Biker Me

bike commute I never intended to be a bike commuter. I never intended to use my bike for anything much at all. I bought it because, well, doesn’t everyone have a bike? It seemed the thing to do. Besides, my partner M really loves to ride. I love her, so I bought a bike.

For years, I used that bike solely for casual jaunts around the neighborhood, usually at M’s behest and with great reluctance. The helmet ruined my hair. Hand signals made me self-conscious. I could never remember which way to turn the shifter, and constantly found myself dropping into the wrong gear. It was important to ride slowly enough to look in the neighbors’ windows (What kind of window treatments did they use? Did they paint their woodwork?) but quickly enough to avoid suspicious stares.
When we moved from the suburbs into the city I found myself saying things like, “I’m thinking of starting to ride my bike to work, in the summer, maybe,” and, “I would bike, but the garage door is broken.” I even tried it once. The ride in was pretty nice: almost all downhill, except for the last two blocks up to the office. No big deal. The ride home, on the other hand, was 40 blocks straight uphill during the hottest week so far that summer. About halfway up the hill, my heart started pounding, I started feeling nauseated, and I was sure I was about to have a stroke. I panicked.

I ended up walking the bike the rest of the way up the hill and slowly coasting home. I put the bike away in the garage and there it languished for another three years.

One August, my job required that I show up about an hour early every day for a week to coordinate an event. With M taking the car and now two kids that needed to get to daycare, there was no way I’d make to work by 7:00 AM — unless I biked. So I wheeled out the old Trek 7200, dusted off my helmet, and pumped up the tires.

I told everyone that it was temporary and that I was doing it out of necessity. But the next week I kept on riding because, well, September was bike-to-work month, and the weather was glorious and it turned out that biking cut my commute time in half. All that month I tossed the kids in the trailer and shuttled them off to school. I ditched the trailer in the school courtyard and continued on to work.

wetbikerOctober hit and I kept on biking. It started to rain a bit. I bought a raincoat and some waterproof bike pants, gloves and a light for my helmet. I started signaling with a comfortable, practiced wave of my hand. In November, the rain started in earnest. I picked up a waterproof hood to wear under my helmet. There were a few days in December and January where the precipitation was more solid than liquid. On those days, I took the bus or carpooled with M. It felt strange and a little awkward. I itched to be back on my bike. Before I knew it, spring had rolled around again. I stripped off layers of Gore-Tex and wool and started biking in my everyday street clothes.

At some point, what had started as a casual deviation from my normal routine had turned into my normal routine. I didn’t even see it happening. It all came down to this: I never intended to be a bike commuter. I just started riding my bike.

35 responses to “Biker Me

  1. Good for you!

    does M take any credit for your transformation?

    • She should, for sure! Her support has been pretty amazing. She likes to tease me that I’ve spent more money on all the commuting gear (panniers, splash guards, fenders, lights, raincoat, etc.) than on the bike itself. Unfortunately, since having kids, she’s barely had time to get her bike at all. She works too far away to commute by bike, and our free time is mostly taken up with actually caring for the kids. I’m hoping we get some good family bike time in this summer. 🙂

      I should also credit the year I spent as an exchange student in Copenhagen. Now *there’s* a city that understands commuting by bike. If I hadn’t had a bike there, I might never have come around to the idea that bikes could be for transportation, not just recreation.

  2. I am scared to ride a bike around my town. And my town is SUPER bikey. Frankly, it’s the cars and the drivers inside them that scare me (including people just as careful and conscientious as I am).

    But you make this all sound very pleasant and attractive and just Good.

    • 🙂 I’m a pretty cautious biker. I stick to the bike routes. I don’t weave in and out of traffic. I pay attention and follow the rules, mostly. But it took a long time before I was comfortable riding alongside cars, that’s for sure. Luckily, Portland drivers seem to be pretty good about watching for bikes, most of the time.

  3. Loved the part about riding slow enough to look in the neighbors’ windows at their decorating! I like to do that, too!

  4. We get a lot of bikers on our street and it’s actually a well known biking thoroughfare (in biking circles), but the traffic that races down our street makes me nervous. I’m trying to bike more now. Great exercise, beautiful sights and alone time. There’s a NYC 5 Borough Marathon I’ve wanted to do. Maybe next year!

    • It’s fantastic exercise: I’ve lost over 15 pounds since I started biking to work. That wasn’t my purpose, but it sure was a nice perk. And nothing beats gliding over the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland at sunrise or sunset. Gorgeous!

      • That is my hope. I’d like to lose weight and spin class is okay, but scenery and open road is better. The Hawthorne Bridge at sunrise or sunset sounds fabulous. I’m looking forward to someday riding over the Brooklyn Bridge.

