Winter solstice sends ripples of quietness, this year accompanying dripping fir boughs and foggy skies. Early evenings remain perfect for reading, remembering those from our past and meditating on the future. This year there is something else. My still-feeling-new e-bike whispers to me from the corner of my garage, no longer plugged in nightly. I have never been one to wish for spring as the eve of winter beckons. Yet, this year, while I can still dodge out on a less wet day on the weekend, too little daylight prevents me from riding my lengthier work commute. This higher tech bike, for the first time, has me already dreaming about when I can get back on the saddle for real. I admit, in years’ past, this is not something I craved until February, once I felt daylight returning and winter thawing (drying).
It was a bit ironic that I first road-tested an e-bike (or pedal assist) after our Mayor and Council rode them along Willamette Falls Drive during this past July’s annual West Linn Old Fashioned Fair parade, this year’s fair theme identified as Electric Avenue. Many may be surprised to learn how electrical history was made through this town of ours: on June 3, 1889, the Willamette Falls Electric Company made history as they transmitted electricity to light up 55 street lamps 14 miles away in Portland. This electric company was later renamed Portland General Electric (PGE), and still generates renewable power at the falls.
Immediately following the parade, an assortment of e-bikes were available to take for a spin, complements of Portland’s Cynergy E-Bikes. Yep, I admit I rolled my eyes at first, holding recent memories of riders astride e-bikes, passing me along my commute to OHSU. (Theme music: Doo-da-doo-da-doo-da-doo). Me? I didn’t think I would spend that kind of money on a new bike, not when I really could make it to work by road bike (ignoring, until I’m riding home, those dreaded West Linn hills I must climb each night). And yet, fast forward to today: I suspect my friends might admit they are a bit tired of my rave reviews about this new investment of mine. Or to hear again how I can actually get home with a load of library books or groceries….and how I pass all those cars moving at a snail’s pace along the way…
A wonderful blog was posted in 2011 by Oregon Digital Newspaper Program – an interesting read about the history of cycling. Of all that is detailed in this blog, most immediately interesting to me today is a bit about the development of the safety bicycle.
This safety bicycle or rover (following the penny-farthing model) was a revolution that allowed cycling to be considered an ideal mode of transportation for women into the early 1900’s. The blog shares this quote by suffragist Susan B. Anthony: “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” This of course necessarily led to changes in what was to be considered acceptable dress, as cycling in corsets and excessive skirts hindered riding, even without the horizontal cross bar. Soon, we saw bloomers on women! While most women don’t typically make a habit of going around riding bikes in dresses anymore, today the slanted crossbar for women is mostly just tradition, although I co-mingle in the bike lane with more than a few folks in skirts, usually matched with the leggings of today.
Had you asked me even as much as six months ago as to whether I would ever own a women’s safety bicycle or what I might have referred to as a girl’s bike, I would have laughed in your face. In my more than 50 years of cycling, the only girl’s bike I rode was the red Schwinn that my cousins, brothers and I all first attained two-wheeled freedom on, and yet, I never truly owned it. I suspect my uncle had first purchased this bike without the crossbar to first accommodate the eldest of all us cousins, a girl. For me, after I grew out of that and it moved onto brother Michael, I moved on to a slough of hand-me-down bikes, all equipped with horizontal crossbars. When I finally had the funds to earn my first bike there was no doubt it would be a men’s frame.
Yet, after being sold on an e-bike, after test-riding it up the steep climb of Pete’s Mountain Road from West Linn’s Willamette Park, it was explained to me how this women’s frame – now more generously referred to as a step through – is popular for commuters. I pushed back until after trying several models, recognizing this to be the style for me. Taking a closer look, we might clarify that it is older riders of all genders that have begun to select frames without horizontal cross bars. And if you really want to dig deeper, a Dutch safety organization says bikes with horizontal cross bars are more dangerous, particularly for older riders. Okay, okay….I get it! At 58 I do fit the demographic of older rider. I’ll assert for the record, that is not why I selected the bike that I did.
Anyway, crossbar or not: Happy Solstice. Enjoy the dark, quiet and slower pace of life. But know that I will keep peeking at that bike in the corner of the garage. And, before long, I too will give a quick Google search to learn just how long until ten hours of daylight returns to us Oregonians and I can resume my untrammeled journeys.