It’s National “Bike to Work” Month!!!

The Family That Commutes Together!

Yes folks, that’s right, the League of American Bicyclists, in conjunction with members of Congress, have declared that May is National “Bike to Work” month! Now, most of you who know me, know that, well, I’m pretty nuts about bikes. Since I had my epiphany in 1992, I’ve experimented and ridden just about everything. I even dabbled in some BMX races, though given my bike handling skills at the time, and even today, I’m much more appreciative of that side of the sport as a spectator and not as a competitor.

But it wasn’t until April of 2009 that I ended up purchasing, for myself and my wife, matching Gary Fisher Simple City’s. The bikes are a bit of a departure to my usual type of riding. They’re heavy (almost 40 pounds), they have wide bars, wide, heavy duty tires, fenders, a basket up front, an internal 8 speed hub on the rear, a roller brake on the rear and a rim brake up front, and both were modified to add a rear rack and space for panniers, so that we could go to the grocery store. The front basket is perfect for our furry navigator, Miss Shadow.

I honestly didn’t use the bike all that much at the beginning. It was awkward, required different muscles, was SLOW, and it was also bulky. But sometime in the late summer of 2009, after seeing just how Parisians were using bicycles to travel everywhere, for any purpose, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. I bought a Dinotte 400L front/rear lighting system, a commuter’s helmet with space on the back for a backup blinky, and some pedals that were half-platform, half clip-in, and began to commute from my home in Uptown Dallas, to work up north near Northaven and US75.

Rich on his self-powered SUV with Navigator "Shadow"

WOW! HOW COOL! I mean, seriously. I began riding through neighborhoods I hadn’t visited in years. I began to see the city in a way that I was unable to do as an actual motorist. I took to more heavily trafficked roads that were designated Bike Routes via the over 500 miles of cyclist-selected on-street routes in the 1985 Dallas Bike Route System. The dog absolutely loved it! The route was safe, efficient, and direct. It really couldn’t have been any easier! Furthermore, especially at the intersection of  Northwest Highway and Boedecker, Shadow and I would pull in to the right hand lane, signal our stop, and patiently wait for the light, only to have people roll up beside us and smile. Several people rolled down their windows to ask questions or take pictures. Then, per the commute time, I actually began running in to other cyclo-commuters! It was SO COOL! I mean, c’mon, how many of you really thought the day would come when you’d see a cyclo-commuter, in the street, at rush hour?! My friend Steve Averill, who writes a blog titled “DFW Point to Point“, calls commuting cyclists “Yetis”, in that, the sighting of one is rare enough to evoke more than a raised eyebrow, sort of like sightings of a Sasquatch or a BigFoot. It’s worth a chuckle, but it also means that commuting cyclists are pretty rare around here, and when you see one, you remember it.

The commuting became less frequent as the time changed, and we were hit with an unusually hard and long winter that delayed my getting out more often, but starting in February, I began to resume the commute as often as possible, and added my 3-minute trip to Equinox on Oak Lawn. Then came trips to the barber, the Whole Foods, and numerous restaurants (I’m a crappy cook and have depended on eating out for one meal a day for most of my life. Sorry. I’m hungry). The weather continued to improve, and in the early spring, I did the ultimate geek-out. I installed a Quarq Power Meter on my Simple City. Now, I have the ability to figure out just how hard (or easy) it is to ride to my destinations. For example: the trip to Equinox takes about 3 minutes with traffic, and requires about 25-30 KiloJoules. The trip to the JCC is about 7 miles to the foot, takes about 35-45 minutes, and requires about 250-300 KiloJoules, depending on how hard I’m working. Want a good workout? Try my “Urban Fartlek AC Intervals”! A great way to get some AC repeats in as you go from ‘Stop’ sign to ‘Stop’ sign! Average speed is maybe 11 miles an hour, sometimes 13. But speed is not the point. Getting from one location to another on a bicycle is the point.

Now, while we’re at it, let’s talk about ‘The Point.’ Recently, the City of Dallas has decided that it is far behind the rest of the nation in it’s ability to promote cycling as an alternative form of transportation and recreation. I respectfully disagree. I have lived in numerous cities that were ‘progressive’ on the cycling front, and honestly, I can’t imagine a better city in which to ride a bike for any purpose, than Dallas, Texas. Let’s look at some reasons why:

  1. The city is fairly flat, but with enough terrain and overpasses that you can ride as hard or as easy as you wish.
  2. Despite everyone’s complaints, traffic in Dallas actually does move pretty smoothly.
  3. The city is laid out in a grid pattern, so travel in all of the cardinal directions is feasible and practical.
  4. The city is set up for commercial areas in convenient locations, as are schools and civic areas.
  5. As much as everyone complains about road quality, our roads are generally pretty good, especially when you compare them to poorer cities, towns, and states.
  6. We can ride 12 months out of the year.

