Thursday, April 26, 2012

Real Americans Ride Their Bikes

In honor of National Bike to Work Month, I feel obligated to dispel a popular myth: just because I ride my bike to work and wear spandex, doesn't make me a cyclist. This is an important distinction because the misperception that a person needs to be into bikes in order to ride one to work stands in the way of many people considering what could be a perfectly reasonable transportation option.  
I have a good idea about what makes a person a cyclist because I'm married to one, and he: 
  • is an athletic-type for whom riding his bike constitutes a core part of his self-identity
  • talks bikes with his friends and complete strangers
  • reads about bikes on his mobile device and subscribes to Velo News
  • is confident that he knows how to fix a flat tire, and  regularly carries an air pump in case he needs to
  • enthusiastically rides his bike to work in all weather (he famously rode home during the epic Seattle Flood of December 2006, during which he almost got swept out to sea)
  • rides up near-vertical surfaces just to prove that he can
  • is peppy about bikes and riding them

Anyone who possesses two or more of the above qualities is very likely a cyclist, too.

While I admire my husband for his bikeyness, I am not and don't aspire to be like him. On the contrary,
  • I am pretty much ambivalent about biking (that’s another thing: unlike regular people, cyclists always call it “cycling”)
  • I take the shortest route
  • I'm not a big whiner, but I often curse and complain in my head
  • In general, my relationship with my bike is purely pragmatic
It's true that biking to work can be a total slog and there are lots of mental and physical barriers to doing it, among them:
  1. It’s tough to get on your bike in the dead of winter, when it’s just as dark when you leave in the morning as it is when you ride home. 

  2. It isn’t fun to ride on crappy roads that weren't designed for bikes; have no shoulder; are poorly maintained, and full of debris and overgrown, hazardous shrubbery.
    • (Note to @SeattleDOT: just because you slap up a little green sign and designate it a “bike route”, doesn’t necessarily make it a bike route.)

  3. It’s sometimes unnerving to ride among cars that don’t bother looking for you before they make a turn, or worse, would happily mow you down if they thought nobody was watching.

  4. It rains. And this is unpleasant.

  5. Riding a bike is way harder when you’re tired, which I am, what with getting woken up every night by my two young kids and all.

  6. There is planning involved, like purchashing gear and a wardrobe that looks presentable after being stuffed into the bottom of a bag, and making accommodations to your schedule.^*
The reality is that, on most days, like most people, I would rather be in my comfy, warm car with my travel mug and my morning radio. (Shout out to @KUOW and @KEXP.)

So, you might ask, why do I ride my bike to work, why go through all of this suffering and scheming? Do I do because it gives me an excuse to carry around a reflective, waterproof backpack? Do I do it because I get to wear a sporty blue windbreaker? Do I do it for the helmet hair?

Sure, those are all bonuses. But the real reason I ride my bike is because it makes a patriot out of me. Nothing feels more American than the senses of freedom and raw satisfaction I get from pedaling my own a** to where I'm headed, fueled by nothing more than a multi-grain bagel.

In addition, what better way to:
  • Reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil?
  • Set a good example for future generations?
  • Help fellow countrymen and women who are stuck in traffic by getting one car off the road? 
  • Contribute to creating cleaner, more livable cities for our children and grandchildren?

(Not to mention, in rush hour, it's nice to breeze past stopped motorists. Sayonara, suckers!)

All of this is to say, if you have all sorts of excuses that have prevented you from considering bike commuting, you are not alone. Maybe this Bike to Work Month can be your opportunity to face them down. Remember, you don't have to commit to being a cyclist, you just have to have a bike and ride it. Uncle Sam will thank you!

* Disclosure: I work at a place that was recently written about for having great commuter facilities, like swanky locker rooms and showers. This does help, but it's not completely necessary.

^ As an example of scheduing madness, my husband and I both work full-time and our kids go to daycare, so we’ve had to develop elaborate schemes to accommodate our commutes: Husband cycles to work early, I lug kids to car and put bike on top, drive to daycare, drop kids off, leave car at daycare, bike to work. Husband bikes to daycare from work, lugs kids to car, puts bike on top, drives home. I ride home from work late. It's absurd, but it works.

Helpful resources:

Bike Commute Blog: Helpful tips
Bike Commute Portal: More helpful tips, plus product reviews and offers
Commute Seattle: Riding in King County/Seattle
Paul Dorn's popular bike commute blog


Gregg's Cycle: Our favorite bike shop with lots available online
Hub and Bespoke: Ridiculously hip cycling gear in Seattle
Bike Trader Online: Cheap,used equipment and gear



  1. I love this! And I fully agree. I was cyclist for a brief period of time, now I'm merely a biker/commuter. I'm always surprised when people at work ask, 'did you go for a nice bike ride this weekend'? Uhm, no? Why? I'd much rather go for a hike or a run.

  2. oh vanessa. aaron and i had the same exact bike/kid drop off/car on top bike to work scenario. not pretty. but does it make us better? i think so!
    great blog post V!

  3. Great post. Check out, Life on a Bike: