Guest Post: SUV's to Bikes, Transforming a Life...

Every so often I receive an email from someone inquiring as to whether or not I allow guest posts on the blog. I never really gave too much thought to the idea, but the author of this one was persistent, and forwarded a couple links to some other things he had written which were both informative and enjoyable. He then sent a couple options for posts which might work well here; the following is the one I selected largely due to the local flavor, as well as the positive affirmation of the cycling lifestyle. Hope you like it, and thanks to author Andrew Stephen for submitting.

Freeways strike through the landscape like snaking stripes of car conquest - massive 10 lane no-mans lands of noise and pollution. Cars have become their own intense sub-culture, and Nick was deep in it. He spent his high school years and tens of thousands of dollars fixing up his trucks and SUV's. But in college his life began transitioning away from the automobile to the cycling life. A formative trip to London, bike tour of the West Coast, and years of careful study of cycling has sold him: Nick will never buy another car as long as he lives.

Nick, tell us about growing up in Southern California.

It was beautiful, man. I grew up in La Verne, a small community in the foothills east of Los Angeles and Pasadena. I went to a small Catholic high school, Damien, where I played tennis and was involved in a number of cultural clubs and wrote for the school newspaper. It was pretty much idyllic.

And when did cars become a part of your life?

My dad was into cars throughout my childhood, so he taught me to do some work at home. We would fix my mom's transmission, change the oil, tune the brakes, little stuff, you know. Then for my 16th birthday I woke up and sitting in the driveway was a gorgeous '99 Chevrolet Silverado. It was stunning and I couldn't believe it was mine. I took it to the beach, picked up friends for joyrides around town, up to Big Bear to snowboard, skipped out on school every once in a while - you know, all the good stuff a kid should do with a sweet new ride. My dad and I began working on it, dropping it to the floor, adding a roll pan and various accents to make it pop. We painted it midnight blue and added dual exhaust pipes. It was beautiful.

What was it like then as a car owner driving around the LA area?

That's the funny thing. Looking back on it, driving around was hellish. There are few aggravations like sitting in traffic for 2 hours at a time. SoCal is pretty much just a massive maze of highways. More people keep driving everywhere and they just keep building more highways, but no matter how many they build, more people start driving and so the traffic is perpetually horrible. There's pretty much no relief from it. My dad had it the worst. He had to drive to downtown LA, near the airport for work every day and would wake up at 4am to beat the traffic - half the time he would still have to sit in it for hours. I didn't learn about it until later, but it turns out that the oil companies, I think it was Shell or Mobil, bribed the LA city council back in the '20s to rip up all the public transportation they had been developing and build freeways for the burgeoning car population. Makes sense when you look at it now.

So you were head over heels with the truck in high school and then what happened?

I went off to school on the east coast and had a blast. The truck had to stay behind, obviously, and back east there was no need for it anyway. I lived within train distance of New York City and our campus was small enough to long board or cycle everywhere. At first the cycling just seemed goofy, but my friends were waking up 20 minutes later than me to get to class at the same time (laughs) and that's when I started taking bikes seriously. It's a paradox of laziness: I was too lazy to walk, so I biked, but then fell in love with biking, got rid of my car and now bike everywhere, which is less lazy than driving!

So you got home from college and just sold the truck you had been in love with?

No, it was a little more complicated. I needed an extra push into cycling culture and that came studying abroad in London, Paris, and Rome. I got to London before all the recent cycling improvements that have been made, but fortunately got hooked up with my buddy Caleb who is the goofiest guy I've ever met. He thought it was really cool to do pub crawls through the city on his little Falcon folding bike of bikesnbits. Bikes weren't that cool to begin with, but folding bikes were really not cool! The weird part was, English girls loved it and I've never been more popular than when cruising around on the folders with Caleb. We managed to have a blast and the same for Paris and Rome where bikes are even more ingrained in the culture. I got back to the states, graduated, and realized that owning a car is a lifestyle, and one I wasn't going to re-accustom myself to. I sold the Silverado and used the money to buy myself a touring bike, racks and panniers, and went on a 3 month long tour of the west coast all the way from Vancouver to Mexico.

You're fresh off the tour, right? How are you going to proceed from here?

I've got a job lined up in Santa Cruz and will split my time between there and La Verne where I'm helping my dad out with his business. It's great to be able to come back home regularly and ride all the great routes in this area. And in my daily life in Santa Cruz I'm able to ride my bike everywhere I need to go, and that's an incredible privilege and way of life in and of itself. My dream is to open up a little bike cafe in La Verne to cater to the local bike culture and promote cycling as a healthy lifestyle amidst all the exhaust and negativity of driving. I do know that I will never own another car again. My decision is less a rejection of driving, but more an embrace of cycling.

Authors statement - Andrew Stephen is a freelance writer, crazed cyclist, and tree hugger. He bike tours through Europe on occasion and I am very thankful to Michael who allowed me to write a post for his blog.