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Biking to Work - cellophane
the story of an invisible girl
renniekins
renniekins
Biking to Work
It was a real pleasure bicycling to and from work today. Even with the rain! Yes, unfortunately it did rain on the way home. I kind of expected it though.

This morning I checked the weather, and it said 60% chance of thunderstorms for the "commute home" time. I was bummed, and almost backed out. But I've been wanting to ride for quite some time, and I "almost" rode several times. It's so easy to let "almost" turn into "never", and it's so easy to find excuses to not go.

So I went anyway. After all, rain on the ride home isn't so bad. On the way to work it would suck, because then I'd be wet and miserable all day. But if I get wet on the ride home? I just dump my clothes in the laundry and take a shower.

I'm really glad I talked myself into it! Or more accurately, since I wanted to ride, I'm glad I didn't talk myself out of it. The ride in was lovely. Plus I had my bike with me, so I went for a ride at lunch also.

Even the ride home was nice -- most of it at least. I have between an eight and nine mile commute one-way, depending on how many wrong turns I take. (I'm still working on finding/remembering the best route.) The rain started when I was two or three miles from home, and it only got serious when I had less than a mile to go. So I got wet, but not awfully so. And I was moving, so I didn't get cold.

About 20 minutes after I arrived home, I saw lightening outside my window. Excellent timing! I beat the majority of the weather.

Riding at lunchtime reminded me of why I hate riding in Detroit's Northern suburbs. They aren't like my older part of town, where everything is laid out in nice grids, so you can ride on side-roads to almost everywhere. Instead, as one of my coworkers put it, "All the bike paths feed out onto the freeways." Which is an exaggeration, but only somewhat.

Almost all of the side-roads around my office start at a main road, go in little convoluted circles, then end up on the same main road. They are "subdivisions", and you can't get to anywhere else from inside of one. I don't know who thought that was useful or pleasant, but there you have it. It's the Motor City, and you're supposed to take your car if you want to get anywhere.

It's a shame, especially because people drive like maniacs on the main roads and freeway ramps. They stop across sidewalks, they coast through red lights, they go the instant they see a tiny break in traffic, and they never look for pedestrians or bicycles. You take your life into your own hands just trying to walk across the street from my office to get a sandwich -- let alone trying to ride a bicycle anywhere.

Fortunately I already knew to ride (and walk!) very defensively. And actually the Motorcycle Safety Course which I took last week helped drill some concepts back into my head that are very useful for bicycling as well. The important thing is to ride as if you are invisible.

A very memorable thing that my MSF instructor kept repeating is: no matter how it happens, if you get hit it is your fault. Oh sure somebody else might get a ticket, but a motorcycle (/bicycle/pedestrian) will always lose against a car. Therefore it is your responsibility to be aware of everything and everyone on the road, to anticipate their actions and react accordingly. Don't ever assume they'll see you or give you a right of way.

Remembering that helped, as I was pedaling through the traffic insanity by my office. It also helped keep me from getting quite as pissed off at the numerous cars who drove directly across where I was heading. So what if I had a green light? It's my responsibility to avoid them and stay alive, and I'm invisible.

It makes sense -- this journal IS the Story Of An Invisible Girl after all. I just have to remember to apply that to riding.

But all complaints about traffic aside, I really enjoy bicycling. Even if my lunchtime ride was rather harrowing and frustrating, the rides to and from work were very nice. I did about 21 or 22 miles all told today. I'm glad I rode, and I will definitely do it again soon!

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Comments
encorecrazay From: encorecrazay Date: May 11th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad you had a good ride home. The good thing about getting wet on the way home is that it is easy to get cleaned up and dry than trying to do it at the office.
duane_kc From: duane_kc Date: May 11th, 2006 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
As a former bicyclist and current motorcyclist, I have to agree. Drive Paranoid: The life you save will be your own.
whataboutjen From: whataboutjen Date: May 11th, 2006 11:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, okay, bicyclist girl, answer me a question:

Last night Greg was driving me somewhere on a 35 mile per hour road. The bike taking up the entire lane in front of us by driving in the middle of it was not going 35 miles per hour. Worse, there was an empty parking lot AND A BIKE TRAIL nearby. How fast or slow can cyclists legally go? We were having so much trouble trying not to crash into him that we had to quickly change lanes, cutting off another car who was speeding to get around us. It was very frustrating. I don't understand the concept of sharing the rode with cyclists who cannot go the speed limit. Could you kindly clarify it for me if you have time because I respect your opinion? Thanks.
whataboutjen From: whataboutjen Date: May 11th, 2006 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
*please ignore the typos*
johnridley From: johnridley Date: May 11th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
The speed limit is a MAXIMUM, not a MINIMUM.

