I was learning about the environment at East High School during the 1960’s. The over-paving of the suburbs, the students who sacrificed their education to buy a car and work on it and the habitat loss due to the automobile culture were factors that bothered me enough to make me resolve to postpone getting a drivers license. At age 65, I still am not licensed.
“At age 65, I still do not have a drivers license”
Riding a bicycle helps to connect you to the earth. Driving seems to cause people to speed around and get hostile. My decision to not drive was praised by some people but rarely was it influential. But the image of the self reliant, trustworthy cyclist had some advantages.When we were young and disreputable looking, my friend and I were given help by strangers sometimes, for example, when needing to use a telephone in a remote part of Livingston country, we were welcomed in and offered dinner! Country people stopped their car to ask if we were lost or in trouble. We got invited into a trailer park party once. This was a world totally removed from our previous experience.
I was laid off from a job at a non- profit housing agency when President Reagan cut much of the budgets for social programs. Someone at the office noted that I was a cycling fanatic and suggested that I try to get a job, until an opportunity opened up in housing agencies, at a retail bike shop. I did that and the rest is history. I now own a one man shop and have greatly expanded my cycling world.Customers tell me that they have traveled on bicycles and also received welcome almost everywhere. One said that her reception was what one could expect riding into town on a horse. People generally trust riders, perhaps because they are actually quite vulnerable. Becoming vulnerable often opens one to the care and friendship of others. People are curious about a bike with large saddle bags and often assume that you would like to lodge at their home for a day or two.
I have had several health challenges in the last decade, and the importance of riding has been never more apparent than in my recovery. The gentle exercise of commuting almost every day for 50 years has kept me from some of the sedentary life style illnesses, and greatly enhanced my ability to overcome pain and multiple surgeries. The mental benefits of a relaxing ride before and after work are often mentioned, and I agree. The ability to see more when traveling slowly and car free can make one much more connected to the people of one’s city. I sold a bike to a politician who returned for a free tune up a few months later. He said that there were neighborhoods in his district that he was never familiar with before. “ I see people on their porches watching their kids, and they wave to me. They do not know who I am, but I am welcomed.” That is why I ride a bicycle. It creates community. It is part of my transportation, recreation, inspiration and consolation.
Roger Levy is a avid cyclist, Rochester resident and entrepreneur. He owns the independent bike shop Freewheelers which is located on Mount Hope Avenue in the City of Rochester.