My biking story--Ethan Fawley

Minneapolis Bike Week is here! It's all about inspiring new people to try biking (or biking more). We'll be sharing some personal stories from staff and Board leaders about how we got into biking and why it is important to us. If you want to share your story too, let us know! We'd be happy to have your blog.

Here's the story of how I got into biking and why I bike...


The street I grew up

I grew up on a farmstead (the clump of trees in the distance in the picture to the right--Google Street View hasn't made it down our road yet). We lived on a gravel road. My nearest neighbor was 1/2 mile away. I think I biked to town once before I had my license, but it really didn't occur to me to bike for transportation. I came down to Minneapolis to go to the U of M in 2000. I came with a car and while I didn't drive to class (that doesn't work), I drove basically everywhere other than class. When I went back home for summers, I drove all over again, including delivering pizzas. I really never thought about anything other than driving everywhere.

Then in September 2002, my car engine blew up (somewhat spectacularly on I-35W) and I didn't have money for a new car (hell, I was struggling to afford the one I had). So, I started biking to off-campus things as well. Literally, within months, my entire mindset changed.

I now can honestly say that my car blowing up was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I'm happier, healthier, wealthier, and more connected to my community because of biking (and walking and transit). I went from being constantly frustrated driving (I have a Type-A personality and hate sitting, especially in traffic) to actually enjoying getting places. I went from spending a lot on transportation and having little for other things to spending very little on transportation and being able to afford to travel, eat out, etc. (I even managed to go to Europe in college on a shoestring).

My personal transformation from auto-dependent to auto-free is what inspires me to do the work I do. I think: how many other people are just like I was--auto-dependent without liking it or even thinking about it? How many other people would be happier, healthier, wealthier if they also could be inspired to try it differently? I realize long trips are hard, but how big a difference would it make in someone's life if they biked/walked 80% of trips of less than 3 miles?

When I finished grad school and started looking for jobs, I was so settled on my new way of thinking, that I would not look at jobs I couldn't get to easily without driving. It took me longer to get a full-time job in my field because of that, but it was certainly for the best. (I realize the privilege that I have to be well educated enough to have the luxury to be job picky.) When my wife, Lesley, and I decided we might buy a home, we only looked in places where it was easy to bike, walk, and take transit.

Me with my wife Lesley

Now, Lesley and I certainly have enough money to afford a car or two. But we don't need it. We don't want it. In fact, we sold Lesley's car 18 months ago and it has been easier not owning a car and instead using Car2Go, HOURCar, and car rentals on the occasion we need it. We pay for nearly all of our transportation with the money we get from leasing our parking spot.

I still drive some--when it makes sense (but infrequently enough that I temporarily forgot how to pump gas recently and mistakenly spilled all over). But mostly I bike (I take transit and walk some too). And it really does make sense to bike for nearly all of my trips. And, of course, it makes me feel good that I am helping to support the type of city I really want to live in (like Amsterdam) and reduce my (still too high) impact on the ability for future generations to live comfortably on our earth. Plus, I'm part of the biking community too--I've met tons of great people and that inspires me too.

So, I ask you to try biking for at least one trip this week that you would have driven otherwise. If it has been awhile, make it a short one on the weekend. The weather should be nice!

If your bike has been stowed away for awhile, pump up your tires, test your breaks (and bring to a bike shop if they need love or a Commuter Pit Stop), and make sure your chain is reasonably clean (and ideally throw some chain oil on it). Or just try a Nice Ride or other bike share.

Who knows, maybe you'll realize--like I did--that biking to get places might work for you more than you ever imagined.


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