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cycling is a gateway drug

September 22, 2010

Just some snapshots from a pretty typical week in the Simply Bike household. Biked to work, got groceries on my way home, ran with the pup, did laundry, baked, ate, slept, read, taught, graded, and blogged.

Nothing that special or that particular about it. But were I to compare this week with, say, a week in my life as an undergraduate, the differences would be pretty drastic. For one, I didn’t really cook or bake in those days. I didn’t ride a bike. And I sure didn’t hang-dry my laundry in the backyard.

I would say that my life as an undergraduate ranked pretty average on the whole. Once I started graduate school and became a little more aware of the world around me, I started making decisions that snowballed into how I live today; healthier eating, smarter consumerism (or nonconsumerism), broader awareness of social and political issues, and a much increased appreciation of nature and our planet.

And they all sort of went together. Once I became a runner, I couldn’t help but make better food choices. Once I thought about my gastronomical habits more, I couldn’t help but think about where my food comes from and at what price. And once I started cycling and being aware of something called a ‘carbon footprint’, I couldn’t help but hang-drying laundry whenever possible, turning off lights more, reusing (canvas) grocery bags, and thinking about other ways to be a more responsible user of this planet.

The list I mention is of course pretty elementary. I believe that most people can implement these changes without much bother to their lifestyle. And I believe that one little change begets another small change. A few baby steps later and you’re already acquiring positive karma. Don’t say you weren’t warned – cycling is a gateway drug!

I’ve also noticed that once you’re making changes in one area, it’s tougher to excuse questionable behavior in other areas. If I bike to work all week, I have a tough time justifying a drive to the grocery store; I’ve biked this much already, why not another mile or two?

It’s funny how these things go. Responsible living sure is a slippery slope – be careful what you start!

I would love to know – have you noticed this snowball effect in your life as well? What kind of things have you made part of your regular routine in order to live more eco-friendly and more environmentally responsible?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 13:53

    I love this! Thinking about my life now vs. my undergraduate days is a great way to recognize how far I’ve come with my health and personal responsibility. I recently got a scooter, which is much more eco-friendly and fuel-efficient than a car, but I can’t help but feel guilty every time I ride it because it’s not a bicycle. It helps that my bike currently has a flat that I haven’t had time to fix, but I think once I get my bike moving again I’ll go back and forth between scooting and riding.

  2. September 22, 2010 14:14

    Plus, your clothes don’t shrink if you don’t accidentally throw them in the dryer (I wear a lot of cotton, as you may be able to tell)! :)

    Riding to the market has become fairly routine for us. I feel guilty if I take the car when I know it’s not a big deal to ride a few miles. It get’s a little dicey in the snow, but we’re fortunate that it usually melts pretty quickly here. Here are some other items I try my best to routinely do:
    b><Resuable grocery bags (I once forgot them and nearly had a meltdown in the market, trying desperately to carry everything out by hand)
    Reusable water bottle (instead of buying one every time I need a drink, just carry it)
    Recycling clothing (either donated, reused for some other purpose, or given to others)
    Going veg (Not pushing vegetarian living, but limiting meat meals helps the environment. According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads. Definitely doable for most people I think)
    I think if we just use our heads, and try not to use things or do things that are wasteful, we are helping. Plus, we just feel better. It’s amazing when you think about it how many little things can be changed. In fact, there’s a website of 146 things we can do every day to help (, everything from turning off monitors when not in use to buying unbleached, brown coffee filters.

    In general, I think the world is becoming slowly more aware of the effects our every day decisions have on the earth. Unfortunately, I’m not a world traveler (at least not yet!), so I’m not comfortable making assumptions about any other country, but it seems in my travels here in the States I see people making smarter decisions, even if they aren’t on their bicycles. Perhaps the shift in mentality will cause many more to start riding their bicycles though? In a sense, working backwards from your experience. I’ve already noticed more people just in my small little neighborhood riding more. A few years ago, hubby and I were the ‘lone riders,’ but more and more I’ve noticed people realizing that, even though we’re in the middle of nowhere, there are places we can ride rather than drive.

    • September 22, 2010 17:02

      G.E. – yes, great additions to that list! I also use reusable grocery bags everywhere I go. Living in Germany and Austria, where that is how it’s done at ALL grocery stores, that’s become habit pretty quickly. I also feel annoyed when I forgot a bag at home and end up stopping for something at the store and also try to carry it or stuff it in my purse, although I guess one plastic bag wouldn’t kill me ;) Especially since we do reuse the plastic bags as littler or dog-poop bags.

