bike sign-flickr-jcolmanSpring has been reluctant to arrive in the Northwest this year, but the weather is finally changing. With the appearance of some sun, I’ve been itching to get outside.

Since writing about my first bike ride in ten years, I’ve bought a bike, and spoken with friends and coworkers more about cycling in Seattle. Already, I’ve got seven days of bike commuting to the office under my belt.

It hasn’t always been pretty. But it’s getting better.

  • On my first commute, I had a rough idea in my head about the route I would take. Off to a great start, I sped down the Burke-Gilman trail, traversed the Fremont Bridge, wove through the parking lots of Westlake…and then I hit downtown.

    That’s when my plan fell apart. I took cues from a few other cyclists on the street, but found myself riding in between trolley tracks, navigating sidewalks, and being stranded on car-packed streets. In short, it was kind of miserable.

    But, I made it to the office. Our building’s bike-friendly infrastructure, including a secure bike room and showers were welcome conveniences that I’d never really thought about before.

    Over the past few days, I’ve been varying my routes and, a couple times, I’ve ridden with veteran cyclists. Thanks to their tips and shortcuts (and to Google bike maps), I’ve figured out a more precise route that’s not only quicker, but feels a lot safer, too.

    A few thoughts on the whole experience:

    • The bike community is friendly. I’ve run in to a few grumpy cyclists who pegged me as a novice (maybe because my lack of lycra?), but mostly I’ve been overwhelmed by offers from friends and strangers alike to show me the ropes, loaner bikes to get me started, and a whole lot of encouraging words. A driver even pulled up next to me and thanked me for properly signaling.
    • Knowing well-ridden routes is key. Once I figured out the major bikeways through downtown, my commute was vastly easier and quicker—from 45 minutes to 30. In a mob of other cyclists, I feel more visible to cars. Strength in numbers, right? (Seattle could be better about marking major bike routes, but the city is making progress. Installing markers on bikeways is part of the city’s bicycle master plan, adding signage to 10 or 20 miles of roadways each year.)
    • Biking with cars is a big obstacle. Having spoken with a number of folks who are still on the fence about bike commuting, the common deterrent is sharing the streets with cars—particularly downtown. Sharing the road with cars during my first few commutes was indeed harrowing, but I’ve gotten more used to it already. Sticking to biker-friendly routes has kept me on streets with fewer cars and more visibility.
    • Confidence is huge. Each day I feel a little more comfortable and confident. I know the way to go, where the tricky spots are, and I’m more familiar with the conventions of the road.

    Don’t get me wrong; there are some things I’m not in love with. Needing a shower when I get to work and again when I get home, for instance, or being stuck behind a bus and sucking down its exhaust fumes.

    I know I’ve got a lot more to experience and learn. I haven’t trudged home in a sudden downpour, gotten a flat, or even had a close call with another cyclist or driver. There’re sure to be hitches along the way, and I’ll take them as they come and see how it goes.

    But for now? It’s spring in Seattle, the mornings are sunny and crisp, the wind’s at my back, and…I’m hooked.

    Bike sign photo courtesy of flickr user jcolman under a Creative Commons license. Photo alterations permitted by photographer for use on this post only.