Ride Like You Want To

By Lizzy Bennett

In the 1990's rom-com "Singles" that was an instant classic for my sisters and me, there's a scene where a hunky man confesses on a video dating spot, "I like the way the world looks from a bicycle. I'm looking for someone who feels the same way I do about a bicycle." The scene makes the guy look like a jerk and in fact he turns out to be a jerk, but he was on to something.

     Street art. You'd miss this in a car.

It could be the rise of unemployment, the race to lower carbon emissions, or something in the water, but urban cycling is on the rise the United States. From 2006 - 2009, New York City built 200 miles of bike lanes and saw a 45% increase in commuter cycling. During the same time period, San Francisco built zero bike lanes and saw a 53% increase in bike commuting. Clearly infrastructure isn't keeping folks off their bikes; even people in Los Angeles are bike commuting! And organizations like Peopleforbikes.org are helping folks realize the magic of bike commuting.

I joined the commuter cycling world in 2008. I never would have considered riding a bike had a friend not hounded me until I tried. I'm not going to hound you, but I'd like to share my bike commute tips for those teetering on the edge of riding to work for the first time.

I ride 3.5 miles to and from work every day in San Francisco. While I cannot say I defy helmet hair or miraculously avoid sweating, I do not wear Lycra, ride a carbon fiber bike, or measure my VOT max. I fall somewhere in between and importantly, it works for me. It's taken three years, but I have my bike commute dialed.

Here are my bike commute tips:
     1) Be yourself - Ride what you want, how you want, when you want to. These are tips, not rules.
     2) Wear a helmet - This should probably be a rule, not a tip.

     3) Plan - If you're really sweaty, accept your unfortunate fate and plan to pat-dry, rinse off or do a complete costume change when you reach your destination. Just don't wait until someone tells you to do it.

     4) Layer for warmth, layer for looks. Wear light tops, gloves and anything else you can rip off at a stop sign. And if you're worried about scuffing up your boots or losing your earrings, stick 'em in your bag and accessorize at your desk. Using your legs to get to work doesn't mean you need to look super-sporty or disheveled all day.

     5) Remember, you're invisible - US drivers are not trained to see cyclists and they probably never will. But don't get angry! You're outside, they're in the car. You win. Relax and proceed with caution.

     6) Look around - Not every commute is gorgeous -- mine involves riding through a rough neighborhood where at least half the population is actively tripping on drugs -- but you discover things on a bike you'd never notice in a car. Hint: This is the best part!

Unfortunately my husband doesn't share my love of urban cycling - I made the common mistake of buying a commuter bike for him but it's not quite right so he never rides it - but the guy from Singles makes sense to me now. San Francisco looks completely different from a bicycle, and thanks to my daily commute, I've fallen in love with San Francisco. If you find yourself tempted to ride to work one day, I hope you'll keep my tips and mind and give it a shot.

Lizzy Bennett is the online marketing manager for the Timbuk2 bag company 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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