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Free Times: Weather Or Not

Century Cycles' own Aaron Maughan of the Rocky River store was featured in the "After the Rust" column by Michael Gill in the January 12, 2005 edition of the Free Times.  See the image of the article below; the complete text is reproduced below the image.

Weather Or Not

Bicyclist proves you can go carless in Cleveland

by Michael Gill

"People don't have any idea what their bodies are capable of," Aaron Maughan says. He seems to be implying that what he does isn't all that noteworthy, that most people could do the same if only they'd make the choice, and maybe more people should try it.

Maughan has a car, but he hasn't driven it in almost a year. Instead he rides a bike.

Each day he rides out Detroit, from West 101st to his job at a bike shop in Rocky River. He rides his bike to meet friends in Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and Tremont. Visits to his mom in Akron are a little more rare. He doesn't worry about auto mechanics, insurance payments, parking, the price of gas, or the great big whopping monthly.

He waits at intersections for the traffic lights. He eats whatever he wants. Loaf of PB&J?

"Thank you."

The adventure was inspired by a guy he knows who rode a bicycle back from Alaska a few years ago.

"If that guy by himself can ride across a continent," Maughan says, "then I'm pretty sure I can make my way around Cleveland."

So he decided to see how far he could go without his car -- not on a grand excursion, but simply in day-to-day life in the city.

We're sitting in a warm downtown coffee shop as he describes the evolution of his method. It was late February. He was about to buy a new bike. The tags on his '84 Audi were due to expire soon, so he figured he'd just let that happen and give himself no choice.

In March, 2004 he left his car parked on the street.

At first, Maughan used a messenger bag to carry what he needed. The riding itself wasn't so bad. The weather was getting better then. But without a trunk and passenger seat to carry bags, he had to make frequent trips to the grocery. So every couple of days he'd pick up a few things. He hauled a five-pound bag of kibble once a week to keep up with his yellow lab.

The dog food problem eventually inspired him to boost his cargo capacity with a bolt-on chrome-moly contraption that makes his bike longer and gives him room for six cubic feet of whatever the journey calls for. It'll carry a 20-pound bag of dog food in one side. Once, he loaded it with a full cooler of beer. The sticker says it's okay to carry up to 200 pounds of humans or whatever. It's a mad taxi.

Maughan went to move his Audi in June and found the key in the ignition, the doors open, rejected even by thieves. Two tires were going flat. The battery was dead. He pushed it into his old garage, swung the doors shut and padlocked them. He remembers thinking he didn't care if he ever saw it again, except to remind himself how much he used to depend on it -- like a memento someone keeps to remind them of who they used to be.

Maughan got his first taste of mobility at age 10, when he and his younger brother let the school bus go by and rode their beater Huffy ten-speeds 25 miles out Route 59 to Grandma's house. When he was 15, he dropped $300 from a summer job on a white Schwinn and rode it home during rush hour. He's never been intimidated by traffic.

For most Americans, the bicycle these days is a toy or a tool for fitness. Census data provided by NOACA bicycle coordinator Sally Hanley says there are 380 people in Cleveland who commute by bicycle, 195 in Cleveland Heights. Tiny Oberlin counted 265. These numbers probably include occasional or seasonal commuters who sometimes use buses and cars. It's an even smaller crew that sticks to two-wheeled travel year-round. Most, including yours truly, draw a line somewhere. Like if there's snow on the ground and slush on the pavement. As there is while we talk.

"It's not bad out there," Aaron says. "It's above freezing. A little slushy, but the cars are taking care of it."

What he means is that the cars are squeezing the slurry into ruts and the gutters, clearing what he considers to be easy tracks.

Maughan says he doesn't care much about the numbers and doesn't have an odometer on his bike, but he estimates that since ditching his Audi, he's pedaled at least 6,000 miles. He plans to keep his driver's license current, just in case. He's driven other people's cars a couple times. He figures that added up to less than 100 miles.

Maughan knows what his is doing is a challenge, because if it weren't, everyone would be doing it. But he also says it's not big deal.

"This isn't epic adventure," he says.

People don't have any idea what their bodies are capable of.