The other day I received the following message on Facebook:
U went out in the dark on your bike on your own?
The week before someone had said to me:
Well done riding to the city on your bike.
On telling someone else that I’d been knocked off my bike and gone over the bonnet of a car without laddering my stockings, they said:
You wear stockings on your bike?
In the face of such incredulity I feel that I need to explain. I ride my bike most places. Out to dinner, to the gym, grocery shopping, to the hairdressers, to the Doctors, to church, to small group, to Welsh class, sometimes even to work.
If you’d predicted this a couple of years ago I’d have laughed in your face (so, I’ll excuse your shocked responses). But the unlikely has happened folks – I am now a commuter cyclist.
And as I have been living this lifestyle for over a year, I consider myself entitled to offer a few tips on the subject.
I hope you are ready? We’re going for ride. And it will be deeply insightful.
1) you gotta love your bike
I started out on an old bike because, though I’d been telling everyone I was going to ride my bike everywhere once we moved to Coburg, no one believed me. Even I didn’t have faith. So, we rigged up his old hybrid bike of my husband’s. After a few weeks of riding hunched over with cramped shoulders I said to my him.
‘Some people sit upright on their bikes.’
‘You’re not supposed to sit upright.’ He explained. ‘It slows you down.’
Well, yes, this made sense…if you were training for the Tour de France. But not if you are Lizzie long legs mooching around the back streets of Coburg. In fact, I would say speed is less than ideal in the city traffic. It makes you vulnerable to flung-wide car doors and haphazard pedestrians (this is a bonus safety tip by the way write it down).
In the city speed is not essential.
Three months after becoming a serious commuter, I bought myself a retro-style upright bike. My husband and daughter came to the shop with me. I had a model in mind – not top of the range, but aluminium (for lugging up city steps). It had seven gears for the occasional hill and, of course, a wicker basket. As I wheeled my new bike through the door with an air of lordly pride (clever literary allusion in case you were wondering), I turned, looking back over the rows of gleaming handle bars.
‘Have I chosen the right colour?’ I asked my daughter
‘Mum,’ she said. ‘It’s red.’
She was right, of course. My bike was red and I loved it. And, I can’t emphasise this enough folks, you’ve gotta love your bike.
In the pebble hard rain, you’ve gotta love your bike, and in thirty-six degree heat with sweat streaking on your cheeks, you’ve gotta love your bike. When balancing it in a crowded railway carriage, you’ve gotta love your bike. Ditto, when sitting in the gutter with your third puncture for the week. And and when you’re pedalling hard against the wind. It’s just you and those two wheels against all those kilometres.
You’ve gotta love your bike.
2) you gotta get the gear
I started out riding with a high vis workman’s vest and a battered old helmet. As winter approached, I began to mull over the dilemma of staying warm and, more importantly, dry. Once again, I put the problem to my husband.
‘My winter coat is too thick for cycling.’ I pointed out.
‘Wear your camping coat.’ He replied.
Now this was the wrong answer (though, on the surface, it may have sounded like good advice). The camping coat was light-weight and waterproof, perfect for the bush. But, it was black, I mean, that’s a safety issue, right? (second bonus tip: justify all cycling purchases on safety grounds). And, it had all those freezing-cold-line-up-for-showers-smoky-campfire associations.
No, I couldn’t possibly face the winter in my camping coat.
I did my homework. There aren’t many girl-friendly commuter cycling outlets in Austealia. In the end, I bought a red trench coat with a polka dot lining from CycleStyle. It’s Dutch designed and made with waterproof seams and slightly longer arms for cycling. Not a camping coat. A city coat. Perfect for dinner and a movie in Carlton. I teamed it with a Nutcase helmet from Velo Cycles, an adjustable high vis harness and a cheap pair of waterproof pants from Katmandu and some retro style panniers and I was all set. And, here’s the thing (you may consider this bonus tip number three), a Lycra clad cyclist is a common sight in Melbourne and motorists don’t tend to cut them a lot of slack. But ride an upright bike with a red trench coat and a polka dot helmet and, I tell you, people steer clear of you.
3) you gotta heed the signs
Despite the formidable protective powers of my polka dot helmet, I’m not a big fan of city traffic (bonus tip four – have realistic expectations of your equipment). The trouble is, I quickly worked out that the Merri Creek and Capital City trails are great for Sunday afternoon leisure riding but not if you actually want to get anywhere. There are too many bends, bridges, drains and steps for serious commuting. There are, however, heaps of on-road bike lanes – on the back streets of Moreland, in the city and out into the eastern suburbs. I carried laminated squares of council transport maps around with me in the early weeks like a tourist or, worse a middle aged-empty-nest-wannabe-city-girl from the suburbs. Then I realised there were all these signs.
I now follow them dot-to-dot all over the city.
4) you gotta set yourself up
Finally, I’m not a morning person. I am practically comatosed until I’ve drunk my first plunger of coffee. Even then, my movements resemble a bear emerging from hibernation. Apart from having breakfast and getting dressed I’m not capable of much mental activity. If I’m commuting to work, I always pack my panniers the night before and, here’s the essential part, I keep make-up, toiletries and a hair dryer in my locker. This makes mornings easy. In fact, (here’s a secret), I don’t even brush my hair. I just roll out of bed, main-line coffee, pull on my gym gear and pedal. After cycling for almost an hour, I’m awake and zinging. I can then shower and do the beauty thing at the library.
So that’s it, folks – my explanation plus, four essentials, four bonus tips, a beauty secret and a clever literary allusion. What more can I say? Apart from, happy cycling!