Bike Commute Numero Uno

By Lizzy Bennett 

After I posted my bike commuting tips, several people have confessed that they'd love to ride but they can't; they're terrified. "Is it safe?" they ask. I remember telling the friend who finally convinced me to ride, "I just don't want to die." Being scared is good! It means you'll be cautious and aware (see tips # 2 and # 5 from the earlier post). As for safety, it's only as safe as you ride.

So how to make the maiden voyage? I suggest riding with a buddy: someone who knows the route and how to ride it. That way you focus entirely on following that friend and tune everything else out. A bonus in following is that you'll naturally pick up tricks of the trade, like never snuggling up to parked cars and maintaining utmost respect for rail tracks and expecting drivers to lose their minds in the rain.

I chose to go solo on my first ride to work - an army of one! I ended up on a four lane road headed toward a freeway on-ramp and was rather traumatized. I consulted the San Francisco bike map - Google biking directions are quite good - more closely before riding home and it was smoother sailing from there. But an escort would have been nice.  

Bikers tend to be so stoked to see other bikers, so you should have no problem finding a buddy. Many cities have pro-cycling organizations - San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, New York Bicycling Coalition - that provide education and training on how to ride your city. And car-free events in neighborhoods and parks an a great opportunity to get comfortable on a bike.

In this case, the first time really is the hardest. But if you can get over the hump, you'll be liberated from parking tolls, gridlock and road rage. And according to our word cloud, freedom, exercise and health will pop to the top of your list.

To help you get comfortable with the idea of riding to work, I filmed my ride yesterday. Warning: I filmed it with a GoPro cam on my helmet so it's a little shaky. Enjoy the view!

Lizzy Bennett is online marketing manager for Timbuk2 Design in San Francisco.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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