Bicycles are vehicles. They are allowed full use of the road, same as cars, horses and buggies, and tractors. No vehicle is REQUIRED to go the speed limit, that's a maximum that you're ALLOWED to go.

As far as "having trouble trying not to crash into him" and "quickly changing lanes" did it ever occur to you that you could, hmm, maybe slow down and wait for a clear opportunity to pass safely?

How much did he REALLY slow you down? 5 seconds? 15? What's your hurry?

Suggesting that a bicycle use a bike trail or a parking lot is just ridiculous. Try to travel 10 miles on a bike, hopping into a bike trail or parking lot every time the opportunity arises, so that you can avoid the road for 200 feet. It'll take you 5x longer, and it will be EXTREMELY UNSAFE. Almost all bicycle accidents happen when the bicycle is entering or exitting the road, like from bike trails and parking lots, and worst of all, sidewalks. Sidewalk cycling is statistically very, very dangerous, and the reason is that you're entering and exitting the road every block. THE most safe way to drive is to act exactly like a vehicle. This has been proven many, many times in a great number of studies, and there are plenty of vehicular cyclists with tens/hundreds of thousands of miles under their belts who will testify to that.

A cyclist following the suggestions that you sound like you would make would be in much more danger than what he was doing.

Most bicycle safety experts recommend that bicycles take up the lane, because it's safer. If you try to "be nice" to cars by moving to the right, they'll squeeze you into a curb and hurt you. Being nice to cars is like being nice to a hungry tiger.

Remember, the roads are a public resource, constructed for the public good. They are not the sole property of one particular kind of vehicle.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: May 12th, 2006 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sorry it took me so long to get to a functional computer and respond. Although it looks like you and John worked out most of the details on your own. ;)

Cyclists are supposed to ride responsibly, obeying the rules of the road just like a car. Riding on bike trails is great when they happen to be going where you're going -- but often they don't. Also at night they are probably unlit, which is quite dangerous. Parking lots almost never go where you're going, and John addressed the danger of moving on and off the road.

Lots of people think bikes should be on sidewalks, though you didn't mention that one. I've had plenty of people in cars yell at me, telling me that. A sidewalk belongs to kids and pedestrians, it's quite dangerous actually try to get somewhere biking on the sidewalk. It's dangerous to the kids, the pedestrians, and the bicyclist. In some places, it's even illegal to ride on the sidewalk.

Personally I don't think I've ever gone 35 mph when not going downhill. On my commuter bike, which is slower but good for carrying stuff to work, I generally average about 15mph. I don't think there is a legal minimum speed limit on most (non-expressway) roads. When possible, a bike should ride on the right-hand side of the road, allowing cars to pass.

But if there isn't room on the right, or there is danger of not being seen, a bike needs to be out in the lane where it will be seen and avoided. Sometimes that might slow down traffic. I know that's really frustrating when you're in a car, but wouldn't it be so much worse if you instead accidentally clipped a bicycle trying to keep to the right of a too-small road?

Hope that helps. Have a great weekend!
devnul From: devnul Date: May 11th, 2006 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent! Commuting to work stories over on Bikes is how we first met ... ah, nostalgia. :)

Now, stop sending that rainy weather this direction. I don't think I'll have dry skies until Sunday or Monday!
renniekins From: renniekins Date: May 12th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
*smile* Hopefully next week you can get on the bike again!
johnridley From: johnridley Date: May 11th, 2006 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
(this sounds a little preachy, and I'm not necessarily addressing Rennie directly, or implying that she doesn't already know this stuff; I'm just talking about navigating traffic in general)

One of the early things I had to do to get any miles on my bike is to start ignoring the weather reports. They say it's going to rain half the days, and it doesn't rain that much. Heck, if it's warm I might not even bother with the rain gear; cycling in a warm rain is actually pretty fun, and with a decent jacket, even cold rain is still totally comfortable. At this point, if the weather is bad enough that I'm not riding, then I'm not driving either (hail, tornados, 60 MPH sustained winds, etc).

