From the Editor: Hauling Plywood by Bike
I know how difficult it is to exist without a car. My education in this regard began early and culminated on a hot August day in El Cajon, California. I'd needed to buy a sheet of plywood from Home Depot. For those with cars, buying sheets of plywood is a minor matter of logistics. For those with trucks the trouble is not even worth considering. But I was fifteen that hot August day and I had neither cars, trucks, nor the proper credentials with which to operate them. My parents, legal operators and owners of automobiles, were not available and none of my friends had yet to get their driver's licenses.
Fortunately, I was a very stubborn fifteen year-old, a useful trait for the car-free. The Home Depot was eight miles away but the trolley cut the walk down to three miles. So I set off with an ill-advised plan made possible only by the healthy amount of stubbornness my parent's refusal to drive had inspired. Getting to Home Depot was the easy part. Once there, I had an orange-aproned fellow cut the 4' x 8' sheet into two 4' x 4' squares. I was a scrawny kid, just barely five-feet tall and about ninety pounds and it took me two hours to walk the one mile between the hardware store and the trolley station while carrying those pieces of plywood. The entire time, a terrible thought lurked in the back of my mind. I'd not bothered to ask if plywood was allowed on the trolley.
I stopped every ten minutes, my hands aching, sweat dripping into my eyes. I'd rest the plywood on the ground, wipe away the sweat, and then re-hoist the load to walk another ten minutes. It seemed an endless cycle and I was so relieved to reach the trolley station that I felt no fear of reprimand as I dragged the wood through the trolley doors. Only after the train got going did I notice that nearly everyone on board was staring at me, a sweat-drenched kid dragging two sheets of wood almost as tall as he was. But the beautiful chill of the trolley's air-conditioners is more clear to my memory than those stares. I got off three stations later and repeated the ten-minute cycle for two more miles. I finally got home, six hours after setting off. Bozeman Community Food Co-Op
Things would have been different if I'd owned a bicycle trailer. Like most fifteen-year-old kids, I had a bicycle. But I'd never been exposed to the idea that bikes could be practical, even utilitarian, tools for transportation. Sure I rode my bike to friend's houses, but as soon as something heavy needed to be hauled, I'd call in the big automotive guns... or resort to the desperate measures of the plywood debacle. It took me twenty years to figure out that bicycles are useful, even to someone with a car and a driver's license. But I am heartened to see that bicycles are emerging from their recreational prisons. Bicycle shops are beginning to carry bikes with both the gearing and strength to carry loads. Small manufacturers such as Xtracycle, Cleverchimp, and Carry Freedom are making the kind of gear people need to put bicycles to work as viable forms of transportation. And the large manufacturers are beginning to see that practical bikes can help them reach a huge, untapped market.
The advantages of cycling over driving are many, but I see cycling as being advantageous in three distinct areas: environment, health, and community. With one activity we can actually do something to help reduce pollution and carbon emissions, keep ourselves fit and healthy, and ease congestion while promoting greater community interaction. And the best part is, we can do all this while getting our work done. On a bike, the run to Costco becomes more than just one more errand in a busy day, it becomes your exercise, your time to just think, and maybe even your time to chat with your neighbors, who are also cycling to the store. As much sense as cycling makes, however, the challenge will be in overcoming the attitudes we've adopted at an early age. I look back at that six-hour struggle with plywood, and am amazed I didn't consider my bicycle a possible solution. It didn't occur to me at all. It is my hope that the category of useful transportation is expanding to include bicycles. I only wish it had done so a little earlier.