My first year as a born again cyclist in San Antonio

bike and TAround four o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday December 31st, zooming alongside the old San Antonio & Aransas Pass railroad tracks on Villamain between Mission San Juan and Mission Espada, in top gear and the wind at my back, I reached my own personal milestone by completing one thousand miles in the first year of owning a bicycle since I left Scotland in 1991.  Today, Jnauary 9th, also around 4:00 PM, on De Zavala Road at Clark High school I reached by personal goal of 1,040 miles.  That, of course, may seem like an obscure number, so let me explain.

On Saturday January 10, 2009 I found myself stuffing a brand new Breezer Villager 7 speed bike into the back of my minivan.  Brooking no argument, my dear wife had decided that I, too, would be acquiring a bicycle so as to accompany her on one she purchased a few months earlier.  I spent some time failing to find what I was looking for at a number of San Antonio’s better bike stores, which was a full fendered machine with self-powered lights and without derailleur gears.  I decided that since I was being railroaded I could afford to be fussy.  Derailleur gears are awkward in urban situations, making the frequent stops for lights and other traffic conditions no fun.  Fenders too were a must as who wants that nasty dirt stripe up your back and grit in your hair?

 I came across a couple of machines which could be customized to fit my wants and needs, at additional expense of course, but then my wife found the Breezer, which turns out to be a very cool machine in the eyes of cycling aficionados, a little to my surprise.  It fit the bill almost perfectly.  It would not look out of place outside an Irish pub in the 1930s, just the look I was going for.  It has seven speeds inside the rear hub.  It is a commuter bike, not at all fast, but not bad on hills.  The lights are large and bright and have a built in diode to keep them illuminated for a few minutes when stationary at traffic lights.  I was back on two wheels.

 Bicycles are not cheap.  With a stiff wire carrier capable of holding two gallons of milk – not that I ever have – and an inexpensive odometer, mine came to around $700.00.  At $2.50 I could buy 280 gallons of fuel for that amount which means, at 25 MPG, I ain’t gonna save an undriven dime until I pedal over 7,000 miles!  That’s a heck of a deal.  How we manage to convince ourselves to do these things is one of the miracles of capitalism, if you ask me.  Even at $4 a gallon I will need to do 4,375 miles just to break even.

 My main concern at the outset was whether or not I would use the thing at all.  It would be an awfully expensive piece of garage art.  I was already exercising an hour a day, five days a week, and had lost forty pounds plus reduced my cholesterol to an acceptable level along the way so I knew this aspect would not be a strong motivator.  Both of my jobs are almost exactly twelve miles from my house, a little too far for an acceptable commute by bike.  I ride at an average of 13 MPH.  Who has two hours to spare just to get to and from work?

 My wife proved to be the motivator, at least at first.  Once your legs have gotten used to the work and your butt has grown accustomed to the new seating arrangement, no mean feat and one I have yet to completely achieve, despite a replacement saddle at the 500 mark, you have to find places to go that don’t quickly become as dull as dishwater.  I have always been a results focused individual.  To get on a bike and just roam around is not compatible with my mentality.  But my wife, on the other hand, likes to flit around like a gadfly and I found that letting her be “Red Leader” was very satisfying.  Providing I have a rough idea of what our ultimate objective is, her choice of route is both mystifying and gratifying at the same time.  For someone with so little Irish in her, she certainly follows their national adage:  “We’re not lost, we’re just going a more interesting way.”

 She does think I need to get a faster bike, though.  I find this funny as I invariably catch her on any kind of upgrade.  Anyway, I don’t think it’s the bike that is slow, it’s me.  Even as a kid and later, as someone who cycled everywhere and did not even learn to drive until I was 26, I just like to trot along at my own, none too fast, pace.  Coincidentally, I have become something of a slow vehicle expert.  No one else will drive the old trucks at the Texas Transportation Museum.  Our 1929 Ford Model A truck pretty much tops out at 40 MPH if thrashed but has a much more comfortable cruising speed of 31.  A regular A will probably hit 60.  The 1924 Ford Model T truck is even slower.  It cruises somewhere around 22 MPH.  Regular Ts are comfortable at 35 or so, and will leave you behind even on club cruises.  Oh well.

 Left to my own devices, I tried to ride to my job at the gym at Camp Bullis once a week.  In this line of work, no one cares if you arrive a little hot and sweaty.  Going to the museum was less common.  Whereas I have found a good route to Bullis that keeps me off most major roads most of the time, going to Wetmore Road is not much fun at all.  Maybe once they finish the Wurzbach Parkway it won’t be so bad.  The worst stretch is the last half mile along what I have called the Wetmore Speedway for years.  In an antique vehicle you just take over a lane and let the maniacs deal with it.  You can’t do that on a bicycle.  No wonder you rarely see one there.

I haven’t been out of town much on two wheels.  One visit to Helotes and surrounding country roads through Grey Forest but it wasn’t much fun plus after that couple got killed there this year, I doubt if we’ll be back.  I’m more of a city cyclist.  On Sunday mornings, I quite like to go down to the Alamo mainly along San Pedro and back up Fredericksburg.  I’ve hauled our bikes to Espada a number of times for rides along the river as far, again, as the Alamo.  I should mention that riding a bike is way better on the south side of the city.

 So, one way and another, I managed to cycle 1040 miles just in time for the Breezer’s first anniversary in my possession.  That’s 20 miles a week.  That sounds a lot better than 86.6 miles a month even though it’s the same thing.  My goal for this year is 1,200 miles, 100 a month.  That’s just 23.08 a week.  Of course, that’s also the equivalent of riding to Bullis once a week every week and that ain’t gonna happen.  The record breaking summer heat certainly caused a big drop off this year and then I stayed off two wheesl through most of the fall.  My “excuse” was I didn’t want to ride for an hour in the dark, which is fairly valid, actually.

 While I have no plans to join a bicycle club, my wife did try to go riding with a number of folks, including a women only group.  But they start at an insanely early hour and one thing we ain’t in our household is morning people.  Nonetheless I would like to participate in at least one group event.  I planned to be part of Hammerfest out of Lavernia this year but rain the preceeding weekend forced a Model T event I planned to be rescheduled and I had to miss it.

Another good trip would be to ride from my house near Callaghan just outside Loop 410 to Mission Espada just outside the loop on the south side.  It’s about 20 miles each way.  My longest ride this year was just over 30 miles.  It also might be fun to ride from one end of old historic routes through the city such as Commerce Street.  One way or another I think I am getting the hang of being on a bike in San Antonio.  Despite all the negative comments I have heard from so called cycling enthusiasts, I have had no bad experiences with local motorists despite the poor accommodation for two wheelers on most roads.  Of course I wear stuff bright enough to dazzle the sun and try to follow all the road rules.  I’ve come to like taking a breather at stop lights and signs.  If I was in a hurry I would have taken the car.


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