The Too Smug Bicyclist

I’ll admit that I am smug about my bicycling instead of driving. I like the exercise, I love never having to hunt for parking, and most of all, I’m having fun. But the smugness can go too far. To wit, here is a letter from today’s Mr. Roadshow column in the San Jose Mercury News:

Q Another Bike To Work Day testimonial:

Roundtrip miles biked each weekday: 14.

Commute time, including 13 traffic lights: 30 minutes each way.

Days I’ve driven a car to work in the past five years: fewer than 10.

Accidents involving cars or pedestrians: Zero.

Patience level being in a car during commute hours: Very low.

Satisfaction level zipping past a long line of backed-up cars: High.

CO2 saved from entering the atmosphere each year: 2.6 tons (yes, tons).

Gas money saved each year, at current prices: $900.

Frequency of decadent dessert consumption: Daily.

Body Mass Index: Low.

Guilt over eating said sweets: None.

Cost of high-quality bicycle: $800.

Amount I would have spent to purchase a car and insurance if not biking: A lot more than $800.

Cycling gear and maintenance costs during the past five years: under $230.

Flat tires since installing Mr. Tuffy liners a year and a half ago: Zero.

Bike theft insurance per month, covering complete replacement: $2.

Living a low-carbon lifestyle and practicing what I’d preach if I were the preaching type: Priceless.

Gillian Zaharias

Mountain View

Gag! When it comes to self-righteous smugness, I’m not even close to this! I ride on a beat-up 25-year-old road bike that’s usually stuck in first gear. Just reading the letter made me think of all the downsides of bicycling she doesn’t point out. It’s miserable to ride in the rain, even worse when it’s cold enough the roads are icy. Some drivers are rude: just today while I was bicycling to the farmer’s market on a street without a bicycle lane, a driver gave me the finger because I had committed the crime of veering into his lane in order to pass around a parked car. And what’s that miraculous route Gillian’s taking to work? I sure know it isn’t Monterey Road, where the curb litter is piled foot-high and a butt on a bicycle seat is like the golden ring on a carousel ride to all passing jerk-offs. And I just got the VTA bicycle route map, which is marked showing an expectation that the prudent bicyclist will use public transportation concurrently with biking. Honestly, if I’m going to go downtown, it’s faster and cheaper for me to just take light rail, than for me to ride, get on light rail, get off light rail, ride, and get back on light rail. Oh, and those decadent deserts Gillian can down–just an FYI, they cost a lot more than the gas she’s not burning.

Hey, bicycling is great if you can do it. But when you’re too smug about it, you’re just like your own pain in the a**.


  1. S.L.

    Aren’t bicyclists in Mountain View by definition smug? 🙂

  2. Gillian Zaharias

    I was just trying to make a point, with a little humor, about the benefits of biking.

    I did tell Mr. Roadshow what I do when it rains, but he didn’t publish it. (I take Light Rail so that I’m out in the rain for only a short time.) Even if a person cycles to work, say, 9 months out of the year, that’s still a huge reduction in emissions and gas consumption.

    It’s easy to find bike-unfriendly roads to complain about. It took me several days of experimenting to find a safe route to get to work. No one said anything about it being “miraculous.” The sarcasm just seems misplaced.

    I used to ride a cheap second-hand bike that was heavy, slow and prone to breakdowns. With a busy schedule and 14 miles to ride, I decided it was worth getting a high-quality bike that goes much faster and holds up incredibly well with daily use. The time and cost of maintenance has been next to nothing in the 2.5 years I’ve had this bike. The initial price is pennies compared to the total cost of the car I would have had to get otherwise. Why does buying a good bike instead of a car make a serious commuter cyclist worthy of derision?

    A surprising number of people don’t realize what a hefty metabolism boost you can get from daily biking, hence the dessert comment. I guess I should have specified “Trader Joe’s cookies and chocolate”, since that’s what I eat. I’d have to go through an entire box of Joe-Joe’s cookies every day to equal the cost of gas, or more than a half pound of chocolate.

    I encounter the occasional rude driver whether I’m on a bike or in a car, so I don’t see how rude drivers are a unique downside to biking.

    It would have been nice if you’d contacted me and asked for the details you were lacking rather than skewering me as a smug “pain in the a__”. If I’d written every detail of my biking experience, it would have been much too long for the paper to publish. I’m a sincere believer in personal responsibility, which to me includes reducing my own environmental impact. After years of quietly biking to work and talking about it only when asked by curious co-workers, I realized that I am proud of my commitment and wanted to share the benefits. I don’t want accolades. I want more people to consider driving less.


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