Bicycle Commuter Diaries: Back in the Saddle
With the cooler weather approaching, I decided it was time to dust off my bike from junior high school and commit to riding again. Yes, that’s right: I wrote “junior high school." The last time I rode a bike was for approximately 7 minutes a year ago in beautiful, flat Florida. I rode my mother-in-law’s bike for about five minutes until I realized she had two flat tires. I tried to ride for 2 more minutes until I decided maybe I should get off the bike. Needless to say, I’m not a huge cyclist, which makes the notion of dusting off an old bike to ride sound even more arduous.
The Bike To Work Challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to test out getting back in the saddle. It would be just like when I was 12 years old! I could hop on my old-school, vintage Murray road bike and feel the wind in my hair as I cruise down the street feeling a sense of independence.
After confirming with my father that my bike was, in fact, twenty years old, I decided it might make sense to have it checked out. I have a DIY nature, so I took my bike to the nice folks at SOPO bicycle cooperative in Grant Park. I like SOPO because they don’t just fix your bike for you. Instead, they actually assist and guide you as you fix your bike yourself. SOPO’s “employees” are volunteers and they take donations in exchange for their expertise. The gentleman who helped me was extremely knowledgeable and checked my brakes, tires and gears. He also explained that bike companies discontinued making the types of pedals on my bike because they snap off… Enter paranoia, stage left!
At this point, I decided that I needed to become more knowledgeable about bike maintenance and safety to fight off my inner bike wuss. Working at The Clean Air Campaign, I knew that the Bike To Work Challenge website had multiple resources for cyclists, including classes. After reviewing tips on commuting, planning your trip to work and even watching a video of zombies teaching me how to put a bike on a bus I found a free class called “Confident City Cycling” and immediately registered.
Mike Laurie and Shawn Deangelo, from the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, led the five hour “confidence” class that included classroom training and participating in bike handling drills. This class was FUNtastic! The instructors were not only knowledgeable, but they were also enthusiastic and very sensitive to all levels of riders. A light, delicious breakfast of bagels, fruit and coffee was served to the 10 people who attended the class. The instructors covered topics such as selecting a bike, correct clothing to wear, gearing and shifting, Georgia traffic laws and more. It was very helpful! For example, I learned it’s illegal in Georgia to not have lights on your bike at night when you are riding. I also learned that it’s illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk and that you can actually get traffic tickets when you break traffic laws while riding a bike. All in all, I left the class feeling more empowered and definitely more confident.
Last Monday was the first day I rode my bike to work. Technically, I rode my bike to MARTA, but either way I did not drive my car, which is better for the environment, my wallet and my inner child. I’ve decided to name my bike “McMurray”. He seems Irish to me. Old McMurray did well that morning and I felt strong and confident because I knew, unlike last year on my mother-in-law’s bike, that I was not riding on two flat tires. I also knew that if I did get a flat, I could take the tire off, locate the cause of the flat, repair or replace the tube as needed and be on my way. That knowledge and confidence allows me to ride a 20 year old bike named McMurray, as the wind blows over my helmet, while I rediscover my appreciation for cycling that I had when I was twelve.
Beth Ament is an Employer Program Manager and Team Leader at The Clean Air Campaign.