Very sporadically addressing bike commuting, equity and justice, vegetarian food and cooking, public policy and a touch of politics, family, work, good books, movies, words, life, coffee, chocolate, in no particular order. More bikey blogging at bikestylelife.com
Becoming a bike commuter: It’s pretty easy, one mile at a time
Since we’re gearing up (ha ha, bike pun!) for Bike to Work Week, and the name of this blog implies that writing about biking will occasionally appear here, I figured it was time to tell the story of how I began bike commuting.
True story: I’m a bicycle commuter because in around 2003, the City of Spokane put a bike path on Cedar, right in front of the house I lived in at the time. After complaining a bit about the lost on-street parking, I realized how convenient it looked.
(Irony alert) I used my car’s odometer to figure out how far it was to work, and started riding my big-box cheapo special, the “Iron Maiden,” a little bit, then a little bit more.
At first my bike commuting took place within strict parameters: very nice weather but not too hot, no meetings outside my office scheduled that day, no after-work events.
Before bike commuting on a given day, I'd drive the 3.5 miles (downhill, then flat) to work with a couple of outfits and leave them there, and just take my shoes with me in the pannier bag.
Of course, I'd have a little wardrobe agony of the soul figuring out what to leave at work. After all, I wouldn't be able to change my mind about what I felt like wearing, nor would those outfits be available to me at home on days I planned to drive.
I also underwent the back and forth of moving items such as my wallet with identification, notebook, and other things into and out of the panniers and whatever purse I wanted to carry.
I moved from this "once in a while" commuting to biking "pretty often," including some slightly longer recreational outings on weekends, when I would amaze myself by going 8 miles or more.
Mind you, this was all on a Costco special: a heavy-duty quasi-mountain bike thing with shocks. It probably weighed 50 pounds before I put on the rack and panniers. So I actually was pushing a fair amount of metal.
And, as I like to point out, it was very definitely uphill on the way home. The first time I tried bike commuting Spokane was experiencing unusually hot weather, 105 degrees or so, in mid-July. Great time to start.
At the time I lived at 13th and Cedar. I hit the steep spot on Maple between 6th and 8th—locals will know exactly what spot I mean—and I had to get off and start pushing the bike uphill. Some wit (at least, I think I’m half right) said, “Aren’t you supposed to be riding that thing?” I panted, “I have nothing to prove!” and kept pushing.
It became a point of pride to make it just a little farther up that hill each time I rode, until at long last came the day when I actually rode all the way home. Woohoo! Feel the burn, and the sense of accomplishment.
At some point, I became a bike commuter. An every day, rain or shine, clip-in-shoe-wearing road-bike-riding commuter. No more swapping stuff in and out of panniers—it’s always in the pannier if it’s riding season (which is about 10 months of the year here, if you dress for the weather). Hassle factor gone.
The road bike and shoes are thanks to my sweet road-riding husband. When we started dating it was January, so my Costco special wasn’t much of an issue. When it got nice and we started riding some weekend distances, he was kind and patient. (I later learned that our pace is referred to as a recovery ride….) Then he found my Specialized Dolce and brought it home. Once I rode the 18-pound sweetie, I was hooked.
I can easily put in 10-20 miles a day riding from work at the Riverpoint Campus to meetings and errands everywhere from downtown to the Spokane Valley to the north side, or just my little 2.5 miles each way to and from work. (We moved and I'm a mile closer. Right after we moved, the city put in a bike lane a block from the house. Coincidence? I think not.)
When the snow gets too heavy (we’ve had two crazy winters in a row), I ride the bus. (My road bike can't take studded tires, and I worry about drivers sliding into me.) I just don't drive if I can help it.
I remind people that I don’t “use alternative transportation” when I bike or bus—I make a transportation choice. Each of us makes a choice every single day when we go out the door.
Choice #1: Carry car keys. Park oversized keister behind the steering wheel of a single occupancy something that uses a nonrenewable fuel. Drive (40% of all trips are within two miles of the home). At end of trip, circle the block looking for a parking spot as close as possible to the destination door, to minimize walking
Choice #2: Hop on bike. Burn calories per mile instead of miles per gallon. Breathe fresh air. Greet neighbors. Smell flowers, green growing things, running water, roasting coffee, wonderful aromas from local restaurants. See--actually see--the architecture of local buildings. Arrive at work energized. When a midday meeting beckons, ride, lock bike to convenient parking meter, walk in, sit down; you're ready to go while the drivers circle the block.
Remember that feeling when you learned to ride a bike as a kid? Riding a bike meant freedom, independence, the ability to get somewhere under your own power instead of relying on others to supply the resources.
It still does. Wheeee!
Addendum 2/24/09: Just ran across a profile of me as a bike commuter from the Down to Earth insert in the Spokesman from October, 2008: http://twurl.cc/idc