At 15, I made the most grievous mistake of my life…almost.

That was the year my old black Schwinn fell apart. I literally rode it to pieces, cruising all over my small Midwestern city (Urbana, Illinois) and venturing far out into the country on washboard gravel roads.

With my driver’s license just around the corner, I figured I wouldn’t need a new one. I loved biking and walking around town, and unlike most American boys of that era I harbored no particular fascination for cars, yet it still seemed bikes were one of those emblems of childhood—like baseball cards —that ought to be reluctantly left behind.

Thankfully, my father—who resisted the expense of buying another car to accommodate my transportation needs—insisted we go uptown to shop for a bike. I came home with sleek 3-speed English bike, which felt very grown-up.

Tragedy averted!

And for me, the results would have felt tragic. I wince at thinking what might have happened if I cast aside my bike and joined the ranks of Americans for whom every journey—no matter how short—begins with a turn of the ignition.

Few things in life have offered me the same sustained level of pleasure as biking. I doubt I would be the same person I am today without countless hours musing about my problems and my possibilities as I pedaled down the road. I know for sure that  I would weigh more, feel less energy and probably fork over a lot of my paycheck to doctors and therapists. I am not even sure that I would have made it as a writer. I have always done my best thinking in the bike saddle.

For me, riding is less about exercise than about the sheer exhilaration of moving under the power of my own muscles while opening my mind to a million thoughts that don’t seem to materialized when I am sitting at my desk.

Fortunately a lot has changed since I was growing up. Walking and biking are no longer viewed as kids’ stuff. Initiatives are sprouting all over the country and the world to enhance the experience of people on foot and on bikes, which I am thrilled to chronicle right here at Shareable.

I know that eventually I would have bought another bike. But what would I have missed in the intervening years? And how might I be a different person today?


Jay Walljasper


Jay Walljasper

Jay Walljasper writes and speaks about cities and the commons. He is editor of OnTheCommons.org and author of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons and The