Despair vs. The Most Efficient Machine Ever Created

Do you get frustrated with traffic congestion and scarcity of parking in town?

Does owning and maintaining a car rank high on your list of expenses?

Do the constant news reports warning of mass-scale environmental degradation, pollution and economic recession seem depressing?
Do you prefer to not even think about health problems such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer?

It doesn’t really matter how you answer these questions because we can’t despair, complain or ignore our way out of them. Perhaps a better question is: What are we doing about it?

For many of us, the answer is “not enough” or, perhaps, “too much,” since some solutions to current problems may require doing less–less consuming, wasting and damaging.

One solution single-handedly addresses multiple problems. It significantly reduces our oil consumption, produces no emissions, re-centers communities around people (not cars and highways), contributes to overall physical and mental health, is affordable for all and, to top it off, is downright fun–even in winter.

When Cody Gieselman and Steve Goetzelman opened 30th Century Bicycle (310 Prentiss St.), they were already using bikes as a primary mode of transportation for themselves and their cargo.

I spoke with them about increasing bicycle transportation in Iowa City not just in the summer, but year-round.

Little Village: Something you don’t advertise is the fact that you two haven’t owned a car for about 5 years. How do you do it?

30th Century Bicycle: We had both used bikes for most of our in-town needs and we started challenging ourselves to buy less gas. Could we fill up once a month? Once every 2 months? We just tried to go by bike more often. We finally made the choice to get rid of our car after barely using it for 2 years. We rent or borrow one if we need to, but those times are few and far between.

LV: In 2009 the League of American Bicyclists designated Iowa City a ‘Bronze Level’ Bicycle Friendly Community. What has Iowa City accomplished in the past few years to earn this recognition?

TCB: The Bike Library, the Bike to Work Week schedule of events and the addition of “sharrows” have all helped. Plus, we have a Transportation Plan that includes bicycles and a Complete Streets policy.

LV: Iowa City also has some work to do to. Limited public transit and a lack of comprehensive bike routes come to mind. What are some improvements you’d like to see?

TCB: Public transportation improvements will be huge! Serious interest and policy from the university, under their sustainability efforts, to encourage students to be car-free and limit car use on campus; a train to Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, the Quad Cities and Chicago; more traffic calming; better snow removal from bike racks; more covered parking options for bikes; no mopeds parked at bike racks. We have this idea that drivers ed should be changed to transportation ed and should teach people not just how to drive a car, but how to use the bus system, how to use commuter trains and, of course, how to get around by bicycle.

LV: The following are reasons (excuses?) for people avoiding using bicycles. What solutions can you offer?

Too Hot Outside

TCB: Ride slow, pick shady routes, carry things you need with panniers or Xtracycle rather than a backpack, get comfortable with the idea that yes, people sweat, and it is okay!

Too Cold

TCB: No such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothing. [We’re] Not talking spendy tech fabrics, just use layering and insulation.

Too Snowy/Icy

TCB: Pick your routes carefully, allow extra time. Studded tires will help glue you to the road, even on ice, but they are not a cure-all.

In A Hurry (also: Too Far)

TCB: [For city trips less than five miles] experience shows that bicycle travel time, door to door, will be as fast, maybe faster, depending on parking options.

Hauling Groceries

TCB: Panniers, Xtracycle, trailer. Groceries by bike is a very doable, satisfying task and a way to build confidence in what you and your bike can accomplish.

Hauling Everything Else, Including The Kitchen Sink

TCB: Bikes at Work trailers, made in Ames. When we were building in our shop, we borrowed a truck for one massive lumber run, then did everything else with just a bike and a Bikes at Work trailer. It is amazing what you can move with one of those things–we literally brought our kitchen sink on one!

Bike Attire Is Unhip/Expensive/Ugly

TCB: Apart from weather demands there are no dress requirements! You certainly don’t need specific bike clothing to ride around town, so you can dress as you like or just carry other clothing with you and change when you get to your destination.

Bike Culture/Shops Seem Like A Boys-Only Club

TCB: With a woman co-owner who wears all the hats in a bike shop, including mechanic and wheelbuilder, we hope to demonstrate that doesn’t have to be the case.