I could go on, but ‘The Point’ is that despite first impressions and several generations of instilling what I would call an institutionalized effort to convince cyclists that they should NOT argue for their rights as the drivers of vehicles… well, the point is that with proper training, practice, confidence and assertion, the act of riding your bicycle, in the City of Dallas, is NOT difficult. In fact, it is really, really, REALLY easy. The City’s layout actually HELPS make it easier, and with proper planning, a brief overview of effective traffic skills for cyclists, and the right mindset, I’m willing to bet that any of you readers out there could do what I’m doing, just as often, and just as far.

But even more importantly, think about this: You don’t have to ride as far, as hard, or be as fit as I’m lucky enough to be, to actually do this. You DO, however, need to do the following:

  1. Be VISIBLE. You’re always safer when you’re seen and heard. In this case, think and act like a flashy limo or a technicolored out-of-place yacht being towed by a Jaguar. That also means that, barring expense, control your lane. What does that mean? OWN IT! Ride like you’re a wide-tracked Suburban. You’re a vehicle, no need to hug the curb. You have to trust me on this one – you’re safer IN THE LANE! If the lane is less than 14′ wide (and the vast majority are only 11′ wide), ride in the middle of the lane. This prevents cars from passing you by squeezing you in the lane. Controlling your lane is safer, and it’s legal. Riding ‘as far right as possible’ (which isn’t what the law says to do) sends a message to overtaking vehicles that you want them to pass you without changing lanes. Controlling your lane tells them that they should change lanes to pass. Everyone is happier with that result.
  2. Signal your intentions. Making a right hand turn? Signal it. Stopping first? Signal it! Want to go left? Signal, and turn. Changing lanes? Make sure the path behind you is clear, signal your intentions, and engage. Signalling your intentions goes hand in hand with visibility (rule #1).
  3. Follow the Rules of the Road. Would you weave between traffic if you were in a Lincoln? No. Would you shift 3 lanes over to get to a left-hand turn and cross traffic without signaling if you were driving an Acura? No. Would you ride the wrong way on a one-way street or drive on a sidewalk? No. How about stop signs and traffic signals? Would you run them just because they were inconvenient to you? NO. So don’t do those things on a bike.
  4. Be prepared for anything. Stuff happens. You don’t need distractions, like a radio, or a cell phone, to know that there are other distracted drivers out there. But, by following the first three rules, your chances of making sure that drivers are NOT distracted around you, go up tremendously.

Keri Caffrey, a true cycling advocate if there ever was one, says it best when she says “You Lead the Dance“. The words ring true. You dictate the terms. You act like the responsible driver. You signal your intentions. You make sure you’re visible. ACT WIDE. As the Dallas Visitors Convention Bureau likes to say (truly, but for the locals more ‘tongue in cheek’), “Think Big!”

This month of May, and as many months after this one, think about taking a commute by bike. It can be to the grocery store. It can be to the 7-11, or the movie theatre. If you go to Northpark, go up to the Valet, tip him a buck, and present the bike to him. I bet you that dollar tip that he’ll treat that bike with front-row TLC.

Now, if, after this overview, you’re still anxious about throwing a leg over a bike and pedaling your way to your destination, read my final piece of advice. TAKE A CLASS! BikeDFW.org is offering monthly Traffic Skills 101 courses. They’re 5 hours short, they’re an absolute blast no matter how skilled you are as a cyclist, and they give you the real-world skills that you’ll need, along with good practice in a controlled setting, to give you that confidence. You can start with the online class at www.bikeed.org. It’s FREE. Do this, and the world will begin to open up for you. Do it some more, and your health, your life, your community, and your world, will change.. at very little cost.

I hope to see you out on the road, no matter what bike you’re on, but I also hope that you’ll think about just how easy it is, using CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE, to ride your bike anywhere you want to in the City of Dallas. It just takes a little bit of preparation, some easily-acquired Traffic Skills, and willpower. After that, it is all about YOU, and YOU and YOU, and US, and THEM.

One more Critical Link. Read this as if your life depended upon it:http://www.wright.edu/~jeffrey.hiles/essays/listening/ch4.html

1 Response to “It’s National “Bike to Work” Month!!!”

  1. 2010/05/09 at 10:13 pm

    Well said, and the bike with the dog in the basket IS a real head turner.

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