  5. I see from your comment that you’re from Portland, and I am too! I actually can’t ride a bike (I know, blasphemy), but I find as a driver that a lot of Portland bikers are bad about following the road rules. I try to watch for them, but many are errant and hard to predict.

    • I agree: it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. I understand that biking gives us a certain amount of freedom that cars don’t have, but follow the laws, people! If you’re a vehicle, don’t bike willy-nilly down the sidewalk or run red lights and stop signs! /rant

      I find that most Portland drivers are overly careful and polite, actually. When I’m stopped at a stop sign at a two-way stop, and a car stops *without* a stop sign to yield the right of way, it’s confusing for everyone! Same goes when I’m trying to cross a busy four-lane road. Don’t stop in the middle of the street to let me by – it’s super nice of you, but the other drivers don’t know why you’re stopping. I’d rather not get run over by someone following the road rules, thankyouverymuch. (You=generic car driver, not you personally, of course. 🙂 )

  6. Christine, your post inspired me to start driving the car. All those labels I put on me like “independent”, ” empowered” fail when people come to know I don’t drive a car. I guess, it’s never too late to start again.

  7. I liked the progression of events that got you riding! It is amazing how quickly we adapt.

  8. Great post, Christine! Now that I’ve mostly conquered my terror, uh fear, of driving in France, maybe I could work up the nerve to ride my bike to the train station (a couple of kilometers). It’s probably faster than the bus with all the traffic.

  9. Love this!
    It feels so great to be out in the fresh air on the ride to and from a stuffy office.
    And Portland is so much more bike-friendly now than when people used to yell at me to “ride in my own zone” when I commuted to high school 20 years ago.

  10. This is awesome! For the past 10 years I have not lived in bike friendly communities. But having just visited my sister in Amsterdam, they bike everywhere there. They don’t even have a car. It’s great!

  11. This is awesome! I’m looking forward to living in a downtown area soon where I can ditch the car entirely and get around by bike and on foot. Kudos to you for getting into it!

  12. That is so cool. We also live in a very bike-friendly city, and Mike and I bike a lot of places on the weekend. I never got into the biking-to-work thing though, because we had a business casual dress code and I didn’t feel like biking in my work clothes and I was too lazy to bring a backpack to work and change. Also, I worked five minutes away and would run errands on my lunch break. And I have a purple thumb. See, I’m full of excuses.
    But someday! Someday, I will buy that rain coat and waterproof pants and bike to work like nobody’s business.

  13. You’ve wisely put your finger on one of the keys to forming new habits. I think sometimes we’re daunted by our own lofty declarations. Eg. “From now on, I shall ride to work every single day until retirement!” In reality, the best thing to do is just worry about today.

  14. Isn’t that the way with most things? They just happen and then you look back and realized a whole new thing started out of one small deviation from routine.

  15. claireodactyl

    Go you! I bought a bike last year….the end!

  16. THIS. THIS is what I’m talking about. Finding joy through the things I love to do, not because I *have* to do them, but because I want to. I’m simultaneously impressed with your story telling and your bike riding. Hot damn, I might even get my bike fixed.

    • 🙂 You made my day with this comment. I didn’t even know I loved to ride until I was told to take it easy for a few days. Totally took me by surprise. Go, get your bike fixed. Try it out. And let us know how it goes!

  17. Love this. I need a bike. I had one my neighbor gave me a few years ago but I just tried it out for the first time and I’m too short. Story of my life. 😦

    • I know the feeling. I had my grandmother’s old Peugot bicycle for years. It held great sentimental value – I thought of her every time I looked at it – but Grandma was 5′ 10″ tall, and I’m 5′ 4″. I could barely reach the pedals. Eventually I donated it to a charity that refurbishes bikes and gives them to folks who need transportation, and bought a new one for myself. I think Grandma would have approved.

  18. Wow, I think that we might be leading parallel lives, except that I’m not riding my bike nearly as much as you are. I did just blog about my beloved bike though, and I’ve got two kids to schlep around and a cute little trailer that looks like yours. In fact, one of the reasons I no longer bike-commute is that my 1yo goes to daycare where I work and there’s no way I can schlep him up the hill both ways. But I miss being connected to the weather, and having that time before and after work to just move and think.

    • “…having that time before and after work to just move and think.” You’ve just hit on the topic of my next bike-centered post, when I get around to writing it. 🙂

  19. Funny how we stumble into our hobbies. Especially the ones that never occur to us to make a habit. Mine is roller blading (yep, still clinging on to 90’s fad sports. Don’t ask me about my hacky sack habit.)

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