I hate stop signs. I loath the feeling of hitting a red light. And stopping completely to look both ways at the intersection of a bike trail and street crossing just plain sucks. But I do all three of these because it's the law. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I've been guilty of coasting at all three. This is a major point of contention between motorists and cyclists. And I believe only through mutual understanding and respect can we begin to see eye to eye.
I get it; you've found your sweet spot on the bike. That place where there's a perfect balance between speed and conservation of energy. You've established momentum and as you approach a pesky stop sign or red light, letting go of that momentum is not preferred. I, too, have coasted through a stop sign or taken the head start at a red light. I know you're tired. You've worked a long hard day, and that five o'clock commute is sucking the last of your energy reserves for the day.
I've got two words for you my two-wheeled friends: interval training. Beyonce does it, and so can you... on your bike... while you commute. Interval training is a type of workout that involves a series of high intensity bursts of activity with rest periods in between. For example, pedaling your heart out on a busy road and stopping completely for five to 20 seconds at a stop sign or light counts as interval training.
Not only does this type of workout increase cardiovascular strength, it is also believed to be more effective in the fat loss game. Ergo, if even one of your reasons for cycling is to keep your shape in check, then abiding by the rules of the road is one major way to do this. It may feel easier to keep that momentum going, but in the long run by stopping at lights and signs you get more of the exercise benefits you seek.
I hope you'll trust me when I say: I understand where you're coming from on this whole full stop issue. Unpredictable cyclists are scary, not only because they could get hurt but mostly because they could cause you to be the one to hurt them. If you read the above, then you know I tried to reason with my fellow cyclists using solid visual images (read: Beyonce) and appealing to their sense of logic.
But that doesn't mean everyone will listen. So I ask you, lovely drivers, to please be considerate of all cyclists regardless of your experience with the few who don't follow the rules. We do belong on the road. Impolite behavior and road rage only serves to make everyone, including yourself, less safe. Cut us some slack. After all, we don't have the luxury of air conditioning.
My bicycle saved my budget. A couple of weeks ago, I was down to my last two pennies. Rubbing together in the attempt to breed them didn't work. Thankfully, I didn't need to pay for gas to get to my part-time job. Instead, I relied on the power of my own two legs to pedal me across town.
Those rides felt different than previous commutes. Instead of pedaling because of principal, I did it out of necessity. Instead of riding on my high horse as I passed gas guzzling SUVs, I felt grateful that I had free transportation. I didn't feel ashamed that I had to ride to work instead of choosing to ride. I felt empowered.
Without the bicycle, I would have depended on others for a ride: my boyfriend, family, friends or even a bus driver. I would have been forced to conform to someone else's schedule. With a bike, I was able to maintain a sense of independence and pride in the face of my own economic meltdown.
And this week, my bicycle has helped to keep my budget in check in different way. I am a self-confessed IndyFringe fan. My involvement with the festival began in 2006 as an artist. For three years, I acted in or directed a show for Fringe. In 2009, I returned to the festival as a critic.
For the second year in a row, I've lived close enough to walk to the festival. And for the first year ever, I've been able to bike to the festival. Aside from seeing a tremendous amount of theater in a short amount of time, my favorite aspect of Fringe is the festival atmosphere: running into friends at YoguLatte, grabbing a beer on the Chatham Tap patio and swapping stories about must see shows over some delicious Yats.
Unfortunately, my budget constraints placed a strict limit on the amount of money I can spend at Mass Ave businesses. In year's past, I would have been stuck at the festival, forced to fork over food and drink money. Even the ten minute walk to my house was too long to accomplish both ways during the thirty minute break between shows. But because I bike, I'm able to jet home and back with ease, allowing to spend money at the festival a little more wisely.
I have a feeling that there are a lot of different ways using a bicycle is cost effective and money saving. It rescues us from our shackles to the almighty oil barrel. There are no parking fees for bikes. Maintenance on a bike is less expensive than a car. Perhaps, even the daily exercise induces savings on health-related costs. What are some of the ways your bike has saved you a buck?
This is part of a series of stories by Coyne, who's writing about bicycling.
The best thing about commuting on a bike is getting in touch with the world around you. Instead of winding myself up over terrible drivers during rush hour traffic, an easy bike ride home de-stresses me after a hard day's work. Of course, the physical engagement of riding loosens my muscles and provides great exercise as I get from point A to point B. But more importantly the mental engagement with my surroundings prevents me from tangling into a ball of stress.
Think of yourself. You're fighting rush hour traffic in a jam-packed downtown at 5 p.m. on a Friday. It's been a long week with one crisis after another at work. The drive home feels like eternity as every jerk with a license cuts you off. Something clicks inside of you, and you slam on your brakes. You yell a string of obscenities, perhaps with an accompanying hand gesture.
The lack of driving etiquette on the road becomes an excuse for you to forget your own manners. In frustration, you begin to tailgate. You cut off other unsuspecting 5:00 drivers. You rush to each intersection, wasting fuel with every tap of your brakes. With each unpleasant exchange, you feel your muscles tighten. And by the time you arrive home, your frustration over the drive compounds your frustration over work.
