Be a Pedal Pusher

By Robin Chotzinoff     
Photography by Jenna Noel

 At 50, I remember the Green Bean better than my own phone number. Then again, the Green Bean was a milestone—my seventh birthday present, my first two-wheeler bike. It was a secondhand, rusty old beater my dad spray painted so thoroughly that even the tires were the color of pond algae. The Green Bean had a coaster brake and a giant wicker basket attached to its handlebars. I clearly recall the day I set off on a bike ride so long that I felt the need to pack a sandwich. Such adventure!

I’ve since toured, worked out and raced on road bikes, but I still think carrying food by bicycle is a much more important pastime—and more likely to produce happiness. Since this has radical implications, not just for me but for humankind, I have a proposition: let’s all ride our bikes to the farmers market. I’ll do it if you will.

By “you” I mean the regular Jane who thinks bikes are great…for kids or athletes. But the truth is that Jane is exactly the person for whom bicycles were invented. Forget Lance and picture Almira Gulch in “The Wizard of Oz,” fiercely pedaling in a long dress and high-button shoes, carrying Toto in her basket. Think of tweedy, WWII-era Brits, perched bolt-upright on sturdy Raleighs, delivering messages, doing the shopping, helping the war effort. Think of 1885, when the modern bicycle was not just invented, but celebrated as an elegant form of independent mobility.

Transportation by bike is still your inalienable right—at any speed or level of fitness. And, oh, the poetic justice of living the no-carbon-footprint dream by riding to the farmers market to buy real food!

You can do this. You don’t need to be rich or mechanically minded. But you do need a bike.

The two-wheeled world has been through several style evolutions—from road bikes to mountain bikes to cyclo-cross bikes to terrifying fixed-gear bikes. Now it’s come full circle, back to real bikes for real purposes. But be it a beach bike, a cruiser or a beater, there’s really only one thing to know: riding it must not hurt! The idea is to sit upright, like Mary Poppins, and there should be no period of “breaking it in”—“it” being your body.

You might begin with something historic and familiar—perhaps the three-speed Schwinn of your childhood. Or you may want to go straight for the new. Even a cheap, bottom-of-the-line bike from a big-box store is acceptable.

Have your new set of wheels tuned and lubed if bought used, then install a large, ridiculously comfortable seat and have it adjusted to a position that feels natural, even when wearing everyday clothes and shoes. Get a kickstand.

Now think about how much you usually buy at the farmers market and consider the various ways to get it all home unscathed. Of course since you’re eating local and fresh, you can’t possibly buy too much to carry. That would violate all the rules.

Bicycle outfitters are constantly inventing new carrying systems—from front-mounted mesh baskets that pop off for shopping, to hefty, rear-mounted newsboy baskets that offer low-to-the-ground stability and ample storage space, to the reinterpreted classic pannier bags hung from a front or back mount.

For more frugal options, though, study photos of riders in third-world countries. Consider a laundry basket or milk crate wired above a rear fender, a trailer or molded plastic seat that once held kids, or the classic wicker (or woven plastic) handlebar basket—all attachable with bungee cords and zip ties. Think of your bike as your personal work of art, or a lab in which to practice your ingenuity, frugality, multipurposing prowess and sense of humor.

For the most elegant cargo solution, though, simply carry food in backpacks—one each for everyone on the ride. In fact, make the farmers market trek a family ride or invite a passel of friends. It’s more fun to bike in a group, as you certainly learned in elementary school, and if you’re a parent, this is a rare chance to be a good role model yet extremely cool at the same time.    

Important things to bear in mind before you begin: Sane bikers—not just children—wear helmets, carry water and plan their routes ahead of time. Keep in mind that if a road seems too dangerous for kids, it’s too dangerous for you. Go the back way and smell some roses.

Remember, joy is compulsory! Don’t think of this as a workout, let alone good for you, even if we all know it is. And even though you’re an adult entrusted with the ultimate responsibility of feeding yourself and/or others, simply recall what it was like to ride your first two-wheeler.

On the Green Bean, I thought I could go anywhere.