Manhattan Beach English teacher puts old spin on work commute
A Manhattan Beach English teacher who traded his car commute to work for an hour bike ride to work, asks, ‘Why doesn’t everybody?’
by Paul Batcheller
“Is everything okay?”
My student asked me this question with genuine concern on his face. His concern stemmed from seeing my bike in the classroom where I’ve taught high school English for 23 years. I tried to explain to him I was cycling to work now for many good reasons, but the kid still seemed perplexed.
His confusion is shared by many who hear my story of riding my gravel bike (a modified road bike) from my home 28th Street in Manhattan Beach to Beverly Hills, and back every day of the week.
How is that possible? Is it safe? What about clothing? What if it rains? These are all questions I asked myself in August of 2021 when I made the decision to switch from driving to riding. After a lot of trial and error with routes, clothing, and equipment I found my answers. I also found that even a 54-year-old man can feel like that kid he used to be in the late 70s when his bike was his main mode of transport, and just getting somewhere involved the intrinsic joy of riding that bike.
Commuting by bike does have its challenges: eating an occasional bug, flats, dragonflies to the face, numb hands, cold toes, clueless drivers, wardrobe miscues, Ballona Creek headwinds, and climbing up Marine Avenue at the end of the day.
But the challenges are worth every dragonfly.
On the rare occasion when I’m required to drive, I miss that bug in my throat, that guy pushing an overfilled shopping cart in the middle of the path, that loud truck blowing fumes down Culver Boulevard, that cold February pre-dawn launch, because it’s just better to swap those drives for rides. Burning fat rather than fuel, watching the sun rise over the San Bernardino’s, watching the terns dart through a misty, pink sky over the Pacific, avoiding the anger-filled roads with their capricious stops and starts, and enjoying two hours of commuting rather than dreading it.
Like so many of us in the South Bay, biking for me in adulthood involved a rusty, old Strand cruiser that rolled up and down the beach bike path between King Harbor with its beloved bars and stopping at the parking lot at El Porto to check the surf.
I never imagined I’d join the helmeted, lycra-clad, cyclists passing me on the bike path. The Pandemic changed that. I bought an e-bike to flatten the hills during what became my daily constitution during those surreal days when Zoom replaced my classroom podium. My range extended beyond the beach path, and so did my time in the saddle. What if I rode to work on this thing?
I tried and never looked back.
As my bike commuting increased so did my weight loss, so did my bank account, but most importantly, my happiness. Why not unplug and get a gravel bike? I did and soon, I went all in with clipless shoes, bibs, frame bags, a Garmin computer, and a new gravel bike. With a little help from my friends who have been cycling for decades, I’ve been learning the etiquette and technique to tackle longer, more serious rides on the weekends. I’m still a “Fred” out there compared to serious cyclists, but the bike-commuting during the week has changed me, fundamentally. It could change more of us. Southern California should be a mecca for getting around by bike. The relatively flat terrain, the inviting, year-round climate, and the need to reduce traffic. We have it all. If a 54-year-old man with a wonky knee can replace the car commute with the beautiful engineering of a bike, almost everyone else can too.
I’m frequently reminded of a photograph that helped prompt my transition from fossil-fueled to human-fueled transport. It was a photo of a school in Oulu, Finland in 2019. The temperature was 1.7 F that day (notice the decimal) and in the photo were scores of bikes casually parked (many with no locks) in the snow by students at the school. It was business as usual for those Finnish students. What’s our excuse? Too many dragonflies? ER