Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Fun-Time Continuum

I recently did a very simple, very unscientific survey over at Kent's Bike Blog. I asked my readers to answer the questions Why Do You Commute By Bicycle? or Why Don't You Commute By Bicycle? I got a lot of very good responses to those questions and a couple of big themes became apparent as I read through people's answers.

The number one reason listed by folks who do commute is Fun. The number one reason listed by folks who don't commute is Time. Fun and Time. I thought about this. Fun and Time. I thought about this a lot. I thought about this on my three hours of daily bike commuting. Fun and Time. Fun Time. Funtime. Naturally, I thought of Debbie Harry.

I don't think of Debbie Harry as much these days as I did back in 1977 when I was an 18 year old bundle of testosterone and she was the most beautiful punk in the world, an ex-offender in a too-small CAMP FUNTIME t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Debbie's pictures were on my walls and her records were on my turntable (remember those?), her voice asking me to tell her of my dreaming. Dreaming was free.

Now you could say I wasted a chunk of my youth listening to Debbie but as Meatloaf pointed out to me a few year later, "a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age." Back then, and to this day, I don't view the time I've spent listening to Debbie's voice as wasted. It's time I enjoy. It's fun. It's funtime.

I think we all spend our lives within this fun-time continuum. As adults we do responsible stuff, things that aren't always fun for us, because we think about more than just ourselves. But when we're making a better life for our kids or saving for our retirement or going to the boring city council meeting to talk about the crosswalks downtown it's still part of that fun continuum. It is the part of the continuum about avoiding the not-fun. Being old and broke is not fun, being a kid who never sees their parents is not fun, living in a city where you can't safely cross the street is not fun. So we do the real work, the sometimes not-so-fun work to avoid what Swobo calls "the bummer life."

Now because we all are just as unique and special as our moms always told us we were, we each have our own paths in the world and our own little ways of balancing the fun and avoiding the bummer life. A good example of this can be found in bicycle tires. Bicycle tires, as you know, are not just physical objects, they are actual embodiments of our personal locomotive philosophies. They are, literally, where the rubber meets the road.

My friend Jan and I have divergent tire philosophies. I can't stand the tires he rides and I know he hates the tires I ride. And yet we're still friends because we each can appreciate the other's rationale in tire selection. Even if we don't agree with it.

I hate flat tires. I like to get on my bike and go and go and go. I do not like changing flats in the rain. I do not like being late and I budget buffers of time into my schedule just in case I do have a flat. But, and I hesitate to write this lest I rouse the vengeful god of punctures, these days I rarely flat. That is because I ride tires with names like Armadillo or Marathon. My tires perhaps add five minutes to each commute but I love to ride and I hate flats. My tires are worth it to me.

Jan values a lively ride. His tires are lighter and faster. Not fragile, he does not ride the lightest or the fastest tire, he picks his tires with care. But he will deal with a flat now and then. More often than I do certainly but not that frequently. And from a math perspective, Jan is wiser than me. Let's say that if his commute was the same length as mine he'd save ten minutes a day. Say he commutes twenty days per month and flats once a month. He's saved 200 minutes and maybe spends fifteen minutes changing the flat. Actually he's faster on the tire change, he's had more practice. Clearly Jan is making better use of his time. And he loves the ride of those tires.

But here's the thing. I hate flats more. I hate them enough that I love my Armadillos and my Marathons. Jan's favorite tires find no favor in my house. Flats are more of a bummer for me. I'm a commuter, not a racer. I'm doing what I can to avoid the bummer life.

Driving is another thing I just completely avoid. I never liked driving and I like to ride. This made my choice really simple and I quit driving over twenty years ago. People are amazed when they find out my 36 miles of commuting means I'm on my bike 3 hours a day. "Yeah," I say, "I get to ride my bike three hours a day. How cool is that?" Nobody ever says "Oh, I had to hike for a couple of hours on Tiger Mountain" or "I had to go to that Springsteen concert" if those are things they enjoy. Springsteen claims he found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car. I don't claim that I've found the key, but I'm having fun looking for it at twelve miles per hour, perched on the seat of a bicycle, rolling around on very tough tires.

Freddie Mercury perhaps sang it best:

I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like


Keep 'em rolling,

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


Anonymous said...

Inquiring minds want to know.. What tire does Jan ride?

I've tried flat-resistant tires (Gatorskins), but I find that their sidewalls, which are made of a different material, blow-out really easily. Over a couple months I went through three of these tires before realizing that it was a flaw in the tire, not just bad luck.

Now I'm back to my trusty old Avocets, or whatever Performance happens to have on sale.

Kent Peterson said...

Jan's got a whole bunch of bikes and rides a wide range of tires, but one of his favorites is the Gran Bois. You can see 'em at:

Mitch said...

Yep. Marathon Pluses for my daily commute, thank you very much. I occasionally think about getting faster tires on a separate wheelset (or entirely separate bike) for longer "personal" rides...but then I realize I'd still be changing a flat, whether pressed for time or not.

chdot said...

Nice set of comments.

It's the greatest thing cyclist can get over to non-cyclists (it's not just commuting)


Anonymous said...

Hey Kent,

More good stuff, I really enjoy your writing - got hooked back when you were into recumbents.

I still ride recumbents, any kinda bikes, really. Rode my Organic Engines "slut" (sporty low utility trike)over to a neighbor's place to pick up a 5' glider. Then rode around in the woods on a new-to-me fixed-up diamond-frame ATB.

Like you,I prefer not to fix flats or do that much bike maintenance, either. Swallows (Schwalbe) w/reflective stripes and kevlar flat-resistant belts are my favorites.

I figured out long ago that life is a scenic tour, I'm slower than most anyway and in no hurry to end my ride...

As the bard said, "...all the money in the world is spent on having fun..."


Davey said...

Kent Peterson.

You are a fabulous writer and a wise wise man. I think about a quarter of what I tell my friends when petioning them to go by bike and a third to a half of what I say to the public as a Cascade Bike Ambassador is at least inspired by you. This post is such a strong example of your ability to see all sides. I'm so happy you've got yet another forum on the web.

Just wanted to let you know.

Davey Oil

Cellarrat said...

Well put kent!