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April 11, 2011

Interview: The Bikes of March

Car-free TexansFor the month of March, Sierra Club members David and Deby Moreno of Edinburg, Texas decided to ditch their 2004 Volkswagon Passat -- and all car rides -- and to only use their bikes to get around. The Morenos had never biked before last summer. And Edinburg is not exactly known as a place with a large number of bicyclists. But the Morenos completed their goal, pedaling about 460 miles and saving $100 in gas alone. During the month, they blogged about the journey. Even though their vehicle-riding moratorium is over, they plan to keep the bicycle as their main mode of transportation. David took a few minutes to talk about their experience.

Have you been in a car since you reached your goal? If so, what was that like?

I had drive my parents somewhere. I rode to their house and drove their car. It was a little weird. I hadn't traveled at that speed in quite a while. My wife however, she had a different experience. She had to go to the dentist, and her mom took her. She would have ridden her bike, but sedation and bike riding don't mix.

Our experiences were dramatically different. Since I was driving, I still felt like I was in control. She described her experience as a passenger as disconcerting. She wasn't in control of the vehicle, and she felt tense and scared. That subsided after a few minutes, but it still wasn't an enjoyable experience. She also looked at the world differently from the car. She tried looking at things as though she was on her bike. But since the rate of speed is much greater, the things you like to see and look at pass by too quickly.

Was the month-long venture easier or harder than you thought it would be?

It wasn't hard at all, and I never expected it to be. We're not the type of people who would drive on a whim 25 miles to go do something, so not being able to do that since we weren't driving really wasn't an issue. Using a bike as your only form of transportation changes your mindset -- at least it did mine. Trips became adventures, and we looked forward to going out and exploring things we never had before.

Did this experiment make you more or less aware of fluctuating gas prices?

At first, I was very aware of the rising gas price. But as it started to fall, I got irritated and stopped looking at it on a daily basis. I'm in favor of high prices. I think it's the only way Americans will start to look at other modes of transportation. Here in Edinburg, it's the norm to see SUVs with one person in them. On the bright side, the price of gas seems to be on the rise again. My Facebook pals complain about it more and more. I think that's a good thing.

Because leaving a car off for so long is bad for the engine, did you turn your Volkswagon on during the month to keep it from dying?

I haven't turned it on since February. I need to make some time to wash it and turn it on. Right now, it looks like hell. It's covered in a thick layer of dirt and bird crap. I may even have to drive it for a bit, just to make sure it's still in working order to be sure that I could use it in an emergency.

The car is loaded. It's pretty luxurious. It's an all-wheel drive, has leather, a moon roof, an in-dash HDD MP3 player, and heated seats. It's fun to drive. But I must say, I haven't really missed driving it.

What surprised you about this experience?

The one thing that surprised us was our physical ability. We rode during some very hot, humid, and windy days. We were able to do it without problems, and we did a lot of miles on those days. It was just a matter of taking precautions. We stayed hydrated and we took a good pace to get places. There's no need to exert yourself to get somewhere as fast as possible.

What kind of reactions were you getting? 

At first, people at work were curious about the whole experiment and maybe even a little doubtful. By the third and fourth weeks, people who may have been skeptical started asking us about the experience. They were curious about what we would do in different situations, such as grocery shopping. I'd even go so far as to say that people may be thinking about bicycling more now. It may not be much, but anything is better than not considering it at all.

What's the bike culture like in your neighborhood?

My wife and I were are part of a group called Ciclistas Urbanos -- founded by a Sierra Club member named Mark Pena. The goal of the group is to promote cycling as a viable means of transportation, and we accomplish this through the most effective means of advocacy -- we ride. The group meets every Saturday morning for breakfast and a group ride. We don't shy away from roads either -- we take roads with no bike lanes and even high traffic roads. It's our own little protest against the city, at least that's how I view it. Mark also got the city council here to pass a safe passing ordinance. It goes into effect this Friday and it will give bicycles more rights on the roads. It's been a major victory for us here.

If someone was on the fence about going carless, what would you say to get them to give it a shot?

I would have to advise them to take it slow at first. You can't expect to be able to just load up your bike with groceries or pack all your work gear the first day and expect it to be easy. You have to train a little for it. If you get your bike out after years of it sitting around, you'll hate your bike straight out. It won't be in proper riding condition and neither will you. You also won't be able to get all the gear you need in one shot -- it's just too expensive.

In my dealings with people here who are interested in doing what we do, I've given them a breakdown of all the gear we use, and if they were thinking about riding instead of driving, they may have second thoughts. It's a weird mindset though. They have no problem throwing $50,000 away on a car, but $1,000 or $2,000 on a bike and gear -- way too expensive. I don't get it.

(Photos courtesy David and Deby Moreno.)

-- Brian Foley

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