#6: Bike Commuting

Posted by Megan on May 8th, 2011

There was a blue monster in my garage for two years. It hung in solitude like a bat, barely ever leaving its cave, yet it taunted me daily and filled me with fear. I would very rarely attempt to defeat the monster. Every time I tried to conquer my fear I would be left discouraged, defeated and often very bruised. Here is a photo of the allusive beast:

Bike monster!

I know you’re thinking, “Megan, you are more nuts than usual today,” which is quite possibly true for a number of unrelated reasons, but my bike fear is warranted to a reasonable degree. 

My (pre) teen spirit to be cool like my friends inspired my first bike adventure to WalMart to buy the trendy perspiration defender.

I grew up riding my Huffy down the quiet streets of my semi-small town just like most kids. My bike equaled freedom and I happily buzzed around on my banana seat. The biggest bike riding adventure of my youth brought me to Wal-Mart, about four miles from home, on a quest to buy Teen Spirit deodorant. My mom thought I was too young for deodorant (she was right) but my classic impatience overcame my sensibilities and Teen Spirit was a must have. I was exhausted when I arrived home with my coveted antiperspirant. As it turns out, Teen Spirit smells like a combination of rubbing alcohol and baby powder and actually seems to make you sweat more.

I abandoned the bike abruptly at age 16 when driving seemed more convenient and certainly more cool. Back before the “go green” movement, biking was far less en vogue. I always figured the hard core bikers had too many DWIs or too much time on their hands.

Needless to say, I never became well versed or confident biking in traffic. As a kid you can get away with riding on the sidewalk virtually everywhere.  When I moved to the big city I was astonished at how many bikers there were sharing the roads with cars. Not just on leisurely rides through neighborhoods, on highways and weaving through traffic on very busy streets. Apparently biking got cool again. I started to become envious of these riders. They were loving the earth and loving their bodies with destination based exercise. Cool! There was just one huge road block in my way – I am a big whiskered-faced, cat-nip-loving scardy cat.

I bought a road bike two years ago and have ridden it precisely eight times. It’s been hanging in my garage heckling me ever since. Every time I attempted to brave the bike, I got frazzled, freaked-out and often hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I love biking. I take indoor spin class at least twice a week, and find it to be an extremely challenging and fun exercise option, but biking outside is just… scary. If you get hit by a car whilst on a bike, you’re road kill – the human kind. I see plenty of sad, lifeless animals everyday on my commute to work, I don’t want to be one of them! The second chief concern is, of course, falling off the bike. I fall a lot. I am incredibly clumsy. Just check my shirt.  Oatmeal is hypothetically an inanimate object, yet somehow it manages to leaps onto my blouse on a biweekly basis.

If I was going to conquer the blue monster, I was going to need help. Enter Mario.

My bike commuting mentor Mario from Freewheel. He’s bad ass. (in a good way)

 

Mario is my buddy from Freewheel Midtown Bike Center. It is located very close to my work, and I often go to Freewheel for coffee and to live vicariously through the cool (pedal) biker crowd. I love being around athletic people and we often chitchatted about my overwhelming fear of biking in traffic and my longing to be more environmentally conscious. One day a few weeks ago Mario said, “You just need to snap out of and give it a try.” He was right. I’ve always wanted to try bike commuting, but I talked myself into thinking it was an insurmountable task. What about the cars? How do I figure out the route? What if I fall? What if someone throws a pop can at me? (I’ve heard this is a legitimate concern here!) What if a wild dog chases me? What if my leg falls off? What if I encounter a time warp trap? I should note that the last concern is not really bike related, it’s just a general life fear I grapple with. I blame too many video games in my formative years.

With the exception of my time warp concern, Mario was ready and willing to answer all my above questions AND he volunteered to ride with me home and promised to deposit me safely home. That’s right, Mario is so passionate about sharing his love for riding, he volunteered to ride the 20 miles with me to show me the route and offer encouragment and guidance. How lucky am I to have such amazingly supportive friends!

Mario planned our route carefully to avoid any potential time warp traps.

Check out the awesome bike I got to ride home. It was definitely a step up from the blue monster.

We settled on a date. That morning I hitched a ride with my work bestie then met Mario at 4:30 p.m. to conquer the bike demon once and for all. He leant me a really nice Freewheel bike to ride. We carefully discussed the route, opting to stick on a slightly longer route that offered more off-road bike lanes.

Then, before I could chicken out, we were off. The first portion of the ride was on the Greenway, a bike commuting trail completely paved and separate from traffic. It was the perfect way to get used to riding with another biker. After about eight or nine miles of easy, stress-free riding we were to the river. To get to my place in the southern suburbs you have to cross this little ole river. You might have heard of it; the flipping Mississippi. It is often described as “mighty” but I think the word angry actually describes it better. It has been especially pissed off lately due to significant flooding. I would be cranky too if I was bloated for six weeks straight! Crossing the river is a pain, even when you have a motorized vehicle. Obviously there are a limited number of ways to cross the angry river and at the moment the pedestrian bridges on many of these roadways are closed due to the high flood water. This left us with only one pedestrian accessible bridge. Thankfully this planned detour only added a few miles onto our trip.

By the time we reached the river I was high on fun and adrenaline. I knew the most challenging and scariest part of our ride was just around the corner. The second half of the ride had us biking on a heavily utilized highway. Fortunately it has a large shoulder and is fairly bike friendly. Mario is a super fun, talkative guy. We chatted about bikes, and haunted cemeteries and our joint appreciation for all the sheep that sacrifice their coats so that humans can have wool. (Shout out to all you sheep out there: you are BAAAAAAd ass!)  I was so engrossed in our banter, the close traffic and terrain did not register as scary. Mario was comfortable and confident on his bike, it just seem natural to have the same outlook. Not only was I overcoming a fear, I was having tons of fun.

After completing the highway portion of the ride, there were only a few more turns and PRESTO we arrived at my house. The 20 mile ride flew by. Like a proud parent, Mario gave me an awesome ovation and a congratulatory hug. I grabbed my keys and prepared to give Mario a lift back. “No thanks,” Mario replied. “I’m riding home.” Then he took off to ride the 20 miles back to the bike shop plus an additional eight to get to his house. How clutch is that!

Thanks to my bike mentor Mario, I’ve put more miles on my bike in the last three days then the last two years combined. I have completely overcome my fear. It was like a light switch went off. I was instantly able to emulate Mario’s confident, assertive nature. My goal is to ride my bike to and from work at least once per week and also possibly incorporate a bike/bus combo a few additional days when the weather is nice. The hour and a half Mario spent riding with me has most definitely changed my life for the better and has inspired me to get out and share my talents. In related news: Email me if you would like to learn more about flossing with one hand or touching your tongue to your nose. Prerequisite: must have long tongue.

Mario and I celebrated our victory of making it home safe and sound with all our limbs in tact.

  • © 2011 Megan Steil