Thursday, May 8, 2014

Taking the Lane: Why I (Emily) started commuting

The National Bike Challenge is off to excellent start. If you have not signed up yet, you totally should. This is a wonderful opportunity to get new people involved with commuting by bike. There is nothing like a little competition to motivate a new habit. We at Taking the Lane and Sheclismo know that beginning commuting by bike can be a little intimidating to some people. Especially when it seems like the cycling community is so full of experts. Over the next six weeks, those of us at Taking the Lane are going to be writing a little more about why we started cycle commuting and some of the mistakes we made. Feel free to share our stories along with your own to help encourage new commuters.

My first commuter bike was a Schwinn mountain bike purchased from the children's department at Toys R' Us. It was the wrong size, heavy, and little clunky, but to me it represented a new freedom. It was my final semester of my master's program, I was recently divorced, working part time and living off my savings. While I did own a car, my income was insufficient for me to drive it into school and work, so I started biking.

My First Commuting Bike
I only lived 3 miles from the Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) campus and I was fortunate that about a mile of my commute was through a city park on a path by the river. Still I was a little nervous on my first ride. I rode on the sidewalk down to the park and past the river with the wind blowing in my hair. Then came the part I was dreading. I needed to merge onto the street. This particular road had a bike lane, but it still felt like I was so close to the cars. My heart beat nervously in my chest as cars whizzed past me at 30 miles an hour. After what felt like too long of a time for only three miles I turned into the campus parking lot and headed towards the bike racks. I had finished my first ride as a bike commuter. I told myself that it was only going to get better from here. By the end of my first full of week of cycling it became my new normal.

The Mishawaka Riverwalk: The place of my first commute
(image from
As you might have already noticed, my entrance into the world of commuting was less than graceful and I had a great deal to learn. At the time, I had very few friends that used a bike for transportation. Thankfully, the physics department at IUSB had three professors on staff that regularly went to campus by bike and these individuals were proved to a wealth of much needed advice and information about bike transportation.  Despite this additional instruction, I made a multitude of mistakes during my first three months of commuting.

I did not read up on cycling laws and therefore, road my bike on the sidewalk when I was too nervous to ride in the road. I am shaming myself right now just thinking about it. I did not have lights installed on my bike for about two weeks of night riding and I did not fully understand their importance. I also did not wear a helmet, even when the roads were slippery. In fact, it was not until the first snow that I began to think that a helmet might be a good idea. I also biked to work in the rain one day without a change of clothes and three hours later I was still dripping wet and shivering. Still I kept biking and I kept learning from my errors. I writing about all these things for a few reasons. First, I want to encourage new riders in the knowledge that everyone makes a least a few rookie mistakes and secondly, I hope that my sharing of my rookie mistakes will keep others from making the same mistakes.

My top three pieces of advice to a new commuter are the following:

1. Wear a helmet. We (well quite a few of us) put ourselves in massive amounts of student loan debt to put information into our brains, so we might as well protect them.

2. Your attitude is more important than the type of bike you ride. Many of us started out on some very un-fancy bikes, the important thing is that you are using your bike to go places and that it is safe to ride. So take pride in your steed, even if it did come from a yard sale or children's department.

3. Find someone else who rides and is willing to answer your questions. Also, along those lines, if you already ride, make yourself available to help out new commuters and welcome the new ones to our awesome community.

Also, remind your friends with commuting questions that Taking the Lane puts out a new article every Thursday all about commuting.

Happy Biking!

1 comment:

  1. Great article Emily. It's always nice to hear other peoples mistakes so the rest of feel much better about our moronic mistakes as well. :-)