Riding a bike in the city can feel like an isolated act as you try to navigate an endless parade of cars on narrow or non-existent lanes. Perhaps this is the reason cyclists often band together for support. Despite persistent stereotypes to the contrary, the local cycling community is vast and varied, and too often categorized by factions: road vs. mountain, recreation vs. commuting, wealthy vs. poor, vintage vs. futuristic, young vs. old, performance vs. leisure. Most of these distinctions are created by the community itself, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing: its diversity is its strength. For every conceivable type of rider, there is a band of like-minded individuals.
The irony is that from a motorist’s perspective, cyclists are often an undifferentiated nuisance — a nuisance that takes up the lane while they’re trying to get home from work. Sooner rather than later, these contradictions in perception will have to collapse. As $4 gallons of gas become the new normal, alternative transportation modes will continue to grow in popularity, if not outright necessity. Our roadways are already reflecting this new economic reality.
The interviews that follow explore the motivations — from environment to health to pure pleasure — that powers some of our local two-wheeled lifestyles, as well as ways the city is working to create a bike-friendly community. If you, too — for Global Warming, or your kids’ college saving fund, or just a nice ass — are waivering over the gas pedal, maybe you’ll find your final bit of inspiration here.
THE FOUR Es
Jack Elder is a long-time community activist, a master of occasional lawn games, and a school teacher. Through it all, he’s been a cyclist.
What’s your first memory of commuting in San Antonio?
I came to San Antonio in 1975. I remember commuting to St. Gerard High School on South New Braunfels Avenue from the Mahncke Park area, and then at night I’d ride out Commerce to Our Lady of the Lake to get my teaching certificate. And then at 10 at night I’d ride back home and do it again the next day. It was fairly lonely because there weren’t a lot of cyclists out, and there are more now, which is nice to see. I don’t think the attitude of motorists has changed. Basically, it’s been overwhelmingly favorable. I’ve been run down, I’ve had my bike stolen, but overall the experience has been positive.
What do you see for the future `of cycling`?
When you’re on a bike you get a truer picture of what work is, which is getting an object from A to B. We have a choice: either doing work ourselves on a bike or let fossil fuels do it for us. I think it’s time to step up and do it ourselves. Nobody can argue with the benefits.
How would you define the benefits?
I like to think of it as the 4 Es. It’s environmentally friendly, it’s economic, it’s efficient, and it’s an elegant way to get around. You see things you can’t see in a car. I’m riding to school every day on the West Side and there’s this bus driver, every morning he gives me a big wave and I give him a wave. And now he’s starting to beep his horn. I don’t know who this guy is and he doesn’t know who I am, but there’s this connection that’s been made and it wouldn’t be made if I was in a car. Kids at school ask me where did you come up with these math problems, and I say I ride to school on my bike and I’ve got all kinds of time to focus and come up with math problems to torment you with. I think bicycling is a great way to get around.
THE FUTURE OF SA CYCLING
Abigail Kinnison is a city planner who specializes in bicycle mobility. She is known favorably as “The Bike Czar.” Our interview took place over email, moderated by a City PR Manager April
When you began your job, how would you describe the viability of bike-riding in San Antonio?
I think cycling was seen as more of a recreational activity. Cyclists had to be decked out in spandex, have an expensive bike, and ride the access roads of 1604 and the Hill Country. Now, with gas prices and the push to become healthier and greener, more and more folks are getting on a bike for their daily errands and commuting to work.
What are some of the challenges you face in making San Antonio more bike-accessible?
Our development pattern is a big challenge. Most of our inner-city neighborhoods were built on a grid pattern, with lots of alternative routes that are bike-friendly. But as you move outside 410 and 1604, it becomes increasingly difficult to accommodate bikes and pedestrians.
Since you began, what changes have you made to improve conditions?
Since April 2005, the City has increased the miles of bike facilities from about 70 miles in 2005 to over 200 miles. However, mileage isn’t the only benchmark — sometimes just making a small connection to a park or school can make all the difference. A lot of master-development plans have been reviewed. As a result of the Bicycle Master Plan being passed `in April 2005`, new developments are required to build bike facilities into their subdivisions if they are building a new roadway of a certain size.
What is your short-term plan for biking? What is your long-term plan for biking?
Short-term (less than 5 years): continue to plan bike facilities into our roadway projects. Work with the River Improvements Project, Linear Creekways program, and VIA as they plan and build new transportation systems. Explore the possibility of bike stations and a bike-sharing programs. Long-term (more than 5 years): Explore big trail/transportation projects like the San Pedro Creekway for the next Bond Program.
