John S. Dykes

Urbanism

I Rode 1,617 Bike Miles in Dallas and It Wasn’t Even a New Year’s Resolution

More like a hungover one. One man's super excellent (and near-death) adventure with cycling to work.

Let’s address the most important point first. Because I ride a bicycle to work, I am a better person than you are. I mean, unless you tithe 50 percent of your annual income or you sold your earthly possessions and moved to South Dallas and started an urban farm to serve people trapped in a food desert. Otherwise, I win. That’s the main reason I started commuting via bike from East Dallas to downtown about two years ago. It’s a 21-mile round trip, each mile a measure of not just my fitness but also my virtue. And coolness. I am saving the planet, sure, but I’m also blazing a multi-modal transportation trail that, research has shown, attracts the creative class and makes Dallas an even better place.

OK, there’s one more reason I decided to ride to work as often as weather and obligations and laziness will allow. I was hungover when I made the decision.

Our office Christmas party—pardon, holiday party—in 2016 took place in an Uptown bar. Did I over-serve myself? You can’t prove that. Out of an abundance of caution, though, I Ubered home that night. The next morning, not wanting to inconvenience my wife, whose attendance at said party had been prevented by an earlier commitment (to her sanity), I had a look at my phone and realized for the first time that I could ride nearly the entire distance to downtown from my house, on the east side of White Rock Lake, using the Santa Fe Trail. A few years earlier, I’d bought from a friend an old aluminum-frame, yellow Giant that was way too big for me but quite affordable at $100.

That delightful morning ride—done with a mind uncluttered by anything other than gin and tonic but also whiskey—inspired the idea. Hey, with the money I’d save on parking and gas, I could pay for a better bike in, like, a year’s time. I did some maths, British style, with crosses through the 7s, and figured a $500 bike made sense. Then I broached the idea to my wife, got into a humongous fight with her about the expense, and the next day went to Transit Bicycle Company on Greenville and bought a beautiful red, white, and blue All-City model called Mr. Pink that fits me perfectly and has carbon forks and a frame made of Italian steel. What it cost is really none of your business, but I’ll tell you that it was $2,200.

Here’s the way, at the time, I justified the purchase: sweet bike.

Then it was time to ride—and not just on a Saturday morning to retrieve an abandoned car. I already owned a commodious over-the-shoulder messenger bag. I decided against the panniers over the rear wheel (aka saddle bags) and instead commissioned a custom top-tube compartment made by Errand Bags, a great outfit owned by a Dallas woman. At that point, the money didn’t matter. I was supporting a local business.

That first year, I learned the rhythm of the ride from my side of the lake to downtown. On good days, it is glorious. I’ll see Hal and Ted Barker near Winfrey Point, walking a Keeshond. Hal and Ted live in The Peninsula neighborhood and are civic gadflies known to most journalists in Dallas, me included. I blow by them and shout, “Hello, Barker brothers!” and am out of earshot before they can respond. There are the early morning crew teams in their impossibly narrow boats, with their coaches following alongside like motorized pilot fish, encouraging the rowers through bullhorns. To my right, 8 miles distant, the downtown office towers break the horizon.

All sorts of oddities present themselves on a bike commute that I wouldn’t encounter or notice from behind a steering wheel.

Then, after rounding the White Rock spillway, I turn onto the Santa Fe Trail, passing The Lot and hitting the hard right-hand turn that takes you past the No. 5 putting green on the Tenison Highlands municipal golf course and, just a few hundred yards later, the No. 5 fairway at the Lakewood Country Club. It’s uphill from here to Woodrow Wilson High School, a surprising elevation change in flat Dallas, where I’ll eventually find uniformed students ambling toward their classes, the concrete Santa Fe path dotted more densely, the closer I get to campus, with black splotches of old chewing gum.

Then comes the neighborhood of humble homes that I assume will all be razed in coming years, as the Santa Fe Trail becomes more like the Katy and developers take notice. Oftentimes there’s an old couple here that shuffles the trail together, the woman 10 feet ahead of the man, she in the oncoming lane, he in mine, creating a slow-moving chicane unalterable by the shout of “On your left!” I weave through them, making my way to the part of the trip where the odd businesses crop up along the trail. There’s Julia’s Resale Shop at Fitzhugh Avenue, the street on which my parents bought a house in 1976. At these smaller crossings, a surprising number of drivers yield when they see me coming, though they needn’t. I make a point of waving thanks to them.

Then comes Hercules Auto Repair at Carroll Avenue and the desolate Pentecostal church and EV’s Thrift Store and, as the trail bridges over Peak Street, Los Rapidos de Dallas, the bus company whose sign advertises trips to Monterrey, San Luis Potosí, Zamora. It was on the downside of that bridge one morning that I surprised a small mutt who apparently had never before seen such a fast-moving, fearsome package of middle-aged man and Italian steel. We had plenty of room for the two of us on the Santa Fe, but he opted to jump through the guardrail, sending himself tumbling down a steep embankment.

All sorts of oddities present themselves on a bike commute that I wouldn’t encounter or notice from behind a steering wheel. A few yards past the bus company is Sandone Productions, the tent-rental business owned by a guy named Mike who I play basketball with at the downtown Y. (Mike is short and hairy and terrible at basketball, but he does tents for stuff like the Art Ball.) Then come the fields where homeless people sometimes camp. One day, I saw five or six shopping carts sitting on the trail, all of them full of belongings—but belongings of whom? It was like the Rapture had come and assumed the homeless owners of the carts directly into heaven.

From there, it’s a short ride on the tricky city streets, through Scylla and Charybdis and Pecan Lodge, whose intoxicating barbecue smoke wafts through Deep Ellum even at 8:30 in the morning. That’s what my corpse would have smelled like if I didn’t have catlike reflexes. On the summer of my first year of commuting, a small white car ran the light at Good Latimer where it intersects with Main Street—and where the car would have intersected with yours truly at 40 mph. I locked up my brakes and yelled. Call it 6 feet from death. But you can die in a car, too. Right?

The important thing is the maths. Since I made the brilliant decision to buy a decent bike and cycle to work, I’ve ridden 1,617 commuting miles (I’ve got an Excel file). There’s a health benefit we’ll agree to put aside for the moment. So, then, even using conservative assumptions about the cost of parking and gasoline and car maintenance, the obvious conclusion is the following: I am the best husband ever, in addition to being a better person than you are, which we established earlier.

In my two years of riding to work, I’ve seen bicycle traffic on the Santa Fe Trail go from nothing to the point where, once a week, I’ll now find myself stopped at a light with two other commuters. That’s an increase of infinity percent. Even my wife can understand that. Dallas is close to living its best life, and I’m the one you can thank. You’re welcome.

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