Now imagine yourself commuting by bike. Instead of rushing to your car to be the first out of the lot, you saunter to the company bike rack. You take your time; check your bike and maybe reattach a wheel or a seat. You strap on a helmet and off you go. A breeze whistles over you. The sun shines down on you. Your lungs fill with air and sweat beads form on the small of your back. You start to find a rhythm between you and the road.
Pedaling along your chosen bike lane or trail, you see a nasty exchange between drivers. They're rushing to get ahead of each other, only to be stopped at the next red light. You sail up to each intersection, catching up to the cars that whizzed ahead. In a sideways glance, you glimpse a driver with a furrowed brow and a white knuckle grip on his steering wheel. He's muttering to himself, angrily.
You feel sorry for him, but before you have a chance to put your feet on the ground and give him a smile, the light changes. He rushes ahead again, as you pick up your own pace. You're enjoying yourself as you nod to passing pedestrians, wind through a park of practicing drum lines and pause to marvel at a three-story mural.
This has been my experience over the past week. I biked some; I drove some. To get to my apartment on the Old Northside from the West side of downtown, it takes only ten extra minutes when I account for traffic. Each day I drove, I came home feeling terrible and tense. Each day I rode, I came home refreshed and ready to relax. I might spend ten extra minutes on bike, but I definitely save a whole hunk of grief.
I've done it. The nicotine replacement therapy is over! I'm officially smoke-free and free to start commuting by bike again. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, it was impossible to bike anywhere while wearing the patch. You're not suppose to exercise on the patch, and I found that even the least-strenuous ride caused my heart rate to rise. In turn, nicotine flowed more generously through my system leading to dizziness and nausea. For me this meant riding only in the mornings, prior to putting on the patch. But no more will I have to pick crud from my eyes as I saddle up and pedal away.
It's a challenge to quit smoking successfully. And even though I'm done with nicotine replacement therapy, I still have a long road ahead of me. The first few days off the patch are the most difficult. Although my psychological habit is broken, I'm still addicted to nicotine. Not until the last of the nicotine is out of my system will the physical addiction and withdrawal be over. On average, that takes about three days.
Also, on some level, I still consider myself a smoker. I know that there will be times of stress ahead of me. In frustration or anger, I'll want to reach for a cigarette. I know I'll still be faced with temptation in social settings when friends and family members light up. For now, I try not to stare wistfully at the smoke that trails from their fingers. And I'll always romanticize my smoking days as a time when I was invincible and infallible. It's a hard moment in your twenties to realize this isn't true.
Actually, it's thanks in large part to biking that I even considered quitting. My restricted lung capacity jolted me into an awareness of the damage I was doing to my body with each puff. Going for a 20 mile ride and reaching for a pack of American Spirits upon my return started to feel counter-intuitive.
However, the physical aspect of quitting is a lot different from the psychological challenges. Simply put, unless you're are mentally prepared and committed to quitting you will not succeed. For me it took committing to a more healthy life-style to see that I could commit to quitting. The challenges of not only trying something new but sticking with it made me realize that I was mentally capable of giving up another nasty habit.
While the process of smoking cessation was incredibly inconvenient, so too is dying of lung cancer. I may have hated the self-inflicted morning rides. It sure was difficult to maintain my cycling mentality in the face of nicotine patch side-effects. But after only ten short weeks, I can once more start to enjoy the freedom that biking offers with 50% more lung capacity to boot.
This morning, I woke up, dreading what was ahead of me. I hit snooze on my phone alarm a whopping five times before throwing off the covers, digging through my laundry basket and donning my bike shorts. I downed some breakfast cereal; I didn't even try to persuade myself to fuel-up properly with an egg. My heart simply wasn't up for another grueling ride on the hot downtown streets.
Still, I laced up my shoes, filled my water bottle and dragged my bike down the stairs of my apartment. Usually, I plan a route for myself. If I'm really motivated, I map out the mileage and note distances by landmarks. Today, I just turned left out of my street and began to meander, aimlessly. My muscle memory put me on a regular route toward White River State Park. On auto-pilot, I coasted along the cultural trail. But as I rounded the turn down New Jersey Street, something clicked.
I screeched to a halt, dismounted my bike, and took a few minutes to greet the urban chickens on the corner of St. Clair and New Jersey. As I cooed at the birds, I realized why I've become so lackadaisical in my biking adventures. They've stopped being... well, adventurous. In my gusto to reach my 50-mile mark, I strapped on blinders to the world around me. Riding with tunnel vision, I've seen only the path ahead of me and none of the scenery as I pass.
I've been looking at this whole bicycle thing with tunnel vision. Instead of considering the myriad of reasons I bought a bike to begin with, I've focused on the one reason to continue riding through the Summer heat. With razor sharp focus on distances and pacing and goals, I handicapped myself into hating the obligation of it all. In my short-sightedness, I lost motivation. I lost track of my bicycling bliss.
I bid farewell to the chickens, and decided that training could wait this morning. I'd forgotten how glorious the world could look on a joyride, and I was determined to find that sense of wonder again.
Instead of tracking my time or my distance, I took in the sights. I waved and smiled at passersby. I wandered. I ambled. I moved without aim. I didn't set any goals. I found happiness in just moving, just seeing, just being on a bicycle.
The 50-mile ride will happen, whether I'm completely prepared or not. But if I can re-teach myself to love being on a bike, I know every mile will be, if not easier, at least more fun than the last.