- By Pam LeBlanc American-Statesman Staff
Andrew McKenna didn’t exactly intend to go car-free.
But 13 years ago, after he wrecked his car (not his fault) and couldn’t afford to buy a new one, necessity forced him to trade that steering wheel, big cushy seat and engine for handlebars, a much smaller seat and his muscles.
He began rolling around town on a bicycle. He wasn’t in particularly good shape. He’d never ridden very far, or spent much time in a bike saddle. His bike was old, and he didn’t have any fancy gear or stretchy cycling pants.
None of that mattered. Gradually, McKenna grew used to riding. He didn’t go fast. Also, his spirit soared when he climbed onto a bicycle. He liked the feeling of freedom, and the wind in his hair.
But still. Totally car-free? Long distances didn’t appeal. Hills intimidated him. Yet eventually, cycling just became what he did.
And then, three years ago, he pedaled 50 miles at the Hill Country Ride for AIDS on what he calls sheer guts, something he never believed he could do. Cycling became a passion.
“That day was amazing,” he says. “A turning point.”
McKenna, 52, a self-described regular guy who used to work in the nonprofit sector but was laid off three months ago, has settled into his noncar life. He lives in the Windsor Park neighborhood near Reagan High School. He rides everywhere. He even does charity bike rides for fun.
Last month, BikeAustin named him winner of their Ambassador of Advocacy award for his volunteer at the nonprofit organization.
And as 2017 drew to a close, he checked the stats: In one year, he’d pedaled 4,714 miles. Add that to the 5,306 miles he rode in 2016 and he’d cycled 10,000 miles in the past two years.
“If I want to go anywhere, biking is usually the most efficient way,” he says. Besides, cars are expensive, and they pollute. “Would I like to have a car again? It sure would be useful, but I don’t want to impoverish myself,” he says.
Now he hopes to inspire other people to bike, and wants to interview people he’s met on what he calls his bicycling journey. Two years ago he began writing a blog, under the nom de plume A Dude Abikes. (You can read it at ADudeAbikes.com.) A book may be brewing in there somewhere, too.
Yes, he’s a fan of the movie “The Big Lebowski.” “I’m not the dude. I’m just a dude. And I don’t abide, I ride a bike,” he says.
He describes the past few years as ones of “epic velocimania.” Biking, he says, makes him feel like a kid. He believes that anybody can recapture that feeling by riding a bicycle. Besides, keeping a car off the road benefits the environment, he says.
He’s not fast, but he did once beat a CapMetro bus rumbling down Lamar Boulevard. (He used less gas, too.) He rides his bike to pick up groceries, which he loads into a bright green backpack. “Kale takes up a lot of room,” he says. He rides to meetings, social events and even to the starting lines of charity bike rides.
McKenna doesn’t ride every day. In 2017, he took two full weeks off to rest. He occasionally rides the bus or catches a ride from friends.
But mostly, he pedals a seafoam green Fairdale touring bike that he won in a BikeAustin raffle. He also owns two other old hybrid bikes.
He’s trying to improve his diet, because “riding 10,000 miles did not produce the weight loss I hoped for. But my heart’s in good shape.”
He thinks you can ride a bike, too.
“Almost anybody can do it,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle, and the community is one of the best parts about it.”
He admits, though, biking can be a challenge, and understands that not everyone can make it work. He suggests easing into it gradually, or trying a multi-modal approach that includes riding the bus one way and cycling the other. He also suggests checking with BikeAustin for resources, maps, tips and other cycling information.
He rides assertively, and believes in getting out of other people’s way. He thinks cars and bikes should — and can — share the road.
“Traffic can be challenging,” he says. “But most cars don’t want to hit bicycles, and most bikes don’t want to hit cars. With some knowledge and training, though, people can ride in Austin.”
His advice? Chamois butter. A helmet. A handlebar-mounted rearview mirror.
He thinks the city is doing better but has a long way to go before it puts in all the infrastructure that bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists need to stay safe. He has some advice for those who don’t like bikers, too.
“Those who aren’t so bike-friendly should really leave earlier, slow down, share the road, stop texting — they could save a life,” he says.
It’s all part of his mission to coax others to ride.
“If I can inspire another 52-year-old overweight person with issues to get on a bike,” he says, all the pedaling will count as a success.