Cycling Santa Rosa

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LIKE BIKES Travel the county seat by bicycle seat. Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism.

Three days before I was set to leave for New York with a one-way ticket, I finally found a buyer for my car. This four-wheeled art project was a Mazda Miata special edition with a retro interior, which I had customized with vintage-style parts from Japan so it looked straight from the ’60s.

That car was the automotive love of my life, and will likely prove a sobering illustration of the principle that great loves come along only once. I ended up spending 12 years in New York, and got around via the motley circus of public transportation. So when I came home to Santa Rosa amid the uncertainty of Covid, I decided I was in no rush to buy a car, and instead rushed out to buy a bicycle, which had I adored riding over the bridge into Manhattan and circling around Central Park on sticky summer days.

Is it really possible to live life on two wheels instead of four in California? Indeed it is. And while I’ve only been back for six months, it’s been a liberating experience.

With a rack and a backpack to carry home any purchases I make, I’ve found that from a central location my little world is bigger than I thought, and I can ride from the Piner side of town out to Rincon Valley without breaking a sweat, unless it’s over 90. Of course, I call an Uber if I need to pick up a desk chair, or borrow a car if I want to go down to the City. It also helps to be single and self-employed. But I didn’t say bicycling was for everyone, I just said it was possible.

Growing up in car-dependent California, I’m quite sure that when I turned 16 I told my parents I needed a car to get from Brush Creek Road to Santa Rosa High. If I were my own father now, I’d likely reply, “What’s that, 20 minutes on your bike?”

There’s a pleasant feeling of defiance about living car-free in California that each can romanticize according to their temperament. Sometimes I tell myself—and others—that I’m a cutting-edge progressive who’s transcended the 20th-century reliance on the automobile. Other times I fashion myself a retro-eccentric who rides a velocipede, because auto-mobiles with a hyphen have yet to be invented.

And speaking of “fashion,” getting around on two wheels doesn’t mean a person has to wear spandex or ride a bike that thrusts them forward into a racing posture. Some years ago, on assignment for Ralph Lauren’s online magazine, I did a feature on Cycle Chic, which is defined as “the culture of bicycling in fashionable clothing.” I run all my errands around Santa Rosa in my normal-formal clothing, and my Schwinn bicycle is a classic “city bike” in the color black, like an archetypal English bicycle from back in the day. “They still make those?” a logo-splattered cyclist in spandex asked me once. “Indeed they do,” I replied. “In fact, it arrived in a box from Amazon just yesterday.”

The thought of being without a set of wheels probably triggers high school memories of mortifying embarrassment. But at this point, who cares? The year 2020 caused many of us to hit multiple reset buttons in our lives, and the attitude best adapted to the times we live in is that none of the old rules apply, including the most basic social norms of consumerism and status symbols. You can dispense with many things you thought were necessary, since, after all, what is “necessary” is merely a matter of opinion. And one more thing: it’s very difficult to be in a bad mood while riding a bicycle around Santa Rosa.