Today’s Momentum Magazine email header was “Top 10 Tips for First-Time Bicycle Commuters,” and it made me think of a recent conversation at work with some women who are what I might call beginning bicycle riders. One was challenged to bike to work five days in a row, so that she might earn new bike accessories. Monday, I biked home with her; Tuesday, another woman who bikes everyday rode home with her (sadly, she had to bike home alone the last few days – sorry!). I was trying to coach her to get off the saddle at stop lights, rather than trying to balance on tiptoe while perched on her seat. She just felt more comfortable firmly on her saddle. I understand – I did it for ages too, until I met The Mechanic and he teased me about it.
The next day, we were chatting with another woman in our office, trying to get her to bike to work as well. She said she finally felt more confident about biking down the hill into Rosslyn, but she’s still really nervous about biking up the hill. When I asked why, she said, “Because of the buses.” I was confused, until she explained that she doesn’t want to have to stop going uphill (who can blame her?!), but she’s not comfortable going around a stopped bus (there’s a bus stop mid-hill on Wilson Blvd between Rosslyn and Courthouse), because that puts her into a traffic lane. So she’s trying to find a less hilly neighborhood street to take, so she doesn’t have to tangle with the buses.
This got me thinking again about the things we tell beginning bike riders. I admit to being a chicken bicyclist, but I am less fearful about traffic than I was when I started. I’m not sure what made me more confident. Most likely, the bike lanes between Ballston and Rosslyn – even though there are cars in them on a daily basis (sigh – when will planners realize that parallel parking on the right side of the bike lane is a bad idea?), having my own space but still being around moving vehicles gave me the opportunity to work up the courage to mix with them. And although I want the most direct route, rather than the lovely yet out-of-my-way bike trail, I do pick routes that either have a bike lane or go through a neighborhood. As I mentioned in a blog post I wrote for The Discerning Cyclist, the biggest barrier to overcome is in our heads – we will always be our own worst enemies. It’s the gritting the teeth and saying, “I got this!” and then keep doing it, and sometimes that isn’t easy. Often it isn’t easy.
So I think that one of the best things to tell first-time bicycle commuters, in addition to practice cycling, plan ahead and go with a friend, is to remember to be brave. Be strong – act like you own it. And not to be ashamed if one day, you don’t own it. There will be other days. It’s just like dieting, or exercising, or starting any new habit: some days you won’t be your best, but that’s okay. The more you do it, the stronger you become. Repeat along with me: “I CAN do this.”
And I totally need to take my own advice sometimes though….