Ride On!

I was once told that the most efficient and reliable man-made tool was the bicycle chain. I rediscovered this great invention 6 years ago when I started grad school and needed to save money on gas, parking, time, etc. I say rediscovered because like most children I learned to ride a bike during my elementary school years and then gave it up once I turned 16 and was able to drive. Sure I took a “cheap big box” mountain bike occasionally out for a ride, but never for transportation and typically ending in some kind of mechanical or rider error that landed the bike in the garage or closet until my ambition was great enough to fix it for another ride.

My rebirth into cycling wasn’t a glorious moment in my life either, but was definitely life altering. When starting grad school I again bought a “cheap big box” mountain bike (even though I was in Gainesville Florida=no mountains), and at the time I thought I was doing fine on my 2 mile commuter ride to school. I only questioned my abilities when I would be passed by a road bike like I was sitting parked and I was pedaling my hardest. Even though I didn’t realize it until much later, the 3 years that I spent making my commuter trips taught me a great deal about cycling and fueled my desire for bicycle advocacy.

My full conversion into a cycling addict began when I gave myself a graduation present and upgraded my “beater” of a mountain bike, with a new Trek road bike. I was fortunate enough to get hired at a company in the downtown Orlando core, an apartment 2 miles from there, and was able to start commuting in style. I immediately noticed that my speed went from 12-15mph to 20+ and that the efficiency of the machine was incredible. This new rate of speed enticed my wife to give me a helmet that Christmas (I forgot to mention that I hadn’t been wearing one for the previous 3.5 years, stupid and fortunate). Little did either of us know that in March of the next year I would collide with a truck at about 20mph, crush my helmet, lose my 2 front teeth, but still be alive.

After this baptismal experience into the conflict between motorized vehicles and bicycles, my journey into the cycling world was ready to begin. I sold my truck, got a new helmet and teeth, and made it my personal goal to bike everywhere within reason. Professionally (as a landscape architect), I also see opportunities for communities to better integrate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

I hope to share with you some of my experiences as an urban bike commuter, advocate for bike friendlier communities, and create a forum for sharing ideas.

Ride hard, ride safe, ride on!

15 replies
  1. Eric
    Eric says:

    Although you have found speed, might I suggest cycling slower?

    It is possible to ride a light bike and not even crack a sweat getting to work (except on the days where just walking outside results in sweating) which means you don’t need to take a shower or wear odd looking clothes.
    You don’t have to ride a heavy bike if don’t want to.

    I suggest slower cycling because I have “come full circle” in my riding life. Riding becomes as normal as breathing rather than an activity, like exercise. Much like walking out to the drive way and driving to the store. No particular thought to it, nothing exceptional, just another day.

    That’s the way most people in the world that use bikes to get to work see things.

    • Ken
      Ken says:

      I definitely agree with you about speed wile commuting in traffic. Slower is definitely safer on most streets in Orlando. You just never know where drivers are going to turn or how they are going to react when they see a bicycle.

      I have a few different bikes that I use for different activities. I do ride a road bike to commute to work, but I keep it at around 15mph and do appreciate its efficiency and light weight to make the trip as easy as possible.

      For trips to the store or for short trips I just choose a bike that best fits what I need my bike to do for me. I plan on doing a blog post on “Right Bike, Right Ride” that goes a little deeper into the bikes I use for the different tasks I need it to perform in my getting around town.

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      Going fast is like so many other decisions. It depends on the context and situation. Doing 25 mph on a high-speed arterial is unlikely to pose any problems, but in denser city traffic one might want to bring it down to 15 mph.

  2. Bikin Bill
    Bikin Bill says:

    I have been riding in traffic for work or pleasure since 1993 and am confident of my skills. When I commute to work on a bike, once a week maybe (is that really bike commuting?) anyway, I ride 20ish mph the whole 25 miles. Speed for me is a work out and a shorter ride time in a time crunched world. Ride at the speed you are comfortable. The higher the speed, the more aware you must be. Take your place in the roads that you ride, Be Seen, Be Paranoid, Be Predictable and of course have fun!

  3. john
    john says:

    Ken, thanks for your thoughts and I have builtextra bikes for my young sons so they too can learn “right bike, right ride”. I look forward to your input on how our built environment can lead to friendlier and more civilized communities. Slow is good but for some reason our human traits allow us to be seduced by the joy of speed. Hopefully having more livable streets may eventually trump the need for speed.

  4. Ken
    Ken says:

    Good points all the way around.

    Speed wasn’t the factor in my crash. I got hit at the intersection of Livingston and Ferncreek by an oncoming driver that did not yield during his left turn onto Ferncreek. He didn’t see me because i was blocked from his view by an SUV that was in front of me and as soon as the SUV went by, he made his turn and i t-boned him.

    I only mentioned my poor bike purchases because I definitely got what i paid for on a couple of them. It only takes a few times being stranded a mile from your destination and having to pack/drag your bike by foot. I have just found that with proper maintenance and a good investment in a dependable machine and components, the extra money has paid for itself in worry free riding. It also helps that when you see you bike as your sole mode of transportation, that you are willing to make a larger investment in what you ride.

    • JohnB
      JohnB says:

      I think one of the driving skills that takes the longest to develop, as a driver of any vehicle but especially necessary to the bicyclist due to our increased vulnerability, is an awareness of where your blind spots are. In other words, being able to “know what you don’t know”. And then to take it to the next step, to think about who might be behind that blind spot, assume that whoever it is probably has no idea you’re there, and think ahead to what he or she might do based on that assumption.

      I’m fortunate to have yet to be in a bike/car collision in 8 years of bike commuting, but the closest I came was in this sort of situation. I was turning left, opposite some cars coming in the other direction also turning left. Another car pulled out from behind that oncoming line to come straight through the intersection, not seeing me. To avoid a collision, I had to brake hard, and not knowing proper emergency braking technique at the time, went over the handlebars in the intersection. Fortunately, no one hit me and I could just get up and walk to the side of the road. Of course the motorist who almost hit me did not stop, but thankfully several others did slow or stop to make sure I was okay.

      It’s obvious that some motorists never really think about their blind spots, or get lazy about them if they go a long time without anything bad happening as a result. But I know I’m much more aware of them than I was 8 years ago, and am a much better driver of both bikes and cars as a result. I still think my near-miss was mostly that motorist’s fault for not looking sufficiently before entering the intersection, but I’m pretty sure I’ve also become better at noticing these sorts of situations developing. And I’ve also learned how to brake hard without endo-ing! 😉 (Although I hardly ever really need to do to that.)

  5. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    I have been car free for 2 years. I have both a commuter and a road bike for training. It’s a liberating lifestyle free from gas, insurance, car payment and huge maintenance costs. I spend 5 bucks on maintenance like tubes and rechargeable batteries on average. I also help organize a biking awareness ride here in Brevard County. I have a squidoo page on commuting. Check it out sometime. http://www.squidoo.com/pedalhappy

  6. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Eric wrote:
    “I really like the Oma/Opa Fiets. I just wish they weren’t so expensive.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    I find that this is the cheapest form of transportation.

    CAA says that driving a car 16,000 km per year costs $8,227. Annual cost of a public transit pass is $1,400. My top of the line Pashley Sovereign Roadster only cost $1,300 and I expect to ride it for the rest of my life. That’s less than the cost of one year’s car insurance! Cheap!

    Source for car costs:

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