Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Bicycle!

My memory isn't great, but I'm fairly sure that I bought my first bicycle (ever) in May of 2004. Six years! As I've mentioned before, I never rode a bike as a child. My parents bought me a pretty pink cruiser with flowers all over it and a basket on the front. They took me out and tried to teach me how to ride it. But I just couldn't get the hang of it. I gave up after a couple of unsuccessful tries. I didn't feel particularly motivated to learn since none of my friends rode bicycles either, and my parents' matching set of yellow 10-speeds never left the basement. Not that we were lazy or anything - there was tons of walking and hiking - but not really into bicycles.

This all changed once I moved to Atlanta and had a lot of friends who cycled around town. I resolved to get a bike and learn to ride it. I had ridden a motorcycle through most of my college years, so I felt pretty confident in my ability to master a two-wheeled contraption with pedals instead of a throttle.

At first, I could barely get up hills, and riding more than a mile or two made my whole body hurt. I had no idea how to interact with cars and I even rode on the sidewalk. But I kept trying. I had been taking a commuter bus to work a couple days a week. With the bicycle, I could make connections faster, so my transit commute was easier. Eventually I was driving only one day a week (I worked near the Smyrna/Cumberland Mall area) and taking my bicycle on the bus the rest of the time. I was so proud of myself the first time I rode up clock tower hill on Cobb Parkway without stopping! Cobb Parkway is really busy but that section has a wide shoulder that is fairly easy to use...

There were all sorts of incidents and learning experiences. My fender blew off one time when my bike was on the front rack of the bus, as it was heading up the interstate. I fell, swerving to avoid a turning car, and skinned my knee. I learned which clothes would stay unwrinkled in my bag and which shoes had enough traction to stay on my pedals. On a trip to Germany, on a rented European city bike and riverside bicycle paths, I discovered the joys of upright, fully equipped cycling.

Eventually, I decided to go back to school. Instead of riding the bus OTP (outside the perimeter), I was now cycling a couple of miles to downtown Atlanta. I discovered that my little aluminum mountain bike didn't really have the qualifications of a good road bike, and went shopping. I acquired Blue Belle, my pretty blue roadster. I learned from blogs around the world that lots of people like these practical, graceful bicycles. And I finally learned how to ride gracefully, in style.

Now, it has been six years. I have been cycling to work at least 3 days a week for six years, not to mention shopping, dining, etc. The funny thing is how many people - motorists - would say that it's impossible to get anywhere by bicycle. How is it that I've been doing something rumored to be so difficult for so long? Have I made any impression at all on the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of drivers who saw me along their commute or at the grocery store? How can people be so disbelieving?

But on the positive side, many more people do believe now. The number of people riding bicycles - including many influential people - is growing faster than I ever could have imagined. Where will things be by next year?

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing your long history with bicycling. Very inspiring.

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  3. I started out biking on the sidewalks too and when I moved to the streets I stayed as far over as possible to allow people to pass. I've loved the freedom and independence as well as seeing how many more bikers there are around here as the weather warms; the sweat and heat not so much but still manageable. Yesterday I had the shocking experience of being honked at and told that I need to get out of the road. Now I know Louisville isn't completely biked out but there are paths and lanes, shops, signs, and plenty of bikers. Have you had to deal with this?

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  4. Thanks Dottie, I'm glad my nostalgia is of interest to someone! :D

    Alaina, I'm glad you've had a similar experience - watching yourself become more comfortable on the bike... I so rarely get honked at that it really surprises me. I try not to dwell on it, and instead to focus on the hundreds of people who didn't honk. Or I assume they were from out of town. But it does happen now and then, there will always be some jerks in the world!

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