Two years ago I was hit by a San Francisco tech commuter bus biking home from work near the Caltrain station. I was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital and released with minor injuries. I live with some amount of pain in my body every day since then. (If you look closely, you might be able to see that I still walk with a bit of a limp sometimes.)
So why do I still bike to work?
Well first, there are the obvious reasons: exercise, frugality, a dislike of traffic. (It’s also just faster than other modes of transport at the times I’m typically traveling.) Then there are the almost obvious but deeper reasons: biking aligns with my values, including my desire to be good to our planet, and my belief in the value of a healthy body and mind.
Underneath all of that, though, I discovered more interesting reasons…
I work in innovation and design consulting. Companies come to us to help them invent and realize new products and businesses.
Recently, a need to take some days off from biking to work gave me a chance to notice how biking to work totally primes my mind for the kind of moment-to-moment assessment of opportunities, risks, everyday victories, and trade-offs which are at the core of my design work. This break gave me a chance to observe how biking activates me mentally and physically. Navigating the SF streets in rush hour on a bike brings me into full aliveness — to avert the possibility of immediate dead-ness. Something about being not that far from the edge, even from death, is very enlivening! By the time I arrive at the office, my mind is already fully engaged in the dance of life. Almost better than coffee.
Can I squeeze between the two potholes and the train tracks?
Is there room for that car door to open?
Is she changing lanes or not?
What is the risk of there not being any parking available?
Do I need to mitigate that?
What do I want to do after work, and what’s the risk of getting blocked in?
Every ride through the streets of SF is a spontaneous improvisational journey requiring high alertness and sensitivity, and in that way it’s a tiny fractal piece that is somehow representative of my entire life. I get to, need to, feel fully alive.
I noticed that I really missed biking to work on a number of levels. Each journey on the bike is also a design opportunity. What do I want to design for today? Speed? The scenic route? A bit of both? Add an extra stop, or get there early?
Hearing all of this, you might ask: have I learned anything from being hit by a tech bus?
It turns out I’ve learned a lot.
I’ve learned that there are things that are a higher priority than going faster. I’ve learned that there are times when being faster really matters, when it’s all on the line. I’ve been reminded that there are things (people, tools, and equipment) that are worth investing in, to enable things to proceed safely and efficiently. And in dealing with bike crash repairs, I’ve been reminded that constantly knowing where I can add the most value versus when to outsource is the way that I maximize awesomeness with finite resources, obtain the best outcomes, and feel the most fulfilled.
It’s interesting how there are so many parallels between my biking life and my working life.
So after all of this, why do I still bike to work?
Because despite it being risky and sometimes demanding, feeling fully alive is worth it.