      • September 22, 2010 17:17

        We do that too! At least they’re getting some kind of use – even if it is for picking up dog droppings. Of course, I haven’t figured out yet what to do when we run out of all the plastic bags I’d been storing for years run out. Guess I’ll worry about it when it happens. I’ve heard that there are small bags made out of vegetables that can be bought for such purposes, but haven’t investigated too much on that topic yet.

      • September 22, 2010 18:43

        In Lithuania too, all the grocery stores charged for plastic bags, so we would take our own, or if we forgot we would buy a few bags and then use them for trash bags at home :)

        Portland just recently passed (I think) a ban on plastic bags, though the grocery store we usually go to already only uses paper bags – but we’ll have even more motivation to bring our own bags, as I think places are going to start charging for the paper ones as well. Usually we’re only doing one day of shopping at a time at least, so it’s still not too hard to get the stuff out to the bikes if they’ll let us carry the hand-basket out and then bring it back in.

  3. September 22, 2010 15:17

    Great post. Kudos to you for actively making decisions instead of just passively consuming everything you can get your hands on.

    On a bloggy note, how do you make those lovely photo collages?

    • September 22, 2010 17:06

      Dreamlet – I use photoshop to make my collages. I open the photos in Photoshop and then cut and paste them all in a new document arranging the sizes and order as I like them. I learned how to do it by watching this Youtube video on it:

      I’m far from proficient at photoshop but I can make these kinds of basic collages. Once I have it made, I save it as a “jpeg” and then upload it into wordpress with their basic photo uploader function for creating a post.

      Hope that helps!

  4. September 22, 2010 16:09

    Love your pics. Love your bicycle attitude. I soooo want to ride my bike more than I get to. I did a lovely ride in the rain last weekend though. Tons of pics on my blog.

  5. Kelly permalink
    September 22, 2010 18:10

    I’ve noticed similar shifts in my living habits after cycling, though this is mostly due to (1) living in the UK and (2) grad student poverty (the two factors which made me into a cyclist to begin with!). Over here, people tend to hang their clothes out a lot more regularly. The house I lived in last year didn’t have a dryer, and renting one would have cost money we didn’t have. Given the damp climate over here it’s nice to have one if you can’t hang your clothes out, but after having a year where it wasn’t an option I’ve adjusted my habits and use the dryer a lot less now. When I was home in the US this summer, I was repeatedly struck by the fact that no one in my parents’ neighborhood has a clothesline despite the hot Southern sun and almost complete lack of rain. Similar with remembering to carry grocery bags – over here some of the stores charge for them now, and being a miser I refuse to pay 5p for one, so I have a little collapsible one I always carry in my computer bag in case I need to swing by the shops on my way home from the library. Similar parsimony has made me a reusable-water-bottle person for years – I hate having to pay for something you can get for free from a tap! Not sure if these habits make me eco-conscious or just excessively cheap. :)

  6. September 22, 2010 18:29

    We’ve made a lot of these changes as well, but to be honest they have seemed more like necessary life changes, for the sake of the quality of our life, than they have seemed environmental or “green” choices.

    Living in Lithuania for a year, we got used to unprocessed, natural foods, shopping for food every day to have fresh ingredients, etc – and coming back, we were shocked at what kind of food we were taking for granted in America. We thought milk from the grocery store was turned bad, but really, it just tastes like that here because it’s been so over-processed, for example. This led us more and more to start making our own food, and to be picky about where we shop and eat out, and at this point, we get seen as full-blown food snobs by some, because there is a lot of stuff we just won’t eat – not because it’s beneath us, but because we simply don’t like it and don’t feel well after eating it. Besides, how many people get good, home-cooked meals every night of the week in the U.S.? The best part about becoming a good cook is getting to eat the results!

    We air-dry almost all of our clothes on a rack in the apartment (another thing we got used to in Lithuania), and I think this is partly for aesthetic reasons (I just like having the clothes hanging), and partly for laziness reasons (I don’t want to have to wait another hour for the dryer and then have to walk over there again to get the clothes – we don’t have washer/dryer in our unit) :) I remember people drying clothes outside in the winter in Lithuania (-15-20 C), and they would let them freeze, and then just snap all the ice off of them – brilliant! :)

    I started cycling to work pretty much on a whim, actually. For my birthday a few years ago, I just decided that I’d kind of like to get a bike. So I got the Electra Amsterdam. Then I figured, I should try riding to work sometimes. So I did. Then I thought, why not the grocery store? I have a back rack, might as well use it. Now, here I am. It’s just the most enjoyable way for me personally to move around the city. I feel like it’s a quality of life improvement for me above driving or riding the bus.

