The Evolution of My Bicycle Commuting, Part 3

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. And the last of my story…

So, all in all, since the beginning of May, I’d say I have driven less than 100 miles – and 80 of those miles were acquired by helping my dad move here from another town. So in a “normal” summer, I would’ve driven less than 20 miles in two months. Wahoo!

However, there were still a few “glitches” in my system. A few weeks ago, I decided to go to the grocery store once more to see if I could get what I needed and get home safely now that I had my basket. Unfortunately, my load was way too big and heavy for the basket! I put what I could into it, and the rest in my messenger bag and almost fell off my bike trying to ride through the parking lot – SO HEAVY! Then I unloaded, hung everything on the bicycle and walked a mile, before realizing that at that pace, and with two more miles to go, it would take me over an hour to walk back. So…I repacked my messenger bag, prayed I wouldn’t have to make any stops (stopping and starting was really difficult with that much weight), and rolled on home. I barely made it up the steep hill near my house, but success! And when I got home, I weighed everything – 28 pounds of groceries!

At that point, I realized that if I want to get serious about this, I’m going to need a trailer for the bicycle. I started looking for one on Craigslist, and then was offered a great deal on one from an awesome friend in Portland (thanks, A!). However, a few days later, my machinist friend and my brother presented me with a surprise – a trailer they had built just for me! They made the whole thing – and I don’t mean assembled. I mean welded, screwed, sanded, shaped, painted…MADE it. From scratch. They even painted it to match my bike! I’m so tickled about this thing, I can’t even tell you.

Copyright: Five Seed

I bought a flag for it (I’m concerned about visibility issues and want to make sure people see that my bike doesn’t end where they think it does), and have experimented with some different options with boxes and bungees to find something that seems to work really well. I started out with a small basket on the side, so I could fit longer items on the other side, but ended up buying a huge plastic (ick, I know) crate with a top that mostly covers the entire trailer, allowing me a TON of storage capacity, as well as better balance for the items, once they are loaded. As the trailer fills, it obviously gets heavier and heavier to pull, and up hills it can be a bear. However…I’ll be in really good shape after a few rides with this baby! Parking is also a bit of an issue as this trailer is as long as my bicycle – so I have to find creative places to park it!

With the new flag, on my way to get my CSA veggies. Copyright: Five Seed

And back home with my veggies. Copyright: Five Seed

So all in all, I’m making some good progress. I noticed at some point that I am less afraid of driving in traffic than I was in the past. However, I almost never make left turns on my bike (something I had attempted a few times last year). I just get too stressed and find that it’s not worth it. I either take an alternate route or just walk the crosswalks. I haven’t had many issues this year, thankfully (no near-accidents, and no high school boys harassing me which happened often last year), except for one young man in a giant pick-up truck who pulled up behind me while I was at a stop sign one day and honked at me continually for me to get out of the way so he could go ahead of me. I knew the law was on my side so I ignored him. Other than that…it’s been smooth sailing.

I don’t even obsess about my bicycle getting stolen anymore. I just lock it up and leave the parts (lights, basket, saddle, etc.) attached. Though, don’t get me wrong – if it ever got stolen, I sure would be upset. And it would be pretty easy to steal the trailer, since it’s only attached to the saddle – just detach the saddle, and one could walk away with the entire trailer. But…I’m not going to let myself worry about that. I need to make sure my bicycle is covered by my insurance and just trust that everything else will be okay!

The coolest thing about bicycling is that when you are committed to it, and people see your commitment (by seeing you ride every day, or by seeing you use your bicycle to shop or do other things that would usually require a car), it is something they will remember. It suddenly becomes possible to, say, haul a kiddie pool across town on your bicycle, instead of using a gas-guzzling SUV. (I know it’s possible because I did it!) People take notice of that – kids, especially. My nephews have come to associate me with bicycles. In fact, at our town’s 4th of July Parade, I was holding my 2-year-old nephew on my hip when a bunch of bicyclists rode by. He yelled, “Is that Auntie?!” I said, “No, silly, I’m right here!” He laughed and said, “Oh, yeah,” and in that moment, I realized how strongly he associated me with bicycles. And when they see my trailer, they are so fascinated by it. Kids take notice of what we do, especially if it is different than what other adults do. Imagine the seeds we can plant in their minds if more and more of us eschew our cars for bicycles.

Yes, it can be done! You can haul just about anything with the right trailer! Copyright: Five Seed

Copyright: Five Seed

So how about you? Have you made any changes in your commuting habits?

The Evolution of My Bicycle Commuting, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

In October 2010, I went on my first night ride ever – I didn’t even ride at night when I was a kid, so it was a very exciting adventure for me! Until I almost got hit by a car. I was riding down a main street in town, and there was no traffic in either direction (thank goodness). I was only wearing a flashing LED light around my neck and am armband reflector. I admit, I did not have the legally-required headlight on my bike, though I don’t think this would have made a difference. A car came barreling out of a church parking lot, the driver not even looking in either direction, and I swerved into the other lane, and barely righted myself as he drove off. I suspect he was looking for the glow of headlights in his peripheral vision and when he didn’t see it, he just rode on out.

Reflective arm band and LED necklace - not enough to make yourself visible! Copyright: Five Seed

After that, I became extremely scared of riding at night, though I realized that it was largely – perhaps entirely – my fault. It is every cyclist’s obligation to make themselves as visible as possible at night. So…I bought myself a reflective vest with LED lights embedded along the front and back, an LED headlight for my bike and LED spoke lights for side visibility.

