During the summer of 2021, Fiona was offered a job working as a veterinary assistant at a clinic 50 km away. It was a super opportunity, so I told her she should take it, and she could use my car for the commute. I would use the e-bike. We had bought a Rad Mini in 2018 to help Sophie and Fiona get around for work, school and groceries in Nelson while they were living semi-independently. They mostly walked but the bike was occasionally a huge help.
Once Fiona moved away to university in the fall of 2020, the e-bike came home to live in the garage in New Denver and only occasionally got used. But the following spring, with my car leaving town 5 days a week, the e-bike became my primary vehicle for errands. It was suprisingly enjoyable. It could pack a fair bit of payload, and I felt much less guilty making my little runs up and down the hill to the post office or grocery store most days. So when she went back to Toronto for her second year of university, I decided to see if I could keep using the bike for local trips, at least until the cold rain started in October.
I decided that for every tank of gas I didn’t have to buy, I would flesh out my cycle-commuter kit. I got myself some rain pants and I made it through October. I figured I’d keep going until the snow was flying. I was surprised to discover that the tire tread was pretty good in the first skiff of snow. I added an under-helmet balaclava, a set of warm waterproof gloves, some goggles, and a hi-vis jacket.
Suddenly it was April. I had ridden through the whole winter.
And so I kept going. I lent my car out to people who needed a car. I used it myself for trips of over 100 km (for orchestra gigs, to retrieve various children from airports to bring them home or to dispatch them, for appointments in Nelson) but for everything local, meaning everything within 15-20 kilometres, I used the bike.
It was addictive! I was thrilled with how fun and easy it was. And then I discovered NotJustBikes and swallowed the orange pill for once and for all.
NJB is a YouTube channel by a Canadian guy who grew up in the same general area of the country that I did, and who now lives in Amsterdam. His dryly sarcastic video essays talk about the differences between transportation norms and urban design between North American cities and those in the area he now lives.
Spoiler: we don’t come out looking very good.
I fell down the rabbit hole of his YouTube channel and found myself alternately inspired and frustrated by the contrasts. It was a sort of “I never thought about it, but the way we live really sucks, and there is no good reason we can’t radically change things” experience. And a lot of “omg, why do we still insist on doing things so stupidly, when so much of the rest of the world has been doing them so much better?” And repeated sentiments of “why do we just accept this shit?” This is the orange (Dutch) pill.
I don’t know what the magic sauce is that makes the orange pill go down so smoothly, but I cannot recommend his channel highly enough. It is definitely a gateway drug.
So here I am another winter later, still only using the bike for local transportation. I now have a cargo trailer, made out of the old kids’ Burley D-Lite trailer, which I can hook on for bulky loads. I have pogies (bar mitts) and a better high-visibility winter jacket. I have the bike tricked out with a go-mug holder, tire chains for the icy days, slick tires for the summer, a phone mount and rear blinkies that function as turn signals. It’s getting close to the 4000-kilometre point on the odometer, which isn’t all that much compared to the mileage I put on my road bike, but it is a ton of riding when you take into account that it is made up almost entirely of 3.5-kilometre trips up and down the hill between our property and town.
And I am now a passionate advocate for active transportation options. I organized an e-bike event at the local market last summer to encourage other people to look to e-bikes as a transportation option. (Several have since done so!)
I have also taken on the challenge of trying to develop a shared-use active transportation trail between our village and the next one over, something that has been tried repeatedly over the years. They’re only 4 km apart but the highway is so dangerous for anything but motor vehicles that everyone is car dependent as a result. I’ve waded into the worlds of municipal politics, public advocacy and grant applications as a result, places I would ordinarily avoid like the plague, but the orange pill is making me do it.
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