Friday, July 26, 2013

Bikes: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good

Things have been busy.  I moved, I wrote this piece for the Baltimore Fishbowl because I moved, and then it just got hot and I couldn't be bothered to do much beyond eat ice cream in front of my AC unit.

Way back in 2002, in between training for the upcoming high school cross country season and doing important teenage things like buying $4 flip flops from Old Navy, I somehow wound up signed up to do a bike tour across Maine, starting a little outside of Augusta.  My travel companions and I were, somehow, going to bike 50-75 miles a day across the state of Maine for a week.   It also bears noting that I was 14, and that my travel companions were my lifelong friend, Georgia, and my sister, who was all of 19 at the time.
2002: Georgia and I, Summer of the Car Smush

I was down with biking, but I hadn't ever been down with biking.  I was all about the gear shifters that twisted on your handlebars, and never went more than two miles around the perimeter of my parents' house.  When Georgia and I knew we were going to do this bike trip, we began training.  We'd bike five miles.  To the nearest Starbucks, and get Frappucinos, because that's how 14 year old girls train.  That being said, it's still more training than my sister did for this ride.

We drove up from Georgia's parents' house outside of Providence, and began to realize how woefully illprepared we were the first night, amongst hordes of fellow bikers, all middle aged, and all far more in shape than we were, (rightfully) laughing at my mountain bike.

The next day ended quickly.  Within .7 miles of the trip, while we were still biking on the sidewalk of Rome, Maine, I got hit by a car while crossing a crosswalk when he had a red light.  I could not have been going more than 2 miles an hour.  He hit me, I went down, and I'm still not sure how, but the bike landed on top of me, and the pedal gauged my leg.  My sister claims that's the day I began cursing like a sailor.  15 stitches later, and that was the end of the trip.  We stupidly went camping that night, which could not have been good for my thrown-on-the-ground spine, and my sister washed my hair in the sink everyone washed their dishes in at the campground.  It was a very glamorous time in my life.  Somewhere on some 3X5 ultra glossy print from CVS, there's a great picture of the three of us at the beach, post accident.  My sister has her eyes semi shut, Georgia is posing like a teen supermodel, and I'm sticking my leg out to the side at a weird angle while its wrapped in layer of gauze that we probably reapplied in the back of the 1994 Dodge Caravan we drove up to Maine in.  Memories.

I didn't touch bikes for a while.  I was 21 before I got back on a bike again.  I was 22 before I took one on the street, and even then, it was to get groceries in college and go maybe a half a mile, mainly on campus.  The pedal going into my leg left me with a large scar that I was vainly self-conscious about throughout high school.
2005: The Leg Scar Remains
(as does my inherent awkwardness)
I still have this scar, although it's finally begun to fade.  Frequent reactions include, "Ohmygosh you're bleeding!" or "What happened?!"  The first allows me to pretend like I feel no pain, the second allows me a space in which I can create whatever convoluted story I feel is appropriate at the time.  Bear mauling?  Sure! Couldn't afford med school so I tested things on myself? Times are tough, makes sense.

When I moved here, I was still very much skeptical of bikes.  And bikes in the city?  Absolutely not.  A friend of mine was pretty involved in Bike Party, though,  and I got roped into volunteering.  Bike Party is wonderful.  After a few months of haphazardly volunteering, I finally got myself on a bike and partook back in April.  Bike Party is ideal for the faint-of-heart biker.  You travel in a pack at an absurdly slow rate, and everyone around you is supportive.  You have a space to become accustomed with biking in the street, but at 5 miles an hour with a huge crowd of happy bikers surrounding you.  It was perfect for me.

After April's Bike Party (Prom-themed, so I wore my high school prom dress with leggings and tucked it into a fanny pack), I began to warm up to the idea of getting back on a bike.  I bought myself a 1988 Schwinn Premis off good 'ol Craigslist, and through the patience of various people, have begun biking again.  Initially, just some short trips to the lakes or up through Roland Park, but as of last week, I am officially a bike commuter.

Biking to work is not nearly as atrocious as I'd imagined it would be, even with my old school downtube shifters.  Gone are the days of walking a few blocks to the bus, to wait for the bus, to get off and wait for another bus, to walk a couple more blocks to the office.  Biking time is the same as a (rare) good day bus commuting.  I no longer have to wait for 30 minute increments for the next shuttle or Circulator to come find me.  I no longer get drenched in sweat waiting to get home, I get drenched in sweat while actively getting home.  It's wonderful.  The 3 mile ride uphill going home isn't so wonderful, but the freedom from the stupid buses and shuttles most definitely is sweet enough to compensate.

So if you're new to Bmore, get out there on your bike!  Just remember that you're also a vehicle of sorts, so you, too, should be following the rules of the road.  Stop at stop signs, signal when you're turning, don't text - all those things that should be stupidly obvious, but aren't to so many.  Wear your helmet, be aware of people opening their doors into you, and forever avoid paying for parking.

Happy biking!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post chica! I am always so pleased to see people encouraging other people to bike!
    Can I add a few things? Spend a few good dollars on your lock if you can't bring your bike inside for the day, and try to lock in in different places if it sits alone for 8 hours in the same neighbourhood every day. Just anti-theft smarts. A few anti-theft hacks don't hurt either - lock skewers on the wheels is a biggie.

    Also cyclists -- don't be afraid to take the road out there. Seeing as you're a vehicle, take up your space on the road and ride assertively so that drivers see what you're doing and can predict your movements. Many people hug the curb thinking they are safer there but visibility is a very important concept in urban cycling.

    Thanks again! So happy.. this is something I am very passionate about!