Five years ago, I got a bicycle for Christmas. I had just moved to Arlington, VA, and told myself that I was going to become one of those People Who Bike Everywhere. There were bike trails literally all over the place! It was going to be a huge lifestyle change!
Except, no. Literally the first trip out, I missed the sign for the entrance to the bike trail. (I was coming from Virginia! The signs were very clear if you were coming from DC!) I wound up going down what definitely looked like a bike trail initally, but quickly became a steeply declining, ever-narrowing strip of blacktop, with a decent drop-off on either side. I fell, and I fell hard.
Of course I did.
A few months later, I found the right bike path, and took it occasionally – but not frequently enough to not feel guilty about this nice bike I wasn’t really using. I moved back to DC proper, and the bike moved with me, but I didn’t use it. Volunteering for a theater festival, I somehow got myself to bike to and from the festival headquarters and the theater I was volunteering at, but that was on sidestreets and on the weekend. Still, once I’d done that, I started biking a few places semi-regularly – to my gym, to a nearby concert venue – places that didn’t involve using major streets, were bike lane accessible, and light on traffic.
Oh, I should mention – I don’t drive. I don’t know how. (This might sound odd to many of you, but I grew up in New York, and the few times I tried to learn were complete failures.) Traffic scares me. If I’m waiting for the bus on a busy road, I stay far away from the curb, because cars moving fast fundamentally scare me.
But still. I have lots of friends who bike to work, through heavy traffic, and they seem to be okay. My route would be a lot less less traffic-intense than many of their routes. And it was barely two miles!
So one sunny day last week, I somehow was ready to leave for work earlier than usual. It was gorgeous outside. I’d just ridden my bike the week before, to a concert, so I knew I had air in the tires and my bike was easily accessible. Something in my mind went, “Fuck it, I’m going to bike to work!”
And I did. And it was great, mostly. I hyper-vigilantly looked at parked cars, worried about getting doored, which has happened to a few people I know. And then there were the two blocks where I was followed by a garbage truck, which I found stressful. There were a few blocks without bike lanes, and I walked my bike for a bit, rather than wrangle with DC rush hour traffic south of K St, but other than that, the ride itself, while stressful. was, in total, pretty good.
The big difference was when I got to work. Normally, I drag myself out of the house, force myself onto the metro, and spend the first hour or so trying to wake the hell up and ease into the day. (I don’t drink caffeine, for headache-related reasons, so the sweet nectar of coffee is not for me.)
When I get to work after biking in, though? I am AWAKE. I got more done that first morning than I usually get done in an entire day.
During the day, I consulted a friend who bikes all over the place, all the time, and she suggested an alternate route home – one that was entirely comprised of bike lanes! (And that took me through Lafayette Park, by the White House – always a nice reminder that I do, in fact, live in this city.) This route was even less trafficky, but was really crowded with other bikers. I got passed a bunch of times. But you know what? Who cares. I was going home, I wasn’t in any particular rush! (And also, heading home was literally an uphill battle.)
I commuted by bike two more times that week, and each time was easier, though my calves seem a little upset with me. My calves will get over it, though, because the rewards are immeasurable – it’s a reason to get out of bed and get moving in the morning that doesn’t involve, you know, actually being at work. It’s something to look forward to at the end of the day, and hell, it’s a motivation to get to bed earlier, so I get enough sleep that I trust myself to be alert enough to bike.
So biking to work is kind of my new favorite thing, which is to say I’ve done it three times. But I’d like this to become a constant thing on fair weather days, and I think it will be. If biking to work is a possibility for you, I strongly recommend it!
- If you’re going to bike, be a good cyclist. Obey traffic laws, don’t be an asshole. If this means letting other cyclists pass you so they can run red lights, that’s fine.
- If you’re biking anywhere, but especially in urban areas, please please PLEASE get a good helmet. They make some cute ones now!
- Check out the biking regulations where you live. Is biking on the sidewalk illegal? (In DC, it’s only illegal south of Mass Ave, but is still considered rude most places.) If you’re biking at night, you may be required to have lights on your bike. Get’em! There might be other requirements I don’t even know about.
- Google maps has a bicycle function that shows you where bike lanes are, if where you live has bike lanes. You can even get super sneaky and zoom in with Google Satellite to see where exactly on the road the bike lane is! (DC bike lanes, for the most part, are between the parked cars and traffic, though there are some smack in the middle of the road, with traffic on either side in opposite directions. There are a few lovely roads where the lane is between the curb and angled parked cars, significantly cutting down on the potential for dooring.)
I’m sure I’m not the only one here who is fond of bicycling, and most of you are probably more experienced than I am. So what am I forgetting, and what would you want to tell your fellow cyclists?