Concern for my children and global climate change spurred me to start biking to work this year, after a long layoff. My trip takes me from Minneapolis, through three suburbs to my college in Bloomington, about 9 miles one way. Scheduling constraints and the limits of my middle-aged body translate to 1-3 bike trips a week. I stopped riding for six weeks from December to January when below-zero temperatures or consistent heavy snowfall made biking unsafe.
As I ride I think about my teaching and my students' learning. What follow are some of my thoughts on the parallels between higher education and commuting by bike, though others likely have stated the same with greater skill. I'll leave it to your skilled mind to substitute the education parallels.
For most of my ride, I control very little except my choice of path. I don't get to choose where roads were built, or how safe the existing bike infrastructure is, or the outside temperature or precipitation. Good preparation, in clothing, bike accessories, and knowledge of my desired route, is the primary way I can ensure a safe and comfortable ride. Minor mistakes in planning, forgetting a towel or underwear, can significantly disrupt the rest of my day.
Every motor vehicle I pass is an existential threat, so I defer to everyone. "Hey bike boy, go #@$! yourself!" - "Ok, have a nice day" I reply. It's useless to get angry with the roads, or the weather, or even bad drivers: there's no remedy. Patience and forward movement are the only options, especially with slippery conditions. Just keep going.
Biking requires constant effort and attention, and with both I arrive much faster at my destination. Poorly designed infrastructure, like traffic lights that need a car's weight to trigger the signal, force me to make difficult decisions. Should I cross against the light, or wait through several cycles until a car pulls up next to me to trigger the light? My choices are often made in less-than-ideal situations, yet as long as I get home safe, I judge my choice a good one.
Commuting to work highlights race and class issues. My bike lights and shiny jacket tell drivers I'm not poor. I can afford bike parts and accessories that make biking comfortable in most weather situations. Many people express admiration for rich people biking to work, which is odd as I see many low-income people biking and wonder if their co-workers admire them for this everyday activity. As I bike through predominantly white neighborhoods, no one has stopped me to ask me what I'm doing there.
Arriving at work or home feels a little epic, and I wish (just a little) that people acknowledged that minor epic quality that commuting under human power entails. "I'm here and it was not easy arriving: a little love?" People that acknowledge the epic quality of my day, "how was the ride?" make me feel more welcome and valued in their presence.
Moving through a community in a way most people don't move inspires deep humility and vanity. Listening to the humility offers wisdom.