So my friend Bill is starting a fabulous new business: Bike with Bill. What is it? Your fastest and easiest ticket to smooth sailing bike commuting. Bill was the perfect personal guide for my first ever bike commute.
He researched and rode my route to work ahead of time. Foreseeing a few obstacles on the first half of the trip AND knowing that I have not ridden my bike in oh, just four years or so, he suggested we drive half-way and bike the second half for our first outing. While I was slightly disappointed that I'd be using up gas in order to start out as a bike commuter, I have to admit his advice was right on. I do live far enough from Minneapolis that my total bike route is 11.5 miles, one-way. So for the first commute we biked the last 5.8 miles of the route. While others may be able to ride that in no time, for this city girl it took about 45 minutes. That's a good long ride for someone who hasn't ridden in a while, even if I did used to be a pretty experienced biker before my four-year-old was born!
Before we took off on that first ride though, Bill put in quite a bit of time on my behalf. He first researched the best route. One of the tools he uses for this is Cyclopath. Kinda like a Google Maps for the Twin Cities bike world. He then actually rode the entire route. He discovered there was some road construction about 1/2 way in, which we avoided by starting our mid-way commute right after that spot. Prior to my first commute he sent an excellent list of tips and recommendations so I could best prepare for my ride.
The day of the commute I was so nervous I had hardly slept. It had been so long since I'd been an avid biker that I wondered if I could really pull this off! We drove the first half the actual bike route so I could see where I would be biking once I worked up doing the whole trip by bike. I followed his car in my own, and he managed to expertly point out things along the way akin to some kind of Vanna White of the biking world. He pointed out off-road bike trails that I'd be traveling on and where turns and obstacles were.
Then we parked our car near the U of M intercampus transitway, a quick thoroughfare between the St Paul and Minneapolis campuses that allows U of M shuttle buses and bicycles only. What a great route! From there we had a minimal distance to go via city streets, and then got to ride to downtown Minneapolis via the Stone Arch Bridge, another excellent off-road part of my commute.
Then it was just a few blocks through downtown to my office building and voila!
All along, Bill demonstrated perfect biker etiquette and offered the most comprehensive lessons on bicycle rules of the road I've ever had. He thoroughly went through the various hand-signals and modeled them while riding ahead of me. I felt a million times more assured that I knew what I was doing after his lessons then I ever had in my life, even compared to back when I was a pretty avid biker. He gave me all of the confidence and know-how I could get.
His best tip? "I always smile at other drivers, cyclists, or walkers." Because according to Bill, bicycling should be enjoyable at all times! Too many bikers and drivers act as if we are at odds with each other. We can both be much happier with smiles, good communication, caution, attentiveness and respect. And communication is KEY when bike commuting. Go the extra mile to communicate pleasantly where your going and what your doing to others that share the road. His emphasis on positivity and friendliness was almost a bit Mr-Rogers-esque. It was refreshing and very welcomed amidst all of the squabbling I hear in local media on the tensions between drivers and cyclists.
I'm anxious to bike the whole commute, but I think I'll spend this week doing the drive half/bike half idea. Then we'll see if I feel up to perhaps a full bike ride to work, with a bus home in the afternoon. Live in the Twin Cities and wanna see if Bill can help you start bike commuting too? Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.