Into the second half of October, it has cooled down quite a bit. Mornings
already feel chilly, the gingko crowns are turning golden, and everywhere the
motors of leaf blowers remind people of the season.
Saturday, Bill took a break from jiu-jitsu and rode 20 miles to his old house
in Fremont. He took Tim's e-bike, a gift from mom a year ago which had since
been gathering dust in the hallway. Bill himself would never buy a toy like that
but being the family bucket dipper, he had always sought to exploit. After
trying it out a couple of times, Bill decided that the bike would be perfect for
grocery shoppings, library visits, and commute. With current gas prices, it
would save him at least $30 a week, he estimated and, in a year, he could
recover its cost.
Before the 1990s, there were no buses in small-town China where he grew up and
bikes were the major means of transportation. In the early 80s, even motorcycles
were rare. It was typical that one family owned one bike and almost everyone a
mechanic. Dad was good at fixing flat tires. He would first pump some air and
sink one segment of the tube at a time in a basin of water to find the bubbling
hole. Next, he would file the area around the opening and the round patch cut
out of an old tube before glueing them together. It was low-tech job requiring
patience. Dad did the regular maintenance, too. The bike was a sturdy work horse
used for everything from daily commute and errands to occasional longer trips to
visit relatives. To a working family, it was an important asset.
Things changed dramatically in a few years afterwards. In the late 80s,
motorcycles were popular and private cars started to come onto the scene.
Meanwhile, Bill owned and lost bikes in college. In summer breaks, he rode
between his university in Bejing and his hometown in HeBei. Six hours under the
scorching sun was all worth it when he opened the front gate and announced his
arrival to the beaming faces of his parents. Plus, he saved on train fare, which
was very cheap, but that was how his mind worked. Afterwards, he had to stay
away from the bike for one week for his butts to recover.
In America, he drove as Americans did but occasionally rode his Dahon folding
bike after dropping off Tim in the morning. He could not grasp the idea
of riding for exercise, however. Many a time on a paved trail, rangy
athletes clad in tight-fitting polyester cycling wear and packed with explosive
power and endless endurance, zoomed by and left him staring with admiration. But
he had no desire to imitate. He had never looked athletic until recently and
believed he had better ideas on how to sweat.
Biking to commute was unappealing in general. For one thing, Bill had never felt
comfortable sharing the road with cars. When the light turned green at the
intersection, e.g., time was of the essense. He hated to keep others waiting but
pedaling simply couldn't deliver the acceleration. There was also the innate
worry about motor vehicles around. With road-rage stories making regular news,
could he really trust those drivers? As much as he loved saving money, he had
stayed mainly to the trails.
The e-bike dispelled his street fears and other complaints. One pedaling cycle
would trigger the motor for a powerful boost and, as a result,
intersections no longer posed a problem. Its pedal-assisting and fat tires, once
adapted to, made riding so much fun. The inclines, headwinds, or bumpy dirt and
gravel trails were all overcome by the extra push. 20 miles would give him a
good cardio exertion but it would not take him more than one night to recover.
It also seemed people had been working to improve for cycling. Since Covid, more
and wider bike lanes appeared on city streets, a new multi-use overpass was
completed a year ago across 101 in Palo Alto, and the SF Bay Trail had been
closing gaps and recently went around East Palo Alto by wooden plank paths over
the marsh. For the 20 miles he had to cover, only 2.5 miles were in the city, the
rest was trails.
Sunday morning, after lifting weight, Bill jumped on the fully recharged e-bike
heading back to Mountain View. After crossing Coyote Hills, he took the levee,
the route he used to run on, which in time led him onto the Dumbarton bridge.
Traffic was light under an overcast sky. Onto the peninsula, he rode briefly on
University avenue before turning left onto Bay Trail. Overall, the trip took him
80 minutes and was again a great exercise. It did not tire him out and he took
the bike for another spin in the afternoon for grocery shopping. The e-bike was
an ingenious idea which the kid discovered for him. Thank You!