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Biking for Life

by Susan Van Haitsma

It's National Bike Month, and I'm thinking about my dad. He's 82 and still riding. In fact, he's still riding the same 3-speed Schwinn bicycle that he purchased, used, from a student soon after he began his teaching career at a small college in Wisconsin about 50 years ago. We lived just 6 blocks from his office on campus, so he walked to work if there was snow or rain, but otherwise, he preferred to bike because it was faster and easier to carry his satchel of books and files in his big wire baskets. In the years since he retired, he's continued to bike all around town to do his local business, becoming a loved and familiar figure on that classic Schwinn.

I realized with some surprise that my dad has never locked his bike. Parked almost daily along a busy road near his office for 35 years, his faithful steed remained untethered and unstolen. The frame is rusty, perhaps acting as a theft deterrent, but he's kept the gears oiled and the tires filled. Over the years, he's replaced the tires a few times, the brake pads and the pedals, but most other parts are original. When it comes to carbon footprint, I figure that the resources used to manufacture, maintain and operate his bike have been amortized over 50 years to zero. Meanwhile, the benefits to the planet have accumulated to produce a rather elegant history of one man taking seriously the promise of a sturdy, green machine to last a lifetime.

My dad hasn't thought of himself as a bicycle activist. He owns and drives a car and is not keen on the idea of giving that up someday. He has considered his bike use mainly a practical measure to save money, move relatively quickly around a compact downtown and work out the kinks from grading papers. But, as the years have gone by and the earth has suffered its oil wounds, I've come to see my dad's example as a green beacon of possibility.

When we are urged by local and national governments to take whatever steps we can in our daily lives to reduce our use of fossil fuels, I picture my dad cruising down the driveway on his 3-speed, headed to a Kiwanis meeting. If he can do this at age 82, the possibilities for most people to make at least some of their local trips by bicycle are endless. Bike to Work Day could be, as it was for my father, an ordinary day.

While my dad has ridden a single bike through five decades of bicycle design transformation, the evolution from cruiser to racer to mountain to hybrid to cruiser turned a perfect revolution as his 1950s-style model came back into fashion. Without meaning to, my dad became cool.

Actually, he was cool all along. Teaching is best done by example, and his quiet daily practice was an environmental lesson on the leading edge of green living. Chugging up and down hills helped preserve his health and the health of those hills. I'm proud of my cool dad. Happy Bike Half-Century to everyone who has rolled along with him!

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