Getting started as a regular bike commuter is the equivalent of jumping into a cold pool instead of slowly moving, cold inch by cold inch, into the water. Unlike a recreational ride where you can stick only to friendly bike paths, a bike commute forces you to forge your way between two fixed points, no matter what lies in the way.
And, like Laura Schlabach at Grist found, the experience is liberating (if not a little hairy at times).
I’ve read a whole lot of overly-complicated advice pieces for beginning bike commuters written from people who have been doing it for so long they have their own unique solution to every little issue. But Schlabach’s advice essentially boils down to: Watch what other people biking do, and let yourself make some mistakes:
Watch experienced bikers and don’t be embarrassed to imitate them. Watching a guy I call Blue Helmet Dude, a fellow bike commuter I see most mornings if I leave my house on time, I learned to use hand signals and check behind me before changing lanes.
Following a woman one morning, I took note of her cute dress and leggings, which helped me feel better about my lack of actual bike clothes. She also coasted through a four-way stop after scanning for oncoming cars and pedestrians — kind of a varsity move, called an “Idaho-stop,” that is actually illegal in my state, but even Randy Cohen, The Ethicist, thinks it’s OK.
Don’t be scared of asking questions or making mistakes. The first time I tried to load my bike onto the rack on the front of a bus, the driver had to actually get out of the bus and come help me. (Hey, it’s more complicated than it looks!) He seemed amused though, and I realized I was kind of proud to be forging ahead through new territory.
In order to get more people on bikes, I think we have to be kind to ourselves. My progress has been gradual, over the course of an entire year. Do a little prep work beforehand, but there will always be unforeseen challenges or surprises when you actually start riding. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a little grace.
I would love to crowd source a beginning bike commuting post specific to Seattle. What (relatively simple) advice do you have? I’ll wrangle your thoughts and mine into a future post.