High On Bike

A Bellinghamster On Wheels


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I’ll Take My Penguins To Go

stay-cool-and-ride-your-bikeOne of the major hurdles to getting more people commuting by bike is their fear of riding in traffic. Just the other day, I had a conversation with a young woman who was working the express lane at my grocery store. I rode down to pick up something for dinner, wearing my awesome and current favorite Fred shirt, the one with big, goofy penguins. She commented on my shirt (she loved it) and she asked me if I rode a lot. When I exuberantly told her I rode almost every day, she wistfully said she would love to ride her bike more but was terrified of traffic and getting hit. I understood her fear but took the opportunity to be a good bicycling ambassador and explained that with trails, bike lanes, and Bellingham being a fairly bike friendly city, getting around by bike in many areas of town was pretty safe. The key, I told her, was to be seen, be aware, and follow the rules of the road.

We are a society that has been conditioned to think that we are safest traveling in our cars. The truth is, more people die or are injured traveling by car or truck than by just about any other form of transportation including airplanes — and bicycles. And that’s per capita. We get in our cars and head out jabbering on our cell phones, texting, eating our lunch, putting on mascara, or zoning out to the radio without giving it a second thought. However, we’re much more concerned with getting on a bicycle (or in an airplane). Sure, accidents involving bicycles and planes are more dramatic and newsworthy, but people die everyday in their cars and we hardly bat an eye.

 

Fred Shirt

Fred Shirt

I didn’t get into all of this with the checker as the guy behind me was already getting his tighty-whities in a wad because our conversation continued for about two seconds after she handed me my receipt. I also think he had an aversion to both penguins and bikes and I didn’t want him to spot me out on the road and take me out in a fit of grocery store checkout lane rage.  But I hope I was sufficiently supportive and encouraging of her desire to ride more because from my perspective, the awesomeness of being on a bike far outweighs the risk.

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Please! Call Me Fred

I am a Fred. For all my non-cycling readers (aka “my friends”), Fred is a term used by “serious” road cyclists to describe other cyclists who don’t “dress in the same flashy clothes or ride the same flashy bikes.” It can also mean a cyclist who has more bike than they need or one that has a lot if gear and gadgets on their bikes. In other words, a Fred is a big doofus. You know, the person who has a bell, mirror, and trunk bag on her mountain bike with the front suspension she never takes on a mountain. The one who smiles and waves at everyone, and wears a hi-viz vest. Oh yeah – me!

There are differing opinions on where the term Fred came from. Some say it’s referring to Fred Flintstone, which in that case would technically make me a Wilma…but feh! Please call me Fred. Others say it originated with an older, bearded, curmudgeonly touring cyclist named Fred. When roadies use it, it’s derogatory, but when other cyclists use it in reference to each other, it’s not necessarily so. Sort of like when women call their girlfriends a ‘ho’, it can be good-natured ribbing…or not…probably depending on the girlfriend.

Fred Shirt

A Fred in a Fred Shirt

Although I’m a Fred, I’m in pretty good company because Bellingham, “the city of subdued excitement,” (seriously that’s our nickname) is full of Freds. We have our share of roadies but Freds definitely outnumber them – from the big-bellied guy who rides around barefoot and topless but thankfully wearing shorts, to the messenger-bag toting riders pedaling in Crocs, to the middle-aged, geezer faction in our hi-viz apparel. Seriously, Bellingham’s nickname could just as easily be: “the town of ubiquitous Freds.” And, most of us all wave and smile at each other.

My most recent Fred interaction was just a few days ago while I was riding down East Illinois Street, a popular thoroughfare for Freds and roadies alike. A gray-haired gentleman on a beat up old bike had randomly stopped at the roundabout to smoke a cigarette. The irony of people riding their bikes and smoking both amazes and amuses me so I took notice. He wore a railroad cap, black slacks with matching suspenders, and a blue button-down shirt. As I rode past he smiled through is gray beard and said this:

“(Unintelligible)… a quarter for that cycle…(something that sounded Gaelic)”

I’m not sure if he was insulting me or not. I’m not sure if he knew. What I am sure about is that he had no teeth, which probably explains the unintelligible part of his shout out. Anyway, I smiled back and inexplicably gave him a salute. That seemed to crack him up and I rode on as his cackling faded into the distance.

Personally, I like being a Fred. It means I can just ride around, do my own thing, and not be fixated on things like cadence, looking cool, and whether or not my current 40-mile ride is as fast as my last. It means I don’t have to watch the Tour de France, can trick my bike out any way I want, and basically just have a hell of a lot of fun.