A mile for every soldier
Tammy Busby moved to San Antonio a few years ago and has yet use a car to get around the Alamo City.
What is your approach to cycling?
Three years ago on July 4 I declared myself independent from the greedy, manipulative world of gas and oil. I donated my 1988 Firebird. It was a hotrod and it was nice. I came home and announced that to my 16, 17, and 6-year-old, and you can imagine how they felt about that. We went to Wal-Mart and picked out what we thought were the Cadillacs. We’ve all been riding, all of us, for about 10,000 miles.
How have your thoughts evolved after a few years?
My son came home and said he wanted to join the Army. I thought, I draw the line. I’ll give my country my firstborn child to help Iraq, but I won’t give one more dollar of mine to the oil companies. What can one person do? You can keep contributing to an oil-driven economy or you can draw the line and say I’m not going to play the game any more. No longer will I dip into the grocery budget and feed my kids ramen noodles because I can’t afford groceries. This problem is so huge and there is no forum to even begin to discuss this problem.
How long do you plan to ride your bike `exclusively`?
I decided to stay on the bike until the troops come home or until gas becomes affordable again. I realized a while back that in about 400 more miles I will have ridden a mile for every fallen soldier in Iraq. I’m at over 6,700 miles now. Maybe this will be the year that America wises up and auto manufacturers will start making cars that we can use, and Americans will start realizing that it is a privilege to drive.
FINDING THE RIGHT BIKE
Carlos Montoya was the Current Readers’ Pick 2008 for Best Bike Mechanic. His ability to work on human-powered transports from $80 to $8,000 gives him insight into the range of bike options available.
Many people are intimidated when selecting what type of bike to purchase. What should people look for?
The best bike will always be the one that suits the purpose. If the goal is to get from home to work and back and maybe an occasional group ride, a high-end road or mountain bike isn’t always going to be practical.
Conversely, if someone wants to compete in road or mountain events, a lower-end starter bike typically ends up costing more in the long run, since the components won’t always be able to handle the rigors of competition, and replacing these parts can be very costly over time.
Is there any easy way to balance affordability with quality?
Bicycles purchased at a bike shop can range from $300 on up. Way up. But there is always a range of bikes in the $500 to $1,500 range that are a tremendous value. The components are robust but not clunky, and easy and plentiful to replace. As a mechanic, I find that these bikes hold up the best to the broadest range of use.
30 YEARS ON 20 INCHES
Rob Bloxham has been riding a bmx model for the last 30 years.
What kind of riding do you and your friends do?
We ride about three times a week. We’ll ride drainage ditches. We do street riding. Just last week we drained a swimming pool. We’ll do a spot for a few hours and then head downtown and get a beer. Twenty-inch bikes are like little crotch rockets. They’re like an urban assault vehicle.
What changes would you like to see in San Antonio?
When I was in Colorado, you could ride all the way from Denver to Boulder and never have to get on a street. They had bike paths everywhere. Here we got a bike lane on McCullough, but it took cars forever to even understand there was a bike lane there. They looked at it like it’s a two-lane road.
Dave Zunker Jr. is a fireman and EMT. He commutes solely on his fixed-gear bike, which is different from most bikes in that it isn’t able to coast, and the rider always has to be pedaling forward, which makes traveling (and braking) more of a challenge.
What do you like about riding a fixie?
It was a feeling of being more connected to the bicycle. I was relying on myself to power the bike, to stop the bike. You have to pay more attention to what’s going on because you can’t just grab the brakes. There’s a heightened awareness. It works for me because it’s less moving parts and things I have to fix, because now I’m using my bike in more of a capacity than I ever envisioned that I would. It started out with simple rides to work, but now I ride to friends’ houses or my parents’ house, or I run errands and go to the store. To me, it’s a great stress-reliever. I feel so peaceful on my bike. In a car you feel the rush of trying to race. On your bike, everything slows down.
What benefits do you see from riding your bike so much?
At one time, my wife and I had three vehicles, which was expensive with all the costs to maintain them, but 80-percent of the time two of them just sat there. But now we’re down to one vehicle and we’ve saved a lot. I rarely ever use a car now. When I do, I jump on the highway and I’m shocked at the new things that have been built. I’m like, when did this happen?
WE DON’T GIVE BIKE LOANS
Tim Tilton is a fixture on the San Antonio bicycle scene, joining various group rides three to four times a week.
