Bike Commuting – A “newbie” Hits the Streets of Portland Maine

I recently bought my first new bike since I was in junior high (I know, that term gives away my age), and have been trying to commute to work one day a week. It’s good exercise, lots of fun, saves gas, and takes one more car off the road – at least briefly.

I had a few questions to answer before attempting my first commute.
  • Did I have the stamina? My job is mostly sedentary. I walk more than most people, but that’s the extent of my regular exercise. To build endurance, I took longer and longer rides, culminating with a Sunday night “dry run” to the office. It’s only 6 miles, but there are some pretty big hills. It was surprisingly easy. Within a week or two, I felt ready.
  • How would I manage traffic? Sharing the road with cars and trucks was a bit intimidating at first. I went to a discussion about bike safety sponsored by the Portland Bike Commuters Meetup Group. It was great! I learned how to ride in traffic and to increase my safety while on the bike.

The main idea is to dress “bright and tight” and behave like a slow vehicle on the roads – which makes perfect sense. In other words, stay on the street (sidewalks are for pedestrians), “take the lane” when necessary and appropriate, and behave in a predictable manner – using the rules of the road that I already know from driving a car. I also bought a blinky red light for the rear of my bike – only $2.00! A bargain!

 I joined the online Meetup Group that night, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were over 200 members who were commuting in Greater Portland!

  • How would I “clean up” at work? Our office doesn’t have a shower. I found that the cool temperatures in the morning prevented me from getting too sweaty. I also paced myself to avoid getting overheated, and dressed in layers I could peel off if necessary (it wasn’t). I found some great beginner’s tips at a web site called Commuting 101 where people shared practical ideas about bike commuting.
  • What if I had an unexpected appointment during the day? This one hasn’t come up yet. I have been able to arrange my schedule for one “office day” a week. If I really needed to get someplace in a hurry, I could probably borrow a co-worker’s car.

I don’t think I’ll become a hard-core year-round bike commuter like some of the people I see on the road every day, but I’ve enjoyed my “alternate commute” the few times I’ve done it.

Some early observations:
  • It doesn’t take much longer than commuting by car. About 30 minutes vs. 15 by car.
Portland drivers are quite accommodating to bikes.  People generally give me the 3 feet clearance they’re supposed to, and pass me only when it’s safe to do so. They’re also patient when I join them in a line of traffic at a light, allowing me to clear the intersection without tailing too closely.

PhpThumb.phpThe proper equipment helps me to feel more confident. Thanks to a timely birthday, I now have a white front light, a “screaming yellow” jacket, the aforementioned blinky red light, a pump and water bottle. I feel visible and equipped to handle most minor emergencies that could arise. I carry a cell phone just in case.

In the next post, we’ll talk about how cyclists can protect themselves and their bikes from other types of accidents.