Cycling: Why I Love It, What It’s Taught Me & How Not to Be A Dick

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Photo by eyeliam

I mentioned previously that I have ridden my bike about a 1,000 miles, more or less, since August. It’s now my main method of transportation. This wasn’t a goal, it just seemed like the best way to get to my job, 6.6 miles away. IS IT EVER.

The route by car is a mile shorter, but it takes the same amount of time: 35 minutes to drive 5.6 miles vs. 35 minutes to ride 6.6 miles (for free!). There has to be one hell of a headwind for driving to seem worth it. I’m not alone. About 8 percent of commuters in Portland consistently commute by bike, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average.

The Best Things About Bike Commuting

  1. There’s nothing more glorious than starting out the days with an exhilarating ride through autumn leaves.
  2. Spending 35 minutes riding to work is calories and stress burned, time well spent. 35 minutes driving to work is a stressful waste of time. Also: parking – maybe my most hated activity in the universe.
  3. The carbon footprint isn’t imaginary, and also gas costs money. The $200 I spent on rain gear a few months ago has already paid for itself.
  4. I have muscles that I’ve never seen on my body before.
  5. There is a community of cyclists in Portland. To obtain membership, one need only cycle. Riding bikes alongside six other people is a lot cozier than to driving alongside 60 other cars.
  6. I’ll be honest: I kinda feel like a bad-ass. I’m now way less of a wimp, physically and mentally, than I was six months ago. Is it pouring down rain? Well, I still gotta get home; being drenched is temporary and non-terrible in the grand scheme.
  7. Post-work beer — earned!
  8. I sleep like a rock.
  9. I always have something to talk to my bike-commuting co-workers about.
  10. Cycling means that there are 70 minutes every day in which I remain present and focusing entirely on one task — not dying.

Things I’ve Learned

  1. Exercising every day makes my life measurably better.
  2. Not driving to work makes my life measurably better.
  3. If the spiky-haired 12-year-old with the plaid jacket is still waiting for his bus when I turn from NW Ninth onto NW Marshall, I’m making pretty good time.
  4. If the truck that pumps malted barley into Bridgeport Brewery is still at it when I pass by, I’m in good shape.
  5. No car is to be trusted! Especially Benzes and Priuses, which have an alarming tendency to nearly run me over. BMWs and monster trucks, on the other hand, tend to wait an awkwardly long time for me to pass.
  6. Even as my thighs have gotten harder, I’ve learned how very very soft I am. So are you.

Cycling is not without its downsides however. And, like most other things in life, those downsides are closely tied to people being dicks. Thus I present to you

Saucy Salad’s Guide to Not Being a Dick, Cycling Edition

1. Don’t ride on sidewalks, even if you’re drunk, asshole.
Confession: I’ve ridden on the sidewalk before. But never when there was a bike lane and never when there were other people walking on the sidewalk. Sidewalk cycling is so assholic that it’s used as a metric for measuring the relative assholishness of cyclists in Philadelphia. Nearly every evening, as I ride by the Rose Quarter in Northeast Portland, I consider the case of a woman who mysteriously rides her bike on the sidewalk, ten feet from where everybody else is riding in the luxuriously wide bike lane. Because I see her do this so often, I know it’s not just a one-off. She isn’t a confused person who doesn’t know where she’s going, she chooses to be an asshole. But she looks like a nice person — kind of like my mom? — so I think she’s simply a dork who doesn’t get it. Hopefully you read this, dorky lady.

2. Learn the rules about four-way stops.
Here they are. There are a lot of smart people in Portland, and I assume that some of them drive. Nothing befuddles a Portland driver faster than a four-way stops. This problem is so notorious that a popular sketch comedy show lampooned this foible. It gets even more annoying when a cyclist is thrown into the mix. So annoying. Don’t be “nice,” just follow the law. And then we’ll all know what to expect.

3. Don’t ride with headphones.
Here’s the thing: Cyclists are vulnerable and humans are incapable of multitasking. Think you’re the exception? Nope. Science says that the better you think you are at multitasking the worse you are at it (ie, you’re deluding yourself). For me, taking time every day to focus on one thing, and one thing only, is the greatest gift of bike riding. It’s like meditating, but faster. But even if it weren’t, intentionally distracting yourself with music or a podcast is foolhardy — yes, even if you use only one earbud.

4. Don’t talk to me, get a bell.
This is more of a personal preference, but I am never not startled by somebody talking to me while I’m riding. No phrase has caused me to almost die more frequently than “on your left.” Plus, some people speak quietly. Bells are loud and need no interpretation.

5. You might get a ticket if you’re dumb.
Stop for school buses when red lights are flashing and for pedestrians at crosswalks. Don’t ride the wrong way down one-way streets, and don’t ride on the sidewalk (see above). I have seen cyclists ticketed for all of these things.

6. Daylight Savings commuters, come back! It’s better with you.
And less scary.

7. Use hand signals to turn.
Portlanders are typically very talented at this, but many people use their right arm to signal right. On an intuitive level, this makes a certain amount of sense, and in places like the UK that are oriented to left-hand driving, it makes actual real sense. But if you’re in a right-hand bike lane, chances are that no cars or even cyclists behind you will notice your right-arm signal.

8. Wear a helmet.
There is no scientific consensus on the efficacy of helmets, I know. However, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics all agree: Wear a helmet. That’s consensus enough for me. And really, what do you have to lose? (Your ability to think and move and use the toilet and live, THAT’S WHAT.)

9. Stay humble, you make mistakes too.
Recently, I rode to a friend’s house after work. It was dark and I had never before ridden to her house from my job. I did a lot of stupid, scary things — not on purpose, but because I was confused and it was dark. It was frightening and a little humiliating. Cyclists can be each other’s biggest critics (witness: this blog post), so let’s give each other a break. We’ve all been there.

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One Response to Cycling: Why I Love It, What It’s Taught Me & How Not to Be A Dick

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