    We’ve really tried to cut down on our appliances and electric gadgets in the kitchen and elsewhere (I shave with a safety razor/brush, and trim my beard with scissors), but that has largely been because it feels good to be able to do things for ourselves, and not rely on some gadget to do it for us, or we just enjoy the experience of doing it by hand.

    We don’t actually get normal TV stations anymore, though we still have a TV for watching movies and such, but we’re probably going to get rid of the TV and just move the computer to the living room – when the digital TV switch came through, we just decided it wasn’t worth it and that we would rather spend our time doing other things.

    We have been steadily reducing our personal space and therefore the stuff we have to fit in that space as well – we began feeling more and more uncomfortable having way more space than we needed, and that feeling hasn’t subsided. At this point, a 600 sq. ft. apartment wouldn’t be out of the question if it was laid out well (and we had external bike storage).

    In the end, I would say that we are pursuing a life that we enjoy and feel personally engaged in as much as possible, and that has led us to reduce our dependence on cars, gadgets, media, space, etc. Though we do spend a lot more on food than we used to – only now we LOVE eating what we eat :D

    • mooie fietsen permalink
      September 22, 2010 23:03

      Isn’t it crazy that in the U.S. some neighborhood associations have bans on clothes lines? Is clothing that offensive? I thought the clothes on lines in Italy suspended above the streets, waving in a riot of color, was one of the most charming sights I’d ever seen. Of course, just about anything in northern Italy was picturesque ;-).

      • September 23, 2010 12:28

        Yes, the clothes line ban is crazy to me! Based on all the wrong priorities – on promoting a semblance of wealth and power, the idea that someone else does your housework and that it’s kept away and hidden like housework should be, and the idea that affluence is superior and more desirable. I know it’s a small thing but I hate the underlying ideas of it and what it represents.

        And, of course, clothes hanging in the sun are aesthetically pleasing to me.

  7. September 22, 2010 20:36

    Excellent post! Wishing we had the ability to ride more often. Living in Arizona, it’s pretty hot for much of the year, so being out in the heat of the day poses a problem. During the summer months our riding is pretty much limited to early morning recreation/excercise.

    Phoenix is not noted as being the epicenter of cycling, so you have to be a little more creative when incorporating cycling in your daily life. Seeking out safe routes can be a challenge in an of its self. Folks LOVE their cars here and don’t seem to be too concerned about building a cycling infra-structure.

    As the weather becomes more bearable, we ride more on the weekends and we try to commute to the office as much as possible.

  8. September 22, 2010 21:51

    I like this post! Thinking about similar positive changes I made myself, I have decided that in my case it all stems back to when I changed the way I eat. I had started researching animal farming in relation to the environment, which was how I gradually went vegan, and then from there tons of other eco-friendly and healthy changes started adding up. I added running and biking to my life and now it just feels wrong to drive to work, so I am commuting more and more (for work and errands, too). Little things like reusable bags and bottles, cloth napkins, and safer household cleaners worked their way into the routine, too. It’s funny to look back on the days when I ate fast food and drove everywhere! Yuck!

  9. mooie fietsen permalink
    September 22, 2010 22:58

    The title of this post made me smile! True, you never know where cycling might lead you.

    Can I admit now that I often bicycle out of a certain kind of laziness? When I first moved to Holland and saw all the bicycling I thought, “Hey, this is great. Look at all these active people riding all over town.” Then I got to know some Dutch folks and they told me they bicycle because it’s more efficient than walking. I’ve known people there to hop on a bike to ride just 4 blocks, lol. They also cycle out of necessity. Only a few families I knew owned two cars, and many owned none. Our friends W. and I. and their kids took the train or rented cars if they were going on a longer trip, to say, visit their parents.

    That being said, living there changed my perspective on consumption. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but in general, the Dutch are thrifty, practical about consumption in that they buy out of need more than want, and avid recyclers. I found their ways rubbing off on me. Now that I’m back in the States, I do drive sometimes, but not nearly as much as I did before I moved (and I’m in the same city again). I’ve become a recycling nut and before making a purchase I now ask is this a want or a need and what is going to happen to this toy/book/furniture/item of clothing once we’re done with it? There is still lots I need to work on, but I feel like my time abroad and living life car-free gave me a new way of seeing the world. And yes, it started with bicycling.

  10. September 23, 2010 22:25

    “I would love to know – have you noticed this snowball effect in your life as well? What kind of things have you made part of your regular routine in order to live more eco-friendly and more environmentally responsible?”

