Friday, October 24, 2014

My Bicycling Origin Story

There are three moments that I remember as being big parts of my development as a bicyclist.

I remember my first time riding a bike with training wheels along our sidewalk when I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Pretty soon I had the freedom to explore all over the neighborhood and my friends and I found all sorts of fun together.

My next bicycling memory comes when I was about 14 and learning how to play golf. I used to ride my bike 3-4 miles to the golf course with my golf bag slung over my shoulder. I just did a google image search for that and this is the only example anywhere on the interwebs, so it appears as if kids today don't do that anymore.

Then I got into high school and college where it was far more cool to be driving a car than riding a bicycle and I barely touched a bike for 15 years. I mean, c'mon. Why ride a bike when you can cruise chicks in a 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura?

It wasn't until about 2003, after 9/11, that I had my awakening and realized that the only reason America was at war in the Middle East was because of our addiction to oil. Quickly I understood that I wanted to minimize my part in that addiction so I started bicycle commuting to work (and I remember being really nervous about it).

My commute was a beautiful one down stately Summit Ave. in St. Paul (which had a bike lane) and then along the Mississippi River to downtown Minneapolis. It was just under 12 miles and usually took me 50 minutes.

But I had the normal concerns that everyone has:

  • What route would be best to take?
  • Was it safe to bike on the road next to all those cars?
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!

My greatest fear was of getting doored while riding in the bike lane down Summit Ave. Getting "doored" is when bicycling by a parked car, the driver of the car opens their door right in your path and you hit it, sometimes hard. My fear was that that would happen and I'd get flung out into traffic and run over by a truck.

Here's how I overcame those concerns:
  • What route would be best to take?
    • I looked at a map to find friendly streets and bike paths where available. The city provided a physical map of bike trails, but it's much easier now that Google Maps is quite skilled at giving bicycling directions.
  • Is it safe to bike on the road by all those cars?
    • I bought a helmet, wore a bright jacket and biked in a safe, predictable manner while constantly gazing into the parked cars to see if anyone was behind the wheel, waiting to take me out.
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
    • There was technically a shower at work, but it was not a pretty thing all tucked away in the maintenance bowels of the building down there. I began by taking the bus into work with my bike attached to the rack on the front of the bus and then only biking home. Eventually, as I became more comfortable with biking I started biking both ways and using the shower (which really wasn't so bad). I also recall at first only riding my bike on casual Fridays during good weather to make it easier.
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!
    • Helmet hair is a serious concern for people biking to work or to an important engagement. I avoided this problem as noted above -- first by only biking home from work and later by using the shower at work.
A couple years later I was organizing group bike commutes to work from different parts of the city in order to help new commuters feel more comfortable. The bike commute into work became a highlight of my day and I still gain great pleasure from a leisurely or practical ride about town. It's amazing how we can transform after simply taking that first step out of our comfort zone. 

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