Albuquerque looks strikingly different from the seat of a bicycle.
Here’s the view from my car: The brake lights in front keep flashing as we crawl toward the Big I. The guy on my left is shoving the nose of his pickup into my lane as he tries to cut ahead. He throws a threatening look through his windshield. It looks like I’m going to inch my way along the fly-over onto I-40 and all the way to the Carlisle exit.
Here’s the view from my bike: A road runner scoots across the trail. The air is cool and sweet. The path dips under I-40 then heads straight for the glorious expanse of the Western sky. On radios taped to handlebars, other cyclists listen to traffic reports. Below me I see the brake lights of cars backed up on the interstate. It’s a great morning to be commuting in this city.
I’m late to Burque’s biking scene. I’ve had a mountain bike for years, but never viewed it as anything other than a muscle-powered toy, a weekend alternative to running and hiking on aging knees.
But this summer I’ve come to view biking as a regular—not an “alternate”—form of transportation. It has changed the way I see our city.
The extensive network of Albuquerque’s bike trails takes you into a parallel universe apart from a world trapped in cars and trucks. You find alleys and quiet side streets you had no reason to try before. Time and distance gain new meaning. Street maps are no longer two-dimensional. Your legs tell your eyes where the hills are.
A whole new city opens up to the person who bikes. In traffic, I roll up the windows against engine exhaust. On my bike, I’m greeted by the smells of bacon and beans cooking inside homes I pass, or the scent of desert flowers showing off, boasting life and last night’s rain.
A novice cyclist steps into a world of colorful bike shops and debates about Campagnolo versus Shimano, or whether good old steel is better than the latest breakthroughs in aluminum and carbon fiber. One woman who passed me on a long hill had me checking the periodic table after she claimed her Bianchi racer was made with boron.
You stumble across long-established touring clubs, and you’re initiated into an easy fraternity of fellow pedalers who convene spontaneously at corners while waiting for the light to change. Just like when you bought that Subaru and you started seeing Subarus all over the place, so you also begin to notice how many cyclists travel Albuquerque’s streets.
I see now that many low-wage workers use bikes for daily transportation. I’ve seen a uniformed security guard spinning to work and a dishwasher, still wearing his damp apron, heading home on an old Schwinn. They’re smart. Escaping the high expenses of car ownership can make it so much easier to meet rent, or put together the down payment on a first home. I know two young men in Denver who give reconditioned bicycles to the poor rather than simply passing out bus tokens. Why not such a program here?
Why not turn Silver Avenue into Albuquerque’s first bike boulevard? How about more over- and underpasses to avoid car-clogged streets? Why don’t more businesses install bike racks? I sure wish the Bosque bike path went all the way south to Belen and north to Bernalillo. Heck, why not all the way to Santa Fe?
Making a bicycle your transportation focus instead of a car gets you thinking like that.
You also get to thinking how much more you can do with two wheels under you. For the first time in my life, I’ve got a real road bike, one of those crotch rockets with skinny tires and slick gears that’s lighter than a toaster. It’s a million light years beyond my last “hot” bike: a purple Stingray I drove as a kid, with handlebars above my ears and baseball cards clothespinned to the frame so they snapped against the spokes.
Now I’m training for my first “century,” a hundred-mile ride across the Acoma Reservation in September, followed a month later by a century on usually closed roads of the While Sands Missile Range. I’m heading out before dawn, dressed in crazy-bright Italian biking shirts, pedaling from Nob Hill to Tijeras and beyond, or using the South Bosque loop to do laps, blasting Rossini and Verdi on my iPod and joyfully tossing off “buon giorno!” to everyone I meet.
What’s next? My wife just shakes her head when I mention shaving my legs.