LED reflective vest. Copyright: Five Seed

LED headlight - surprisingly bright! Copyright: Five Seed

Multicolor LED spoke lights (which are totally awesome-looking when the wheels are in motion!). Copyright: Five Seed

I ventured out at night again (around 9PM) in mid-November. The temperature was in the 30’s, but I felt invigorated and was so excited with my little “light show.” I felt confident the drivers could see me, and thankfully, there weren’t that many to begin with at that hour of the night. Unfortunately, I realized that my lights would draw all kinds of attention, and sure enough, that night, on a deserted side street, I passed a young man who kept yelling at me to get off my bike and come talk to him, that he thought my lights were so cool and wondered if I had a cigarette. Nothing happened, but the encounter scared me a bit. And that’s the last time I ever rode at night. Though I hope to try it again someday soon.

As winter came along, I continued to bicycle orders to the post office fairly often through Christmas. (The only times I really didn’t bicycle were when we had snow on the ground – our neighborhood’s streets do not get plowed during the winter, so it is impossible to ride the first mile to the post office.) After that, I slacked off a lot (though not entirely) for the next three months.

Once “spring” came around (I use that term loosely since we technically don’t have a spring in this area), I felt inspired to recommit myself to defaulting to the bike rather than the car. I also had a new tool at my disposal: a handlebar basket! I had received it for Christmas, but it sat in the garage for months, as I didn’t know how to attach it. I finally asked a friend, and was disappointed to find out that my handlebars are too thick to accommodate the mount for the basket. My disappointment was short-lived, however, as my friend is a very talented amateur machinist and within a week, he had created a sturdy metal mount for the basket that I must say, is superior to the one that came with the basket!

This basket has been a lifesaver for me. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy having it. It’s a little tricky to have on – it weighs down the handlebars and pulls them to the side when I park, causing the bike to fall over if I’m not careful (and even more so when it is full of stuff). And the heavier it is, the more careful I have to be when steering in order to keep the balance (though I’ve noticed that the more I ride with it, the easier it gets). But I LOVE this basket so much. It’s so cute, and it made me so excited to go out and run errands. It has made things a lot easier for me, in terms of storage capacity.

July 2011: Picking up veggies from my CSA in my awesome basket. Copyright: Five Seed

Stay tuned for the story of my bicycle trailer and my new bicycle adventures…

The Evolution of My Bicycle Commuting, Part 1

For years now, I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with our society’s dependence on oil. It is truly everywhere – powering our homes, our cars, and in the plastic that seems to be everywhere in our lives. Last April, after the BP oil spill in the Gulf, I reached a breaking point. I decided it was time to stop using my car so much (while cultivating the dream of getting rid of my car entirely).

I immediately set a goal for myself last spring to bike or walk anywhere that was 8 miles or less (one way). I already owned a red mountain bike that I had bought from WalMart in 2002 (and of course, the proper accessories including a helmet and gloves). However, my history with bicycling was purely sport – before my 2007 knee injury, I used to bicycle 10 miles a day and 20 miles every Saturday out on the back roads and trails in my town. I always found it to be a great stress reliever. I would never then (and still to this day) define myself as a cyclist – not in this town. I live in an area where bicycling is a SERIOUS sport – many cyclists around here do 20+ miles every single day during training season, all of them have racing bicycles, and all wear the standard racing gear when out and about. But me, I’m nothing like that. I’d just go out in my sweats on my super clunky, heavy mountain bike, and take my time riding my 10 miles.

Despite my many years of riding, I had basically no experience driving in traffic when I started this “project” last spring. I would hardly call my town a busy, intimidating city, but even so – riding in traffic can be daunting no matter how many (or how few) cars are on the roads. So when I first began, I usually opted to walk rather than bicycle – it seemed easier to me than worrying about traffic lights, left turns and the like. I also worried a lot about having my bicycle or components of it stolen while I was in stores. In fact, I worried about this so much that I would disconnect everything that wasn’t bolted on (the speedometer, the lights, even the saddle!) and carry them in my messenger bag while I shopped – which you can imagine was cumbersome and time-consuming!

September 2010, on the way to the post office. Copyright: Five Seed

Storage was another major problem for me. Because of the way my bicycle is built (it has a crazy-weird suspension system for those mountain trails that I’m never on!), it cannot support a rear rack. The handlebars are also problematic with the brakes so close to one another – it made the idea of getting a handlebar basket seem impossible. So I stopped going to the grocery store on my bicycle, using it only to get to friends’ houses, the bank, the library, or the post office. The grocery store was a journey I made in my car so I would have enough room for all the groceries, all the time bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a bicycle trailer to do the same job sans petroleum!

Autumn came, and I didn’t think much about bicycle storage anymore. I challenged myself to bike to the post office whenever possible, which didn’t always work. (Gosh, I can be lazy when the skies are gray and the wind is blowing!) But many times, I was able to get out there and ride, despite the cold. I can remember my fingers feeling nearly frozen one day, and reminding myself that it was time to start doubling up on gloves. I also found a pair old earmuffs in a drawer and found them to be an absolute miracle at keeping my ears and head warm during autumn riding (and the cold days of winter to come).

Ear muffs really do make a huge difference when riding in cold, windy conditions. I highly recommend them! Copyright: Five Seed

Stayed tuned for an account of my experience with riding at night…