Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Easy, One Mile at a Time

My early vision of what it meant to dress for a bike ride. (I still dress this way for a ride like this one to Coeur d’Alene and back–84 miles on a sunny day.)

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 the selected day, I’d drive the 3.5 miles to work (downhill, then flat) 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.

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12 Comments to "Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Easy, One Mile at a Time"

  1. Karen says:

    Great post and a good reminder to anyone who is just starting out that sometimes you just need to start where you can manage and build up until it feels natural and nearly effortless. Encouraging without being lecturing. I started bike commuting about 4 years ago just to economize and so we could go down to one car. We moved from the inexpensive midwest to the pricey southwest so we needed to tighten our belts. I pretty much started out experimenting w/ my mountain bike, a backpack and a change of clothes for the office, as well as my hair and makeup repair kit in my work desk. It didn’t take me long to figure out that a mountain bike was inadequate for my needs that an easier way existed. We sold a car and I invested in a commuter bike and some panniers to carry my things. My husband bought a Target bike (but has since invested in a Breezer Uptown 8). Soon I was also grocery shopping and going to dinner w/ my husband by bike.

    I think it really helped me to be inspired by other blogs where I could read about people who successfully commuted by bike and cultures where it’s the norm. Blogs immediately gave me exposure to people that I could relate to as well as the support of people who knew that I could do it. When you live in a part of the country where cars dominate you often have to put up with plenty of naysayers. Despite the good bike infrastructure here bicycling is mostly looked upon as recreational, something that serious people don’t do. I would think in a state hit hard by the housing bubble more people would be integrating bikes into their commutes because it really is a money saver but we are still small in number.

  2. Lisa says:

    The thing I remember the most about my early days of commuting was the fact that I could only do it, at most, every other day. I needed that full day of rest in between to regain my strength. Also, I went through a period where I dreaded the thought of the ride because I was going the same route every single time – hitting the same hills and seeing the same sights. I now have at least 8 different ways to get to and from work and I can choose my level of difficulty and scenery.

  3. [...] Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Easy, One Mile at a Time [...]

  4. [...] Becoming a Bike Commuter, Part I: It’s Pretty Easy, a Few Miles at a Time [...]

  5. [...] I have experienced the profound mental shift from “I ride my bike sometimes–when weather is perfect and it’s not complicated” to “I am someone who rides a bike for transportation nearly all the [...]

  6. [...] I didn’t start riding a bike as a diehard year-round commuter. I didn’t start as a “practical cyclist” who was making a political statement through my choice of transportation. [...]

  7. [...] Taking up biking for transportation has given me the same experience that becoming a mother did. No, not endless anxiety, sleepless nights, and sh**—well, at least not too much of the latter—but rather the experience of learning just how much the world was designed not for you, but against you, by people who do not share your particular circumstances. [...]

  8. [...] My bike commuting started on a big-box “Iron Maiden” pseudo-mountain bike, replaced with a similar one when #1 was stolen. These bikes probably weighed a good 45 pounds apiece before adding racks and gear. [...]

  9. [...] way I used to tell the story of how I started bike commuting, it was an infrastructure story: I started riding because the city put a bike lane in front of my [...]

  10. Allen says:

    I am a local and I know exactly which hill you mean. It’s brutal! I can’t make it up that yet.

    Sunset hill is my nemesis. I bike to work (downhill) but bus home. It’s 14.9 miles from house to work (I live in Medical Lake). Someday I want to get the full commute done on the bike, then scale it up to every day. Your post was inspirational! Thanks!

  11. […] part organization. The infrastructure part is that the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. I think practically anyone who bicycles anywhere will think some […]

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