I never intended to be a bike commuter. I never intended to use my bike for anything much at all. I bought it because, well, doesn’t everyone have a bike? It seemed the thing to do. Besides, my partner M really loves to ride. I love her, so I bought a bike.
For years, I used that bike solely for casual jaunts around the neighborhood, usually at M’s behest and with great reluctance. The helmet ruined my hair. Hand signals made me self-conscious. I could never remember which way to turn the shifter, and constantly found myself dropping into the wrong gear. It was important to ride slowly enough to look in the neighbors’ windows (What kind of window treatments did they use? Did they paint their woodwork?) but quickly enough to avoid suspicious stares.
When we moved from the suburbs into the city I found myself saying things like, “I’m thinking of starting to ride my bike to work, in the summer, maybe,” and, “I would bike, but the garage door is broken.” I even tried it once. The ride in was pretty nice: almost all downhill, except for the last two blocks up to the office. No big deal. The ride home, on the other hand, was 40 blocks straight uphill during the hottest week so far that summer. About halfway up the hill, my heart started pounding, I started feeling nauseated, and I was sure I was about to have a stroke. I panicked.
I ended up walking the bike the rest of the way up the hill and slowly coasting home. I put the bike away in the garage and there it languished for another three years.
One August, my job required that I show up about an hour early every day for a week to coordinate an event. With M taking the car and now two kids that needed to get to daycare, there was no way I’d make to work by 7:00 AM — unless I biked. So I wheeled out the old Trek 7200, dusted off my helmet, and pumped up the tires.
I told everyone that it was temporary and that I was doing it out of necessity. But the next week I kept on riding because, well, September was bike-to-work month, and the weather was glorious and it turned out that biking cut my commute time in half. All that month I tossed the kids in the trailer and shuttled them off to school. I ditched the trailer in the school courtyard and continued on to work.
October hit and I kept on biking. It started to rain a bit. I bought a raincoat and some waterproof bike pants, gloves and a light for my helmet. I started signaling with a comfortable, practiced wave of my hand. In November, the rain started in earnest. I picked up a waterproof hood to wear under my helmet. There were a few days in December and January where the precipitation was more solid than liquid. On those days, I took the bus or carpooled with M. It felt strange and a little awkward. I itched to be back on my bike. Before I knew it, spring had rolled around again. I stripped off layers of Gore-Tex and wool and started biking in my everyday street clothes.
At some point, what had started as a casual deviation from my normal routine had turned into my normal routine. I didn’t even see it happening. It all came down to this: I never intended to be a bike commuter. I just started riding my bike.