A guest post by Betsy Lawrence, AKA “yogaprof,” the founder of Belles and Baskets
I have written previously about how I began bike commuting; now here are a few lessons I have discovered along the way.
Lesson one: Be flexible
Once I committed to biking to work, I started the work of fine-tuning my commute. I soon realized one of my favorite things about commuting by bike—it challenges the brain. I am constantly watching, assessing, and switching my plans.
For example, the first time I biked to work, I crossed the Greene Street Bridge by riding in the car lane. I know the rules—ride a bike as though it is a car. That day I learned to sometimes break that rule. This bridge is a very narrow four lanes and packed with trucks and cars.
I was terrified and realized the sidewalk is a much better choice. It is rarely used, and whenever I see pedestrians on the sidewalk, I get off my bike and wait for them to pass.
I often have to tweak my route or wait for an unexpected delay. Flexibility is part of bike commuting and is good for the brain.
Lesson two: Create a route that feels comfortable to you
I have had to rework my route several times due to road construction. While trying to come up with a new route, I learned that following the advice of a male friend who is a hard-core commuter was not the best plan. I ended up cycling along busy streets in industrial areas, surrounded by stinky vehicles and passing endless buildings and parking lots. The only wildlife I saw was an occasional pit bull or dead rat. That is not what I want out of my ride.
Now when I need to change my route because of construction, I choose to go the more picturesque way; an additional five minutes of biking that is pleasant is preferable to saving time but losing my lungs.
Lesson three: Break the commute into several short trips
To keep my ride from feeling daunting, I mentally break it into four segments: a ride to Barb’s house, a ride downtown, a ride to the river, and a ride to work.
Each segment consists of different terrain, neighborhoods and sometimes even temperature. I can mentally high-five myself after each portion and prepare for the next. It’s not an eight-mile ride; it’s four, two-mile rides, each with its own delights.
And most importantly, lesson four: Enjoy the view and say “hello”
I am privileged to have the option to bike commute. I have a nice, economical car, a pre-paid bus pass, and plenty of time. I am allowed the choice to cycle, and I choose to make it pleasurable.
I have the delight of riding along the Spokane River for a few miles when I bike commute. I see geese, ducks, and dog walkers. While that segment is easy to enjoy, even the most urban parts of my ride have their pleasures: the people I see.
I make it a point to say hello to everyone I pass (yes, EVERYONE) from spandexed runners, to street people with their shopping carts, to kids on skateboards, to folks exiting their Hummers. I figure these moments allow my community to see that cyclists are nice people and they give me the lift as well. I keep my eyes up and enjoy the view of nature and my neighbors. I feel immense gratitude when I can bike to work, and I hope to share that joy with everyone I pass.
- Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
- More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
- Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
- Bike Commuting Manners: Is a Smile or a Nod Too Much to Ask?
- There and Back Again: How to Pick Your Bike Commuting Route
- Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
- More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
- Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
- Cycling in Austria: A Betsy Post
- Belles and Baskets: The Beginning
- On Getting from Here to There: A Betsy Post
- On Becoming a Late-in-Life Jock: On a Roll with Betsy Lawrence
- My Resolutions: A Betsy Post
- What bike commuting lessons have you learned along the way that you share with beginners?
I think that breaking my commute into mental sections is what helped me most at first. Riding four 3-mile segments is a lot easier to think about than one 12-mile segment, like you said. I really love how you worded that point!
Saying hello is important, too. I do try to greet everyone, though I’m not always great at it. A good new year’s resolution, perhaps.
I think one of the main things I’ve learned is not to be afraid to take the lane if necessary. I don’t have a lot of routing options in my commute, and one way or another I’m going to have to face industrial traffic with no bike lanes. Drivers will try to share the lane with me if I ride to the far right of the lane (even though there are two, sometimes three lanes and no other cars around), but I’ve found that if I just ride down the middle they’ll change lanes and give me the space I need.
I used to think I was being polite by riding to the far right, but now the way I see it is that I deserve a whole lane just as much as the driver does, and in places where I don’t have a dedicated bike lane and there are more than one car lanes, one of those car lanes is rightfully mine.
Thanks for the post! It’s always nice to hear about other people’s experiences.