One of my favorite blogs is Bikes for the Rest of Us. The site offers news and pics of bikes that are suitable for commuting and/or leisure riding. They typically look at bikes that are less than $1000 — some much less — that still provide a great urban commuting solution. As rising gas prices continue to break this country’s balls, I think these kinds of bikes are going to become more popular and more available. Now granted, they haven’t mentioned the Electra Townie yet, but it’s still a great site.
First — if any of the people from my Aikido dojo are reading this — I will be back at practice Monday night. Yes, at last. I think my knee is good enough to return.
This last week, on Thursday and Friday, I finally rode my bike to work. I’ve been trying to do it for the last month, but every day I didn’t need my car to get to drawing class or some other errand we had thunder storm.
Well, May is National Bike to Work Month, and finally I had a day that was all-systems-go.
With my bike all set up for commuting, I packed my work clothes and lunch in the panniers and set off. I’ve been reading advice for safe bike commuting for several months and I tried to put some of it into practice.
My commute is really nice. About 50% is on dedicated bike trails. Getting to the bike trail is all neighborhood streets. There is one short stretch where I do, in fact, ride on the sidewalk. It’s on a busy street, and really, as alert as you have to be on the sidewalk, it is just necessary.
I’ve found that at intersections, the best strategy seems to be to take the lane. If you are over on the right, drivers will not give you a break. They may not even see you. So I arrange things so at a red light I can patiently get in the lane behind the first or second car. At all of my intersections, once I’m through I’m either back on bike path, neighborhood street, or the parking lot of a mall.
The secrets seem to be patience, vigilance, and knowing when to assert your traffic rights without putting yourself in danger. It seems funny to put so much thought into it, since as teenagers my friends and I used to ride bikes all over the place and it was pretty easy.
The truth is, it is still easy. The ride to work is really pleasant. It takes 37 minutes, and when I get to work I’m awake, alert, and ready to work. A few minutes to cool down, a quick freshen-up and change of clothes, and I’m ready to go.
I was really inspired to start this by several factors. First, my friends Sean and Chrissy commute by bike a lot. If they can do it, so can I. Also, the need for exercise. Every day I ride, I get over an hour of exercise and 15 miles of riding. I actually got back on my bike in the first place to strengthen my hurt knee, and it has helped a lot. Gas prices — going to keep going up. It is cheaper to ride. It is better for you. And finally, as part of the Sustainability Committee at work, I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. Put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.
I realize there will be days when I do, in fact, need my car. But I think that at least 3 days a week I can ride.
Yesterday I rode in my first bike event — the Tour of Dallas — with my friend Matt and his daughter Zoe. We rode the short route, which was originally planned to be 8 miles, but after a no-show by the company contracted to cone-off the bike route, it was changed to a little over nine miles. Not big deal for us, but for a young girl on a single speed bike, it was a great challenge, and Zoe did a fantastic job.
Probably because I read all day at work, when I get home I don’t feel like reading. Thus, I rarely seem to finish a book anymore. I’m not a big fiction fan, and lately I’ve found a lot of non-fiction to also be non-interesting.
A few weeks ago I became interested in the world of bike messengers. After watching a few videos on youtube, and checking out some related websites, the whole thing just became kind of fascinating. If you’ve ever seen what these guys do in city traffic you’ll understand. I did some searching, and discovered Culley’s book. A quick library request, and it was mine to read.
This book is many things. It is a record of Culley’s early days as a messenger — a record of his progress as he scratched out a living in Chicago. It describes the many hardships that these working-people endure as they play their part in the city’s commercial system. Culley reviews the history of urban planning of Chicago, the role of the bicycle in that plan, and the effects of car culture upon the city. We learn of Culley’s introduction to bike activism and Critical Mass. Culley describes his boyhood friendship with a neighborhood outsider, and the lessons he learned from this unlikely mentor.
…all good stuff…all interesting and well-written…
…but I found learning about the culture of bike messengers to be the most interesting part of this work. The reader learns the culture as Culley does — from beginner to seasoned vet — from the day Travis answers a want-ad while on his last financial legs to his eventual (but not permanent) exit from the business. We learn about the close-knit culture of messengers, the support system they employ, the frantic pace at which they work, the physical danger they face, the “alley cat” races they participate in, and the diversity of people employed in the industry (from struggling artists working to support their art to people with no goal but to keep riding).
I should also mention that the book is exciting. Culley’s descriptions of flying around Chicago are quite vivid, and really convey the rush of being constantly “in the moment” in order to avoid disaster while doing his work.
I’ll be purchasing a copy of this for my own little collection at home. Great read.