Slow Ride, Take It Easy

I’ve been thinking a lot about slowness lately. Part of my inspiration has been from necessity: I recently found an old tandem bike on Craigslist and have been using it to get around Brooklyn with the kid. It weighs roughly one ton. It has only one speed, and only one pace: stately. When riding it, I affect a lordly indifference to the cars and bikes that whiz by.

3593842052_03235f0de7_m.jpgWith a bike like this, you could learn to ride more slowly, too. Photo by Beat Bike Blog.

And it feels great. Especially after a couple of days spent racing around town on my other bike, which is light and fleet and always seems to be asking me why I bother stopping when the light turns red (that’s another post).

Slow biking as an international phenomenon may not be as well known as slow food, but it’s out there and growing, along with many other manifestations of a slow movement embraced by people who find the hectic pace of the 21st century dehumanizing and counterproductive. You can find a slow biking manifesto at The Slow Bicycle Movement website. Brought to you by the Copenhagenize folks, this is a blog that moves at an appropriately glacial pace.

Many slow bikers are also cycle chic aficionados. One of our most recent additions to the Streetsblog Network, Charleston Cycle Chic, is a great example. (We’ve added Cycle Chic Estonia, too, because, you know, why not?) We applaud these efforts because they are part of a trend across the world, and even the good old US of A, toward "normalizing" cycling as transportation.

Another of our member blogs, The Beat Bike of Hartford, CT, has this to say about the slow ride:

One of the things I noticed when I was in Cuba is that the people there ride their bikes slowly. Singlespeeds are prevalent, but even bikes that appear to have functioning derailleurs or internally geared hubs are usually left on one speed, and people just plod along. The average speed is maybe twice as fast as a leisurely walk, keeping cycling in the realm of appreciable mechanical advantage while obviating the need not only for multiple speeds but, for the most part, brakes.

…[I]nspired, I suppose, by my trip, I decided it might be nice to embrace leisure in my riding — at least when I am wearing a suit. The problem (if it can be called that) is that the two bikes I have like to go at a healthy clip — the handlebars are pretty low, the saddles are kinda high, and somehow, they make me ride hard. Enter the Raleigh Twenty…

Today, all spiffed up for court, I endeavored to ride slow on a bike that I judged would not go fast even if I wanted it to. The result: smashing success. Rather than be a weird, fast-riding guy with suit pants rolled up, awkwardly straddling two worlds and two speeds, I embraced my inner country lawyer and toodled along in old-school, three-speed style. It was enjoyable, and I didn’t get too sweaty… Also, I was able to imagine this song as my soundtrack.

Other tidbits that have flowed past us in the fast-moving Streetsblog Network news feed: The Infrastructurist posts 36 reasons streetcars are better than buses. Orphan Road writes about increasing density along commuter rail lines. And Mobilizing the Region discusses the role of public-private partnerships in transit-oriented development.