Yes, on Dump the Pump Day, I drove a car.
I had to go to Leesburg for work, and since it’s a bit too far to bike in one day, and not Metro accessible, I Zipped a ZipCar, a Honda Civic. As someone who does not own a car, nor spends much time in one, I made a list of my fish-out-of-water experience.
- It was really low to the ground! Sitting in the car put my eye level much, much lower than when I’m on my bike. I had a hard time getting used to that. It was weird on roads I know from my bike perspective, but once I got on the highways, it became less noticeable. Still, I prefer my higher vantage point – it feels a bit safer to be able to see what’s going on around me from that height.
- I felt a bit uncomfortable and awkward in the car, especially since it is not a make and model I’ve driven. Okay, I admit, when I drove a car in the early 1990s, it was a lovely “rose beige” 1982 two-door Volvo.
So anything manufactured in the last 5-10 years is “newfangled” technology to me! But it made me think a comment by a bike shop owner in a Washington Post article recently, that Capital Bikeshare riders are “the most inexperienced riders emulating more experienced riders.” So, are ZipCar drivers the most inexperienced drivers because they are assumed to not own cars, and therefore don’t drive very often, so they aren’t very good at it?
- I hate the lack of visibility I had in this car, and frankly, any of the cars I’ve recently Zipped. The windows have apparently shrunk since the 1980s. As cars become sleeker, more streamlined, and more safe (that is, airbags everywhere!), the windows have become mere suggestions.
I realized that the visibility I have as a cyclist, being able to see all around me, is far preferable to glancing over my left shoulder, seeing a hunk of black plastic, hoping that there wasn’t a car behind said hunk of plastic, and changing lanes. No wonder drivers hit everything under the sun – they can’t really see!
I guess car companies will now need to install cameras on the sides of cars, so in addition to seeing where you are backing up, so can actually see your blind spot. This was not a problem in my Volvo – the windows were huge! Of course, one could argue that it didn’t have air bags either, but hey, it was a Volvo, so it was a steel box.
- The headrest was so uncomfortable! The seat let me sit back, but the headrest pushed my head really far forward. I couldn’t adjust it to be in a better spot. Terrible posture, and so uncomfortable. No wonder people who commute are tense and crabby when they get to work – not only have they been sitting in terrible traffic, their bodies are being contorted in weird ways.
I was lucky because after I returned from Leesburg, I was able to bike to the gym, then bike home. Jumping on my bike was as comfortable as the shorts and tee shirt I’m wearing now. But now I am more grateful for biking benefits I hadn’t been aware of yesterday – actually being able to see what’s going on around me. Although I am now feeling a bit nostalgic for my old Volvo (man I loved that car), based on my experience today, I can reaffirm my preference for bicycle-as-transportation. It just feels safer.