a bike. Even meeting new people is an added bonus either on the road and in passing because of biking. Not only were these unexpected surprises, they all positively impacted my state of mind and well-being.
About a year has passed since I have owned a car. The question I’ve been repeatedly asked is whether or not I will possess a car again, and if so, when? My answer is: yes, but at an undetermined date. For now, I have no real urgency to get behind-the-wheel, although I’m positive I eventually will. Although I’m fortunate to live and work in an area that offers several conveniences to bicyclists, there are certain realities – like inclement weather – that make life more convenient by possessing a personal vehicle in addition to having a bike. But the past 10 months taught me a valuable lesson – it really shouldn’t have taken 20 years for me to make the change to get “back on the bike.”
So, in the spirit of National Bike Month, I encourage anyone that is able and either curious or already interested in biking to not delay another day, month, or year to get “back on the bike.”