Will you all forgive me for the indelicacy of pointing out that the first time I got back on a bike after a while, I noticed that, umm, my butt is no longer as umm, refined, as it once was, and that skinny little bike seats are a literal pain in the tuchus? Will you promise not to laugh too hard at the fact that sometimes I *walk* my bike up the giant hill that I live on (I was once way too cool to ever walk a bike)? And when I say that bike shorts will never come near these thighs, may I hear an "Amen."?
All of which is not an argument for staying off your bike. What I am saying is that if I can do it, most of you can too. You do not have to be in shape (biking is actually easier on your body that walking), or look cool in spandex, and they make bike seats and are comfy for those of us who have, ummm...back. In fact, there's a bike for everyone, even the imperfect.
Now why should you get a bike? Well, first of all, it is without question the most fun way to travel. There's something about speeding along on a bike that immediately returns you to childhood. Now I don't recommend you return so far that you, like my husband, try riding down a street no-hands, with your eyes closed (hit a parked car) or like me, tried popping a really big curb (knocked out two teeth, needed complicated dental surgery). The great thing about being a grownup on a bike is that (probably) you aren't an idiot anymore. It is a taste of childhood without the necessity of doing regular stupid things ;-).
It is also the most efficient way to travel, bar none. A human being on a bike uses their energy more efficiently than a walker, a driver, someone on a train. It is good for your health, good for the environment, and a good bike is infinitely cheaper than a car. Most people's cars will set them back 3K this year in taxes, maintenence and repairs, not to mention the gas, which is more. I've bought good bikes for $20, and got them in good road condition for another $20, but optimally, you might want to pay a bit more. Even if you buy a really nice bike, you are way ahead.
Now if you haven't been on a bike in 5 years, 10 years, 30 years, you will remember how to ride, but it isn't quite like getting back to being a teenager. As I say, a comfy seat is good, and you might want a bit more stability than you did as a kid. If you have a bad back, you will want a good seat, or perhaps a recumbent. And it takes some time to get your body up to long bike commutes. But the reality is that many of us may not have anything in easy walking distance, but do have shopping, a job, public transportation or family in biking distance. And every trip you don't need a car for saves you money.
For older folks, the disabled and those hauling heavy loads up mountains, electric assist, or even fully electrified bikes are available. For people worried about falling and stability, there are three wheeled trikes, and some of them come with child seats behind them. My family is looking into adult trikes with two double seats. I recently heard someone describe a bike with wheelchair attachment in which an able bodied person could convey his wheelchair bound spouse around. There are trailers for small children, and tandem and side hitch arrangements for kids who can do some but not all of their own biking. Bikes are a technology whose limit is still being plumbed, and there really is a bike for almost everyone.
We're working on teaching the kids to ride. We're hoping eventually Eli, who doesn't have traffic safety skills will be able to be tandem hitched to Eric or me, and pedal along while we handle the driving. Eventually, I envision a family of four teenage boys, my husband, with their poky mother trailing behind yelling "wait up!" It is a nice image.
Like everything, if you've gotten out of the habit, you start slow, and work your way up. My goal is to run local errands entirely by bike. Given that we live fairly far away from nearly everything, that's a bit difficult, but we're working on it. I'm not quite there yet -we're still figuring out if we can afford to build double trikes so that when we have to or want to take the kids with us, we can all go by bike. But the reality is that pedal power is the way to go, both to save money and the planet. Oh, and it is good for me, and my slowly shrinking behind as well ;-).