By Robert Downes
When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.
-- H.G. Wells
At a time when most of us are just starting to think about getting our bicycles out of storage, Bill Palladino is looking back on another year of riding all winter long.
Two years ago, Palladino, 52, gave up his vehicle in favor of commuting by bicycle, which has been his preferred way of getting around since his teen years.
I had a Saturn SUV, but the car sat in the parking lot most of the time. I only used it occasionally, he recalls. Then my nephew called and said he needed a car. I thought about it for a bit and then flew him up from Florida and gave him the keys -- the decision was made that fast for me.
Im part of the pedestrian and cycling advocacy community, he adds. And it seemed to me that giving up my car was one more step toward walking the walk and talking the talk for what I believe in.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Palladino wears a lot of hats. He owns Krios Consulting in Traverse City, a leadership development firm which helps businesses, non-profits and municipalities to improve their management strategies. He also partners with the International Thought Leader Network in Dallas, which has flown him to motivational seminars all over the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe and Africa.
He also serves as executive director of On the Ground, the Traverse City nonprofit which recently raised $206,000 in the Run Across Ethiopia to establish new schools in the east African country. Additionally, hes one of the organizers of the 3rd Coast Bike Festival, a nine-day extravaganza that includes racing, workshops, films and more, returning to Traverse City this Aug. 12-21.
But theres another side to Palladino thats all about having a good time -- the bike warrior who loves road racing, riding with the Cherry Capital Cycle Club each week, or taking on a 100-mile ride on summer weekends.
I grew up in the Bronx in New York, so public transportation has always been my forte, he says, adding that when his parents moved across town in his teen years, he began riding his bike eight miles back and forth to stay at his old high school. In his late teens, he began cycling the 50 miles on weekends up to Bear Mountain State Park, north of New York City. He also took on his first job as a bicycle messenger in the mid-70s, a decade before Kevin Bacon made that sort of thing cool in the film, Quicksilver.
It forged in me a love of biking thats lasted my whole life. At the age of 16 or 17, I knew New York City as well as any taxi driver. And the great thing about it is that when youre on a bike, you travel in slow motion -- youre able to witness your community and interact with people.
On that score, Palladino says cycling builds a more sociable community. Its an effective and efficient way to get around Traverse City, but at the same time youre likely to run into someone along the way and have a talk with them.
By contrast, he feels that traveling in a vehicle tends to encourage feelings that are both protective and aggressive -- with drivers taking on ugly personas. Especially with men, you find yourself yelling at the cars in front of you to get out of the way. What we dont realize is that kind of behavior is aggression, with a 6,000-pound weapon in your hands.
Palladino is an advocate of the Complete Streets program, which requires every community in Michigan to consider the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and children -- as well as vehicles -- on all future road projects.
That outlook is already in place in communities such as Manhattan and Toronto, which arent in the fix of tacking on improvements such as bike lanes or safe crosswalks. They started thinking about pedestrians back in the days when there were still horses in town, he says.
Growing up in New York with mass transit, it never struck me that I even needed a car, he notes, adding that his parents didnt own one.
He says that while Northern Michigan has established a good network of bike paths, those are essentially recreational trails which are often packed with runners, kids and roller-bladers. To have real bicycle commuting here, we need to improve our roads so that cyclists can travel quickly across town, the same as people driving cars.
Given his professional gifts for analysis and management, Palladino has some persuasive reasons for choosing a bicycle over a car as his mode of transportation.
The average American spends $7,500 per year on a car and its maintenance, and with gasoline going up, that cost is only going to rise. Last year I did the math, and even with owning and maintaining three bikes to get around on and renting a car when I needed one, I still couldnt come up with $2,000 I had spent for the year.
Not owning a car has also saved Palladino money by removing the temptation to go shopping.
Cars are all about convenience, he says. They make it convenient for us to do things that are both good and bad. They feed our boredom and prompt us to go shopping at places like Meijers or Best Buy. But by riding a bike, I have a lot more control over where my money goes. I only spend what I need by riding to places that are near my home, such as Oryana Food Coop or downtown. He adds that he has been to Meijers in Traverse City only once in the past year, and he rode his bike to get there.
So what kind of iron does Palladino ride? His pickup truck, pictured here, is an Xtra Cycle with an extended rear platform thats capable of carrying up to 250 lbs. Assembled from a kit and an old frame, the bike can accommodate two child seats or an adult passenger. I use it to shop, he says.
He also has a road bike, a mountain bike and a tandem, as well as a couple of fixed gear bikes that hes built himself.
Palladino stands over 6 and takes care to wear bright clothing when he rides. Hes been struck by cars three times in his life and feels that its better to ride assertively in the middle of a lane -- even on busy Division Street in TC -- so he cant be ignored by drivers who whiz past cyclists hugging the curb.
What about the cold and the snow?
Some of the most joyful bike rides Ive had have been on winter days when its snowing heavily and youre struggling to keep the bike up, he responds. You might fall, but youre laughing the whole way. I remember riding with no hands in a snowstorm one night this winter, with my head back and catching snowflakes with my tongue.
Needless to say, hes in great physical shape, but riding plays an additional role in his health: Palladino was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, and today he measures his progress on his bike as a gauge of how well hes doing. He rides every day and even takes a folding bike along on business trips.
Im proactive about my health, he says. When I came out the other side of my diagnosis, I promised myself that I would ride every day for the rest of my life, no matter the weather, no matter the hurry -- I would ride my bike.