Brian (in the purple hat) and friends, all dressed up, and riding to car-free happy hour in San Francisco.

Editor’s note: Karilyn Roach holds a MS in Urban Planning from the University of Arizona and currently works as a Program Coordinator with Watershed Managements Group, a Tucson non-profit. She currently sits on the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and rides is a Jamis Aurora Elite.

I gave up my car a few years back, and I have to say I never miss it. Most times when I have to drive I feel pretty cranky about it. I even relish riding in the rain, or bundling up to ride on a 30 degree winter morning. But even the most committed bike commuter has days when the thought of mounting that saddle and pedaling (most likely into the wind) is just unbearable.

On those days, I need some serious inspiration to walk past the keys to my husband’s car, load my panniers and get on my bike. My inspiration comes from a long-time friend, Brian Smith. If he can do it, I should quit whining.

Brian lives in Oakland and has pedaled his way through years of dedication to environmental causes and advocacy for cycling as transportation. He gave up his car years ago and offers to buy a good bottle of California wine for any friend that follows his example. Brian also has hemophilia, and for as long as I have known him — 17 years now! — his ankle joints have been nearly fused and the cartilage in his knees severely worn down due to degenerative arthritis, which is common among hemophiliacs.

A couple months ago, he had a double knee replacement surgery, no small thing for a hemophiliac. In the months leading up to his surgery, he was forced to drive a car. I visited during that time, and I can attest that being in a car makes Brian a grumpy guy and that’s a hard thing to do.

Thinking of Brian’s perseverance, and not only that, but the joy with which he rides every day, gets me out the door and on my bike with a smile on my face.

I’d like you to meet my inspiration.

KR: Why did you give up your car?

BS: I was living in a city that had good transit, and I found car ownership to be an unnecessary expense. I also work for an environmental group, so car ownership seemed counter to my values.

KR: How long have you been involved with the car-free and bike advocacy movements?

BS: In 1997, the City of San Francisco tried to kill Critical Mass. After dozens of arrests at regular mass, thousands of people showed up for the very next ride. I worked with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to help plan a media response and to demand equal rights for cyclists.

KR: What was the biggest challenge for you when you started bike commuting regularly?

BS: I would get really tired trying to go over the hills of San Francisco. Then I got a bike map that lays out the cumulative experience of cyclists into easy to follow routes that avoid the big hills. [The best of these routes is affectionately and officially known as the Wiggle.] This made life much easier. Now sometimes, I ride the hills for exercise.

KR: What is your favorite thing about being car-free?

BS: Going car-free feels like having a tumor removed from your brain. No longer does one have to worry about payments, repairs, parking tickets, gas, or ever joining a gym. It’s all good news.

KR: How many days was it after your surgery when you got back in the saddle?

BS: I was back on a bike 3 weeks after surgery. Being a daily bike commuter made my recovery much easier.

Who is your inspiration? Tell us about it in the comments.


2 thoughts on “Inspiration on two wheels: Brian Smith”
  1. It is hard to get on the bike day in and day out, but for me, the public transportation in the morning is SO SLOW, I feel like I don’t have much of a choice (if I want to get to work on time). The wind was so brutal this morning. The truth is, I have a folding bike, in order to take the bus with my bike, and when I do bus home, it’s usually in the evening – I’m just hoping it will be a tailwind tonight. I don’t think I could take it otherwise.

  2. I’m inspired just seeing people out there commuting by bike. Living on the east side of town, I don’t see it as much as downtown or by the university. When I do see someone riding along east Broadway or Speedway during evening rush hour with panniers and a flickering headlight I’m inspired. They probably have a lengthy commute, have to deal with some unruly traffic and don’t always have the best bike lanes. I work out of my home, but have decided if I ever had to work in town again I would bike commute.

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