Widgets Magazine


Thoughts from a former biker

After two breathless years, complete with screeching brakes, a shattered chain and many a windswept hairdo, my biking career ended last year in glorious tragedy. I had flown away to Washington D.C. for the spring and left my bike in front of FloMo with the simple hope that it would remain there until I returned to campus in September. My faith was misplaced.

It is almost definitely the case that the police cut the lock and took it into their custody. I never got around to looking for it in the impound lot, mostly because it was far away and I didn’t have a bike. To that extent my tragedy was self-imposed, but like a phoenix or a Matthew McConaughey, I have flourished anew. Not riding a bicycle has shaken me from complacency and forced me to see Stanford from a new speed and a new perspective. It has convinced me that if you can walk, you should.

Let me get something out of the way first: Stanford is a walkable campus. It is a sprawling, confusing behemoth, but one can walk from the end of the Row to the Engineering Quad and from FroSoCo to the GSB in fifteen to twenty minutes. One can walk anywhere, really, with time.

At first glance, time seems to be the reason why every hour, blurs of red and white zip through the Quad and down Lasuen Mall in the last few minutes before the clock hits the :00 or the :15. Biking is quick—it conquers time, gulps up every minute saved and spits them out as units of productivity. On a biking campus, a fifteen to twenty minute commute is unfathomable. But this feeling comes as a result of two misguided beliefs: that students don’t have that kind of time to spare, and that the time they do have is so valuable that it cannot and should not be spent in transit.

I can’t prove that Stanford students underestimate the quantity and overestimate the worth of their time, but I promise you, reader, that if you allow yourself to walk, you will realize a few things. First, slowing down inevitably leads to thinking—deep thinking, the kind of thinking that causes collisions with bollards. That, I contend, should be the goal of any education. Second, the prospect of walking forces you to follow a schedule that is freer, with more time between Very Important Things. What you lose in rabid productivity will reappear as relaxation and self-care. Third, this campus is absolutely beautiful, from the plaza behind the Law School to the underground bathrooms. There are some things that can’t be noticed on wheels.

I think that bike culture at Stanford is more than an issue of time management, though. Biking is what Stanford students do because biking is what Stanford students do. If that sounds unbelievable, think about the ridiculous, utterly illogical disuse of helmets on campus. When I see people bike, I see them weave between cars through intersections. I see them with their arms crossed, feet pedaling away, head turned upwards to scorn the deities of mortality. I know, you know, we all know that wearing a helmet while biking is the only sensible option. Yet what keeps helmets gathering dust in drawers is the overpowering sense that wearing them just isn’t what we do here.

Biking is ingrained in the identity of this university. The land is flat and obstacle-free, and parking racks line the side of nearly every building. Smiling students on bikes populate promotional brochures and website banners. It’s almost as if biking is inevitable—as if to thrive in this community, one must ride a bike. But I question it, and I hope you do too. I hope you question the impulse to ride a bike here, and that you think so hard you walk into a bollard. I hope you question what it means to belong to a community, and what it means to be an individual within that community.

I didn’t have a bike freshman year, but by sophomore year I was zipping down Mayfield Avenue, practicing riding with only one hand. And that’s true for nearly everyone here on campus. Asking questions can be exhausting. But sometimes when I walk, those questions enter my mind and I have the time to consider them. The answers haven’t come, not all of them, not yet. But after four years here, one answer has come to me in the form of a loss. I don’t need my bike. I am free.

Matt Lopez’ pedestrian support group is the new big thing on campus. Join the movement at malopez@stanford.edu.

  • a cyclist

    I suggest you get back into cycling in your post-college job life. All the things you say about walking vs cycling on campus transfer to cycling vs driving in one’s professional life.