Steve Hinkle learned over the past year that he can lug a sheet cake or a computer printer home on a bicycle and, if hes smart about his shopping trips, he can tote enough groceries to make dinner for 30 grad students.
Hinkle, an evangelical chaplain at Duke University, struck a bargain with a beer company last June. He promised to give up driving his car for a year and actually surrendered one of the family cars, for good in exchange for a sturdy, expensive bicycle.
It was part of the Tour de Fat, an eccentric fund-raising festival that celebrates cycling and eco-awareness. Its sponsor, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing Co., sells an ale named for the fat tires used on mountain bikes. The traveling event will roll through Durham for a second year on Saturday.
Hinkle, 52, pedals his big-tire Black Sheep commuter bike to campus each day from his northern Durham home, an 11-mile round trip. He has enjoyed commuting through one of the mildest Durham winters in decades, and he has figured out the best gear for balancing the hassles of rainy weather.
Hes a former runner who took up biking a few years ago, when his knees went bad. Since last June, Hinkle has spent less time on 60-mile rides with his light-weight, carbon-fiber touring bike, so his long-distance endurance has waned a bit.
But he has pedaled about 3,000 miles on the steel-forked Black Sheep, which weighs about 40 pounds. He sits upright, offering more wind resistance than when he hunches over the handlebars of his 16-pound touring model. The fatter tires make him push harder, because they create more friction on the road.
I may have lost five pounds or so in the past year, Hinkle said. My legs are actually stronger now, because the bikes so heavy.
Even in the early-summer heat, even on the homeward climb up Cole Mill Road in the afternoon, Hinkle likes the two-wheel life. He positively glows through his all-over tan.
One thing I like is the sense of closeness I have to everything along the way, Hinkle said. I know where every rise is, every pothole, and the places I need to be particularly careful.
I like the people part. Youre not sitting there at an intersection with your car windows rolled up. You can talk to people as you move by them.
Hinkle says he also likes that he is being easier on the environment.
My wife and I have not burned as much gas this year, he said. The first rule of taking care of Creation is minimizing the harm you do. I feel like its a much less harmful way of getting around unless you get run over.
His deal with Tour de Fat was not to drive a car for his personal transportation. So when he needs to go to Raleigh, he bolts the bike to the front of a Triangle Transit bus.
But he construes his contract liberally: Its OK to ride in a car with others, and when that happens, theres nothing that says he cant be the one behind the wheel. When a friend needs to borrow his car, he figures its OK to deliver the car himself.
On his blog (durhamon2wheels.blogspot.com) and Twitter feed (@shinkleatduke), Hinkle rhapsodizes about his ride and philosophizes about his social obligations. He does not belong to the camp of bike riders who feel free to weave around cars and blow through red lights.
I see cyclists do stupid things and put themselves in harms way, Hinkle said. We all encounter drivers out there who are frustrated with cyclists and then drive aggressively. I even had a Duke campus police officer cut me off the other day, and then argue with me about how I should ride.
What strikes me is that both drivers and cyclists overestimate the skill and attentiveness of each other. Both drivers and cyclists need to expect the other to mess up, and drive more carefully.
The car he gave up last year was a weathered Toyota worth a fraction of the cost of his $5,000 black commuter bike. Hes thinking of trading the bike for a sturdy but lighter model that will get him to campus and back with a bit less perspiration.
And hell be glad when his 12-month obligation ends at Saturdays Tour de Fat, and somebody else trades four wheels for two. It might be nice, every now and then, to take the car to the supermarket or Home Depot.
Im looking forward to having the ability to drive again, Hinkle said.
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