Health & Fitness

Riding a bike to work is more than a healthy commute: It's a sign of adulthood

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THE SKY above Hyperion Bridge at 6:45 in the morning can be an aimless gray, a luminescent peach or an adolescent blue. I have cycled across this bridge for five years and in every season, yet it was only recently that I glanced west at just the right moment and spotted Griffith Observatory.

Each workday, I disembark from the Metrolink train in Glendale wearing a yellow visibility vest and carrying my Trek road bike. Soon, I'm pedaling south through downtown Atwater Village. The little stretch of businesses there could be Andy Griffith's town -- if Mayberry boasted a yoga studio, a giant store selling birds and an ATM offering transactions in Hmong.

Getting from Atwater Village to the Hyperion Bridge is the tricky part: Two full lanes of vehicles peel off to the right to duck back under the bridge and join the 5 Freeway. Instead of dangerously merging across these two lanes, I've learned to position myself in the lane I need well in advance, at the traffic light. Even though this means wading deeply into the traffic, I haven't had trouble with motorists. I keep a cautious eye on vehicles behind me using the rearview mirror clipped to my sunglasses.

And most of the drivers are daily commuters, like me. I think they have learned to expect me.

Beyond the bridge, I take a right and power up a short round hill, bounce down an uneven side street and land in the parking lot at John Marshall High, where I teach.

Many mornings, I wish my ride were longer. As my colleagues struggle out of cars with their coffee and book bags, I ease off the handlebars and ride with no hands. I breathe the invigorating morning air. I feel superior.

When my students see me rolling by they don't conceal their mirth. For a high school student, it is a special joy to catch your teacher looking like a fool.

"Don't you have a car?" they'll ask me later, in class. Their voices sound concerned, even alarmed. When I tell them I own a car but commute on my bicycle by choice, they eye me skeptically.

My students, rich or poor, from a dozen ethnicities, are true Angelenos. They are united by faith in the automobile. For them -- for us -- cars are more than mere transportation. My students view automobiles as Romans once regarded the toga: as coveted markers of adulthood and full citizenship in the polis.

But I can forgo that for the time to read and write on the Metrolink leg of my commute, the exercise, the sense of adventure and the environmental benefit. And, to be honest, I enjoy pedaling past my students in my yellow vest, sporting my rearview mirror.

No earthly force could have compelled my teenage self to appear on my own high school campus looking like that. I bicycle to work because being an adult means living the way I want to live.

Scott Banks is a high school teacher and writer who lives in Claremont.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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