Biking to work

Things I’ve learned recently while biking to work:

– A little shame plus a little inspiration make for a nice motivational cocktail. A few months ago, my friend LizardBreath bought a folding bike and started biking to work. Her commute is most of the length of Manhattan — much longer than mine — and she threw herself into it without having biked much at all in the last decade. I’d bought a foldie a few years ago with the intention of biking to work, but I’d made only a couple of false starts. I saw Liz positively glowing with good health after a month of bicycle commuting, and I decided to try again.

– Waking up early enough to have breakfast clears my head enough to get out on the streets. I’d already reformed my morning schedule to start meditating regularly, so the extra twenty minutes isn’t actually that bad most days.

– The route matters. My previous route through downtown Brooklyn is scarier than most Manhattan streets. Fortuitously, New York City’s fabulous transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has been furiously transforming the city’s streets into bike-friendly spaces, and the new Sands Street Bike Path has created a new way to access the Manhattan Bridge.

– I’m slower than I thought. I mean, I figured I was slow, but a lot of New York cyclists ride like bike messengers on their way to meet their meth dealer. Seventy to eighty percent of other bike commuters pass me, even though my times have been gradually improving.

– I’m more competitive than I thought. Getting passed by so many people bothers me more than I thought it would.

– I’m not that competitive. My goal is to ride in two or three days a week, and that’s been working so far. I figure I’ll gradually increase my riding or I won’t; either way, it’s at least as much exercise as the elliptical machine at the gym, which I can now skip.

– Pain precedes pleasure. Climbing the Manhattan Bridge always feels fairly awful, but by the time I’m at the top my blood is pumping and my lungs are fully open and I guess these little things called endorphins are running around in my brain. I feel very good, and my mind is clear enough to face Manhattan’s avenues.

– There are a lot of sociopaths moving about the city. Not just in cars, although plenty are driving cars. Not just behind the wheels of yellow cabs and livery cabs, although these are by far the worst vehicles in terms of disrupting traffic and endangering pedestrians and cyclists. It turns out that plenty of pedestrians and plenty of cyclists also have just about zero concern for the safety of others.

– Fixies look more ridiculous every day. Sorry, kids, that trend was never a good idea for most cyclists, and now it’s way overplayed.

– But the hipsters are switching to mopeds. I learned of this trend from Bike Snob NYC, but soon confirmed it for myself one evening when I had to bike up to Williamsburg and back. The hipsters, of course, ride their mopeds in bike lanes and stall out all the time because they don’t know what they’re doing.

– Cycling is really bad for people addicted to buying gear. I’ve been trying to resist, but so far I’ve bought a fancy new English saddlebag for carrying basic tools and a change of outfit (I got it on Ebay! a real bargain!), some special cycling pants that can also be worn in an office setting (these were not such a bargain, and I feel vaguely embarrassed by the purchase), and I have my eye on a whole new, ridiculously expensive foldie.

– You really can get better at it. I’m feeling more comfortable on my bike than I’ve felt since I was a kid riding around the neighborhood all day with my friends, and even the best rides back then couldn’t equal the thrill of flying over the East River at sunset.

9 responses to “Biking to work”

  1. Rachel says:

    How late into the year do you think you’ll keep riding, Dave? (If you think bike gear is fun, winter bike gear is a blast!–take it from a rider in frosty Wisconsin.) It sounds like a great adventure. And hey–before you get that second foldie, buy the best helmet you can possibly afford. It never hurts to have a spare.

    Also: what? no photos?

  2. Dave says:

    Well, so far I’ve wimped out about riding in rain, although my fancy bike pants are quite water-resistant. I need to work on that. Although this morning was a bit chilly, I think adjusting my top layers can keep me riding until it gets bitterly cold.

    I’m quite ambivalent about bike helmets after looking at the research into their effectiveness. I wear one most of the time but not always. And the stuff I’ve read actually recommends buying the cheapest helmet that’s certified by all those acronym agencies, since the expensive ones perform no better.

    Sorry about no photos. I really wanted some, but I’d have to have someone else take them for me. A future post.

  3. LP says:

    I used to bike to work years ago, from Dupont Circle across the Potomac to Rosslyn, and I agree with you Dave – it definitely gets the blood going and results in a clearer head. I found it much easier to sit at a desk and get work done all day if I started my morning with a bike commute.

    Please do wear a helmet – I don’t know what studies you’ve looked at, but I find it hard to imagine that if someone’s noggin is flying toward the pavement, it’s any less likely to get hurt with a hard layer of plastic on top. Even if it only helps in some cases, it’s worth wearing. Especially since there are so many nutty drivers out there — I used to dodge all kinds of loonies biking through Georgetown.

  4. Jeremy says:

    i gotta get me a bike. the skateboard just doesn’t cut it anymore, sadly…

  5. J-Man says:

    This is so great! I’m envious that you can bike commute (well, that, and also that you have a job to commute to). I love those specialized bike lanes! That is so forward-thinking and moderne. I hope someday that L.A. will get its shit together and do the same.

  6. Rogan says:

    5. I’ll second your observation about L.A. biking. It is dangerous! I’ve tried to bike to work a few times in the last couple of months, about 16 miles round trip, and find that I have to ride on the sidewalks just to be safe. Lucky for me, the sidewalks in L.A. are seriously underused, so it sort of works out. L.A. could be a killer biking city.

    Dave, good to hear you are getting out on the bike. Those foldies look cool.

  7. Stella says:

    Congratulations Dave – this is awesome.

    I saw a presentation by Janette Sadik-Kahn at Brookings a few weeks ago and her bike promotion is utterly briliant. They figured out that they could do a lot of stuff with paint and existing traffic lanes for both bikes and buses. She’s a pistol.

    I struggle with helmets – i hate the feeling of that strap near my windpipe as though i’m choking. i also read a study that drivers subconsciously driver closer to bikers with helmets than those without – as they seem safer and more experienced. the study was in response to the mythology among bikers that you’re more likely to have an accident when wearing a helmet. but clearly, banged up skull is bad news. look at those new NFL studies.

    i don’t know how i would ever reconcile biking to work in suits and heels with sweating and the dirt…i can only aspire to more weekend cycling. i feel that i’m biking vicariously through you.

  8. Dave says:

    I just saw this LA Times article about people trying to make L.A. better for cycling. If it weren’t for all the cars, it’d be pretty ideal, wouldn’t it? Great weather, fairly flat.

  9. LizardBreath says:

    Yay! I’m so bummed that I quit for the winter (it got too dark on my route home back in the beginning of October), but I’m going to be back on the trail first thing in March.