As far as traffic, I think the best way I can think of to put it is to ride in the manner that makes sure that they have NO excuse to not see you, but then don't assume they saw you. For example, if you're going around an inside curve, DO NOT hug the fog line on the right. People drive over the fog line on inside curves all the time, and they won't see you until you're almost under their wheels. Get the heck out into the lane so they'll see you early and have time to slow. They can't safely pass you on the curve so DON'T LET THEM or indicate by your lane positioning that it might be OK for them to do so. Check your mirror just before you leave the straight path road, and ride in the path that makes the cars approaching from the rear see you as long as possible, so they know to approach the curve with caution. But watch the mirror until you're a good couple dozen yards from the end of the curve and have an escape plan (ditch, bunny hop the curb, whatever).

I also wear clothing that can be seen from space. ANSI yellow/green from alertshirt.com

People do not want to hit you, but there are two problems:

1) people driving cars are zombies. They look at things that they might hit, and nothing else. If it's 2 inches left or right of the path they're taking, the DO NOT SEE IT. The only defense against this is to be in their path. If you're not, they don't see you, and unlike bikes, cars do not hold their line, they drift all over the road, so they can still hit you.

2) people do not encounter cyclists enough to know what to do. Since you encounter cars every 3 seconds, YOU are the one with experience, and it's up to you to tell them what to do. Make eye contact, be confident. Alpha dog. If you come into an intersection with confidence, most drivers will not cut you off, and you can engineer a close pass and a nice hearty yell at those who do. If it continues to be a problem, google for "air zounds bike horn" - they will notice that.

Again, drivers look at your lane positioning. If you're hugging the curb, they see you as very timid and will just drive in front of you. If you're taking the lane and making eye contact, they will likely yield (Of course, you can never count on that any more than you can if driving a car). This is not being a jerk, this is being safe. People have to respect your right to be safe on the road. If not, they don't deserve your respect.

If it's not safe to pass, stay left and hand signal if necessary so they don't think they can get away with passing. When it's safe, motion them past (assuming you can see something they can't).

Above all, obey every law. Cars don't, but there's no need to descend to that level. Obeying the law is the only way to be predictable, and being predictable is essential for safety.

Confidence will take you far. I don't have people yelling/honking at me anyway, but people who live in areas of the country where there's a lot of harrassment say that the more confident they are, the less they get bothered. In a weird twist of the norm, women generally report getting harrassed less on bikes than men.
elizilla From: elizilla Date: May 11th, 2006 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
The other thing about bicycle commuting, is that if you do it regularly, you'll see the same drivers every day, and they'll get used to seeing you every day. The traffic interactions will get easier as you learn their routines, and they get used you as part of their routines.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: May 12th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for all the advice, I definitely appreciate it. I'm still very uncomfortable riding on the bigger roads near my office (the ones with speed limits around 45 mph). Folks are insane on those roads, especially the ones with freeway ramps on them.

I have plotted out a route that involves almost entirely side streets, and just riding on/crossing each of the big roads briefly. It's a little more pleasent to ride, and I don't get scared or harrassed quite as much. (Though I have been yelled at by drivers many times, I don't know if it's more or less than men get.)

Your advice is helpful! Eventually I may get more bold on the more major roads.... but really I prefer quieter roads when possible anyway.

geekjul From: geekjul Date: May 11th, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
So here is the question I have for people that bike to work. Don't you get sweaty? I think biking to work would be awesome, but the idea of showing up all sweaty is not appealing. Not to mention the thought of biking in my office clothes (we have a dress code). How do you deal with those kinds of things?
pstscrpt From: pstscrpt Date: May 11th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don't ride too hard, and turn a fan on for the first fifteen minutes or so after you arrive.
johnridley From: johnridley Date: May 11th, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
My personal solution: showers at work.

Alternatively, many people have good luck with a quick handi-wipe (baby wipe) bath and change in the bathroom, and have made that work for them for years.

Also some city commuters have been able to buy "shower priviledges" for relatively cheap at nearby health clubs, or at the YMCA/whatever if there are no showers at work, then ride the last 1/2 mile in work clothes.

I often ride about 3/4 mile out to Subway to grab a sandwich at lunch. I just do it in office clothes (T shirt & jeans) and I do get a bit sweaty (I can't ride slow!) but nothing that taking the last 500 yard in the parking lot slow, upright, with jacket (if any) open won't dry out pretty well.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: May 12th, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
My office has a business-casual dress code, and no shower. Both are annoyances, and I'll admit they make it harder to convince myself to ride.

Riding early in the morning helps, it's cooler then. I get sweaty, but i try not to push myself too hard. I bring a clean shirt and my purse in my bicycle panniers (and when it gets hotter I'll probably start bringing a whole outfit), and I just use a bunch of paper towels in the bathroom while I change. Some damp, some dry, then I put on the fresh clothes. It's not perfect, but it works....

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