I have a confession to make: I don’t own a bike. (Don’t tell any of my bike-loving coworkers.)
Truth is, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a decade—until last weekend.
Six months ago I sold my broken-down, paperweight of a car and have been mooching rides for trips too far outside my neighborhood ever since. With the promise of better weather around the corner, I decided it was finally time to give two-wheelers a try.
I borrowed a bike and hit the Burke-Gilman trail (Seattle’s pedestrian- and bike-only trail sporting 27 miles of the city’s 283 miles of bike paths). It was an altogether enjoyable experience. While on my ride, a couple insights struck me:
- Biking in the city is easier than I thought it would be:
- Getting on a bike for the first time in years was surprisingly easy (just like riding a bike! Oh, wait…).
- Borrowing a bike in cycling-friendly Seattle was a cinch, and a quick search provided me with the basics of city-cycling. I was pedaling away—with confidence—in no time.
- This is a no-brainer for the cyclist set, but a bike expands your mobility big-time: A bike gets you profoundly farther than your feet in a lot less time. Within minutes I was beyond my walking radius and realized how close some cool destinations actually were. Some were even reached quicker by bike than car, figuring in traffic and parking. Not to disparage my good friend King County Metro (Seattle’s bus system), but the bike also gives a person more flexibility than bus schedules and routes can offer.
- Good bike infrastructure equates to a certain population of healthy, active people: I’ve lived in health-conscious Seattle for four years now, and I was always a little baffled by what seemed like a distinct lack of people getting outside in the city. But setting out on my bike on a chilly Saturday morning, I realized where all the active people have been doing their thing all along: the cross-city Burke-Gilman trail was brimming with bikers, joggers, and walkers. In fact, 1,000-1,500 people use the Burke every day, and if you don’t use it yourself you’d hardly know it was there, since it’s largely away from major roads.
So, do cyclists and pedestrians have a new recruit in the (phony) War on Cars? Yes and no. I’ve been on a few shorter rides since my weekend excursion, and I plan to bike more often—at least for recreation. Someday, I’d like to try commuting to the office by bike, but it remains to be seen if rainy Northwest weather keeps me out of the saddle.
But don’t expect me in spandex any time soon.
Good for you Eric! Remember that riding a bike is a choice and getting to the point where you ride to work everyday, no matter the weather, is a process. You don’t (nor should you) do it all at once. Take your time, enjoy being on your bike and figure out what gear you need to feel comfortable on it. Eventually, you’ll just want to be on your bike instead of the bus.And if you need a commuting buddy someday to show you some tricks, you know where to find me!
Eric—you should try to wrangle up a Sightline team for the Commute Challenge during Bike Month, May. The Challenge website just went live today: http://commutechallenge.cascade.org/.I just got back on my back after a long hiatus the other week and have been both enjoying the freedom and exercise, and feeling discouraged by the rain and sometimes scared by the cars.Happy cycling!
Great to see you riding! It’s worth noting that, while I don’t have the precise numbers on B-G usage in Seattle, the 1,000-1,500 number you quote is from a stretch north of the Seattle border. Usage of the trail in Wallingford of UW campus, for example, would absolutely dwarf that number. I ave asked Parks and Rec for ridership data in the past without luck. I’ll ask around to see if a user count exists and post it if I get it.
Thanks, Tom! I poked around to find numbers but the 1,000-1,500 was all I could come up with. Glad to know it’s actually higher.
Hey Eric! I am also a relative “newbie” to biking in the US. When I lived in Copenhagen, I rode everywhere and loved it! But in the US, I was less comfortable with urban cycling. Recently, I’ve started to ride for recreation and now am getting started on more commuting/errand bike trips. I also just wrote about my experience here: http://nerdyplanner.blogspot.com/2011/04/multitasking-mom-bikes-to-work.html. Good luck!
Thanks for sharing your story, Alyse. It resonates!
Matt the Engineer
As a fair-weather rider, I can’t wait for real springtime. The weather is finally nice enough to run errands on a bike, but it’s still a bit chilly for me to ride to work in the morning. Perhaps someday I’ll be a hard-core commuter, but for now I like to just wear my work clothes, and throw on gloves and a helmet and go. I find even biking slow enough that I don’t sweat I can beat the bus to work by at least 15 minutes (I save my sweat for a hard ride on the way home).
Great post Eric! An inspiration to dust off and tune up my bike is what I need. I went through a riding phase at one point in my life and haven’t ridden in a few years now. Happy riding!
Hey Eric! Nice to see that you enjoyed the experience. Shameless plug: you don’t have to wear spandex. See my blog, VÃ©locouture, for nattily-clad evidence. Cheers! Patrick
Thanks for sharing your “first” experience Eric. Spokespeople has been leading monthly rides in Seattle to instill more confidence in “reluctant” riders like you for the past four years from Wallingford and West Seattle. And we’ve been identifying many safer, least grade, on-street routes between urban centers beyond the crowded Burke Gilman.And please take a look at the amazing progress that has been made in Seattle in the past few months on Neighborhood Greenways as championed by Seattle City Council Member Sally Bagshaw.Keep pedaling!
Great story. I enjoy bicycling 15 miles almost every weekday year-round to work, and with great bus connections, can put my bike on Metro bus either way if I’m less energetic or really bad weather. Cascade.org has helpful classes to improve confidence in biking on the road, great info @ bikeleague.org/resources/better/
Love this post Eric! Cyclists for Sightline say I.
myna lee johnstone
iIam a senior woman who hungup the car keys 8 years ago after intense dislike for so much traffic everywhere and because local public transit was established and somewhat improved in other areas.
i live in the Gulf Islands in BC and i bike daily year round.
When it snows i just push the bike through the snow until i get to the mainroad which is kept cleared.
I hate all the car traffic but having some bike paths helps.
With a new electric bike arriving soon I will be able to take some quieter roads and will feel better about being on the road.
Dressing for the weather is the key. A fully waterproof big cape is what i use.
In Montreal people bike year round.It is delightful to see the innovative ways they transport kids with them on their bikes.I noticed there that because Montreal has narrower streets pedestrians,cyclists and motorists respect each other better by working things out and motorists yield to persons knowing they are out in the cold or rain.
Buses have only 2 spots for bikes and I believe there must be a way to add more bikes on a bus.