    This is a good question and I’m not even sure where this really started, for me. I became vegan about 15 years ago (vegetarian, 20yrs) but that was primarily for animal-reasons…so I don’t consider that to be eco-conscience since I’d be doing it anyway.

    I do recall doing my 8th grade science project (in ’88!) re “What are the causes of an ocean’s death?” — about pollution and oil spills. Again, mostly about the animals vs the ecosystem at large. (I also went on to found a h.s. group called HEAR: humans for environmental and animal rights — we mostly did animal rights, not surprisingly!)

    I can remember always making sure my households recycled once I moved out on my own. And ever since my teenage years I can remember wanting to try every single hippie-green thing that came my way – crystal deodorant, flannel pads, the Keeper, the Diva, chewing cloves instead of gum, stopped shaving for a few years, did the baking soda/ACV hair thing, etc. I only still use one of those things! (Diva cup)

    What I think I see is that I was always vaguely fringe but sort of as it came to me from activist areas or fringe areas. I was never one of those people intensely into homesteading or off-the-grid or anything – but just always comfortably borderline fringe.

    I do think the more I read and the more I hear what others are doing, the more accountability I put on myself to do more. I’ve been reading 100 Days Without Oil and it’s given me a push to edge out the disposable plastics left in my life {}. When I’m very busy I tend to forget to wash my travel mugs and get takeout cups, which sucks – so that’s been reduced to about 1 per month.

    My food coop banned handing out plastic shopping bags so I always bring reusable anyway, and avoid using produce bags unless “necessary” (loose lettuce) if I forget to bring a container for that. Everything else just goes on the conveyor belt as-is. Cloth napkins – check (although I use them only 70% of the time). I own soap nuts but I’m usually so strapped for time I drop my laundry off @ the laundrette so they use conventional detergent and dryers.

    I am on the compost squad for my community garden…I’ve accidentally killed off a worm bin or I’d be vermicomposting still. So, kitchen scraps go there. Although the real battle is just not buying TOO much food. I am trying to focus more on whole foods and avoid processed stuff – so an 80/20 split in my grocery basket is fine.

    I live in NYC so I’m essentially forced to take the subway anyway, but I do like to walk. And I’d like to learn how to bike in my ‘hood.

    I buy the cats recycled cardboard scratchers and recycle them when done but there is not much else to do about greening obligate carnivores whose poop cannot be composted. *sigh* They’re using a “Renewable Southern Yellow Pine” litter and they have a lot of found-object toys. The best thing I can do is just fix every cat in sight so there’s less of them – and I’m resigned to that. I have vegan friends who insist their current cat is their last bc they hate having carnivores as pets.

    I did get a Kil-a-Wat but I don’t think it told me much about my electricity usage. I have a weird old apt that’s wired strangely so the energy draws are a mystery. I don’t have cable so I rarely have the tv on unless I’m watching a DVD and I generally hate A/C – I will only put it on when it’s mid-90s and that’s primarily for my cats (the reason I have an A/C in the first place).

    Re clothes – I guess I do thrift/resale/swap a lot, although I feel like I always have regardless of eco-friendliness.

  11. September 24, 2010 01:32

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Reading all the things you do definitely makes me feel like there is so much more I could do still. But that’s what I love about the internet – reading and learning about real people make very doable changes for the better. Like jesse.anne.o says, it’s good to be slightly on the fringe.

  12. September 24, 2010 14:03

    I think reusable bags were my gateway drug. From there I moved onto reusable water bottles, vegetarianism, and cycling. We have also just bought a twin tub washing machine, which allows you to use the same water for several loads. It’s time consuming, but it gives you total control over the length of the cycle (clothes with no visible marks don’t need very long), and you can choose exactly which order your clothes go in. You’d be surprised how much dye comes off in the water, even with fairly light colours.

    I’m surprised that hang drying your laundry is unusual, in the UK it’s a very standard activity. About 90% of my clothes dry on the line and that’s not really to do with eco friendliness, that’s just what we do. I think it’s better for my clothes too.

  13. September 25, 2010 14:32

    What an interesting topic!

    I’m very happy to read your steps to a better way of life.
    You can see my own little changes on my blog post (, and please forgive me for my bad english ;).

    Lovely blog, congratulations!

  14. September 29, 2010 02:17

    Lovely, lovely post. I like all the snapshots of your daily life. It’s almost tangible, the pleasure that you derive from all these little things. I think we have a lot of the same habits!

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