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Four Wheels To Two

One Commuter's commitment to the bicycle

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The second bike I have ever owned—purchased recently with the same care and tire-kicking inspection associated with buying a new car—is now housed in our garage, along with a small, high-mileage automobile and a station wagon that gets reasonable enough gas mileage to keep it in the family. A second new bicycle, purchased simultaneously, stands ready in our garage for my wife, Rosemarie Casper.

Having jointly made the decision to turn to bicycles, our wandering in and out of bicycle shops awakened some memories in me. This process of being close to bicycles reminded me of my very first one, which was a gift from friends of my parents. It was a used bike, to be sure, but I was so excited about getting a bicycle that its condition or previous use just didn't matter to me. It came from Dennis and Lillian Morgan and their children. He was a star in the Warner Brothers stable for years, and my father, Mario Silva, had worked with him on a couple of projects.

Laying claim to the bike was a devout wish; first, it meant some kind of peer approval and, second, it meant a measure of freedom that, until then, had not been afforded me. (It was walk, take the trolley if I had the nickel or depend on my parents to tote me around in their big, black, four-door Oldsmobile sedan straight eight that could go from zero to 60 in three minutes—a favor they were not often inclined to grant.)

I was 12 or 13 at the time of the gift, and I remember how excited I was. Finally, I had a bike that would set me free at last to ride anywhere, down Kingsley Drive in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles at breathtaking speed, using it to get to school instead of riding the big red streetcar down Hollywood Boulevard (a streetcar that L.A. wishes it had now). And I didn't care that my bike was, by contemporary standards, not a hot item and that I would take a certain amount of guff for having a two-wheeler without gears whose only saving graces were that it was red and it took me almost everywhere I wanted to go. I never told anyone who my real benefactor was, but Dennis Morgan remained a hero, not for his acting, God knows, but for his and his family's generosity.

Many decades have passed since I graduated from my red plain Jane bike to a long romance with automobiles. No bike, until now, had ever interceded in that relationship.

Now the second bike of my lifetime has come along, my wife and I having been motivated by gas prices and an expansion of our unending quest for better health. It is black and silver, has 23 gears, hand brakes, big guy tires, a water bottle holder, doesn't weigh a ton and rides like a dream. I've added, thanks to the thoughtfulness of a daughter, a speedometer that also measures how far I ride on each trip and some other stuff, the value of which I'm not sure.

This bike, which doesn't draw any peer guff, also has set me free but in a way no one might have imagined during the '40s in Los Angeles, even in the face of wartime gas rationing.

This second bicycle has freed me from total dependence on our gasoline-powered automobiles. Yes, we were driven to bikes as a way to save money, but there is more to it than that. I have two jobs, one in downtown Boise and the other in Meridian, where my employer has generously, and with great consideration for the community and the environment, allowed me to arrange my schedule to eliminate one trip a week to Meridian, thus enabling me to reduce driving and allowing me to ride my bike to my Boise office from our home in Barber Valley at least twice a week. To my surprise, the one-way trip took 55 minutes.

Riding my second bike makes me feel good both physically and psychologically. I now feel virtuous knowing that my wife and I are making some contribution to our community's effort to enhance the environment and, certainly, improving our own health.

And, when I do drive my small red Scion, I am hypermiling but in a safe way. I do so with the average mile per gallon indicator on, making it clear to me how much power is required to jump out in front at a stoplight, climb a hill or go faster than 60 mph. According to my record keeping, I have increased my miles per gallon from 33 to 37-plus with a big change in driving habits: slow out of the (stoplight) gate, gradual increase from zero to cruising speed, coasting (without shutting down the engine) as much as possible and keeping freeway speed at no more than 60 mph.

With all the problems of high gas prices, I keep wondering why this Congress and this administration haven't mandated a 55 mph speed limit on federally financed highways as Nixon and Congress did in the face of the oil crisis in 1974. The eminent John Warner of Virginia mentioned it on the floor the other day, but no one stood up and saluted.

We have had eight years without an energy policy, at least not one that is apparent to me. Lately, the White House has been mumbling about drilling in the United States in our precious wilderness and offshore. Mostly such efforts would be a long-term payout and a small payout and won't, certainly, help reduce our dependency on oil. And corporate America will likewise have to begin finding substitutes for the thousands of products we use everyday that use oil as an ingredient.

But all that aside, a good place to start helping to change all this is a bicycle. It's just one of the hundreds of ways we as individuals can begin saving this earth for our species.