*published in Velojoy
When I started riding my three-speed bike after graduation from college in 1972, I never thought to bank the money I saved. Instead, I began buying fresh flowers with what I intuited was the extra cash I pocketed because I biked everywhere.
40 years later (gulp), I am still on my bike, albeit not the exact same one. Cycling is one of the great loves of my life, and I often reflect on the gifts it has given me. On my bike I feel powerful, safe, silly and thrifty. What an extraordinary combination!
I suppose the abundance I receive from biking around the city I adore has prodded me to consider what I can do to give back. Think about it: Even if a bike is stolen and you amortize the cost of a new one (you know, split the cost up into cab rides or subway fares until you pay it off), you are back to saving money in a couple of weeks.
‘Off-Shoot of Informal Economy’
So after the flip of the New Year on the Epiphany, I decided to begin distributing the “wealth” I create by riding my bicycle. I can’t share the energy, the giggles, the low blood pressure, but I can share the money I save. So I started The Bike Fund.
It is not a formal charity; rather the Bike Fund is what my sociologist daughter calls “an offshoot of the ever-growing informal economy.”
Every day I am prepared to share whatever I saved by biking. For example, one day last winter I had an appointment at a hospital; from where I live, it would have been two trips by subway, and in fact it became a five-hour ordeal, so I might have taken a cab home. So tally up at least five bucks for The Bike Fund. Then later I went to a cocktail party further downtown and then across town to a show. Let’s call it another 5 bucks.
Now I have 10 dollars in The Bike Fund. So when I rode down Second Avenue toward home below Canal Street, and spied a young woman with her sweet dog sitting on cardboard with a sign that read, “Please help us,” I wheeled around and gave her five dollars. A passerby chided me, “How do you know she is not scamming you?”
“Well,” I said, “even if she were to live on the Upper East Side, this is a damn hard job, sitting on the ground in the bitter cold, and I want to help.” He clucked at me and stormed off. I mounted my bike and continued home.
Rolling Under My Own Power
Another night after a show at the New Museum, the crowd spilled onto Bowery smoking and parsing the performance art we had just watched. I heard one man accosting the group: “Hey, anyone have 25 cents? I am a quarter short of a million.”
Oh I loved that. “Come here, I want to tip you over the top of your goal and put you on the road to the next million.” I gave the man two bucks.
One day, after a pottery class, I emerged onto the street feeling like a well-dirtied kid in a great mood. It was cold, but I was hot from the kiln and hadn’t even bundled up yet, and there in the bus enclosure was a man with all his belongings tied into a few large plastic bags. “Hey will you help me? I am Irish, Jewish and Black, a mixture that needs a lot of help.”
“Like my family!” I said, and gave him the five bucks I would have paid for subways. I headed home, rolling under my own power.
Grateful to Have Fallen in Love with Biking
A few days later, I rode to Park Avenue and 69th Street for a meeting; it was a long, cold ride from downtown in bright winter sunshine. It would have been expensive if I had taken a cab even one-way, but I biked both ways. On the way back home there was a person outside the Marble Collegiate Church who from afar resembled a mountain of clothes. I stopped my bike and popped it up the curb. It was a man engrossed in counting change. He held a cardboard sign that read “HELP ME.” When I approached he said, “Good afternoon Miss, how can I help you?”
“Well, I thought I’d give you this.” And I handed him a five-dollar bill.
“Thanks, and have a good day.” It was one of the most polite interactions I’ve had in New York City in ages.
I know my Bike Fund makes no real dent in the fraught world situation. However, it allows me to help in a tiny way and always shakes me and reminds me how lucky my life is. I am grateful to have fallen in love with my bike so that I can share some of its benefits with others.