What got you interested in cycling?
I wish you would make up a more interesting answer, but I was at TCBY getting yogurt and thought I’d walk across the street and look in the window at Bike World. I thought cycling might be fun. Maybe I could spend $200 on a bike, that’s not too much. And then they show you the $200 bike, but they say, let me show you what you could get for $350. But then you look at the $350 bike, and think well, if I’m gonna spend $350, man, for $450 I could get this one that’s even better. The first bike I got was practically $500. The next year, the bike I got was, let’s say, way more than I’d like to spend. I went to my loan officer and said, I need a bike loan. He said we don’t give bike loans but we give vacation loans. So I said, yeah, that’s what I need, I need a vacation loan. That was around 1994 and I’m still riding it today.
You were an initial organizer of the Thursday-night bike rides from the Bike World in Alamo Heights. How did that start?
It’s perhaps the largest ride in town, and I don’t know of one that’s lasted longer. A lot of people will tell you they were doing a Thursday-night ride 20 years ago, but they would ride for about a year or so and then the ride would die. The Thursday ride we have now actually started on Wednesday. We had some young punks showing up causing problems, so Greg, one of the organizers, thought we’ll change the ride to Thursday night and tell everyone but them. It worked perfect. This was almost 12 years ago and it’s been going ever since. For those starting out, this is a good ride.
I’ve noticed you ride at least three times a week. Why do you like to ride?
It’s kind of a meditative, religious way of life. I’ve never thought of it as a hobby. I think about my job as a hobby before I think about bike-riding as a hobby. I work so I can have a place to keep my bikes and ride.
THOSE WHO RIDE TOGETHER STAY TOGETHER
Alicia Alvarez `a former Current production-team member` can often be seen riding a tandem bike with her husband Carlos the Carpenter, or a stylish beach cruiser, from Woodlawn Lake to Southtown.
How did you get involved with cycling?
I started riding at the age of 21 when I moved to downtown from living in Schertz. That’s how I met Carlos, too. When I was real young riding bikes I ran into Carlos, and he was riding a bike and we went out and rode all night, and the rest is history. I’ve been addicted to riding ever since, mainly for the transportation purpose.
Can you think of some ways to get more women riding bikes?
When I think about all the girls riding I’ve seen through the years hanging out with the guys, they’re always — the poor things — they’re always on bmx bikes or on road bikes, and I always end up loaning them my cruiser bikes. I think that’s why more women don’t ride. As soon as they get these cruisers they ride a lot more. A lot of guys spend a lot of money on bikes for their girlfriends, and here they are riding these bikes to impress their boyfriends but they aren’t really liking them. They can’t get dressed up. It might sound silly, but it makes a difference to a lot of women.
Get your mojo
George Longoria is a key member of Bike Mojo, an online community of cyclists, as well as a local organizer for the annual Ride of Silence tribute to fallen cyclists.
How would you describe the Bike Mojo scene?
You have people from all spectrums, from far to the left to far to the right politically. There’s folks who are barely scratching a living to those doing quite well for themselves. From the old to the young, men, women. It’s a wide community and our love for cycling is what ties it all together, which is not to say all we do is talk about biking. Every now and then we actually talk about bikes, which is kind of the running joke. I think that’s a good thing, because it is an open exchange of ideas.
How would you describe the local bike scene overall?
There’s always been a disconnect between mountain-biking and road-biking. Bike Mojo is a predominantly mountain-bike group. There are a number of other groups not tied into Mojo: The Wheelmen is a big, strong road organization. The Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club; the San Antonio Ride Like A Girl organization, who try to remove the testosterone from cycling. There’s S.T.O.R.M., Cool Cat Cycling, and others.
What improvements can be made in the local cycling community?
The one thing San Antonio lacks is an umbrella organization to bring all these clubs and teams together under one unified voice to effect change for cyclists. If we need to lobby City Hall for more bike lanes there still is a lack of a communication channel. One thing that is certain is that cycling in San Antonio continues to grow. As gas hits $4 a gallon people will realize cycling is not just something for people on the fringe. It is a rewarding recreational pursuit, but it is also a very legitimate and feasible means for transportation. If everybody were to reduce their automobile usage by just 5 miles a week, I think that’s a small first step in addressing the huge energy issues we have. As we make our city more cycling friendly, people are going to be saying, I am going to make that small trip down the street. And as people start doing that, I think we can make a dent. •