Thoughts on bike commuting, from the perspective of a new bike commuter

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I’m sitting at my desk at work, with my bike on the rack in the break room, my panniers and helmet next to me, and I don’t know how I got here. This morning started in the usual way, with the alarm going off and snooze getting hit a couple of times.

Dogs got walked, little girl and wife got kissed on the way out the door, my keys got shoved in my bag, and I was off. But instead of starting the car and motoring into work, I hopped on my bike and began my 9.5 mile ride into work.

How did I come to bike commuting, after years of driving to work? Why, at the age of 38, did I decide to ride almost 20 miles to and from work each day?

bicycle

A couple of years ago my friend Leisure encouraged me to join Pamela and the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride (PMTNR) for an evening social ride.

Through that group I met a lot of great people who were quick to encourage a new cyclist, in a completely judgement-free environment. Riding with them, and then on my own around town, I saw Charlotte in a different way. Neighborhoods that I normally passed at 35 mph became more visible to me. You see people when you’re on a bike. You smell perfume and flowers, and you hear the sounds of the city. Riding a bike makes a big city seem like a big neighborhood; it’s the closest to feeling like Mayberry as you’re going to get in a city as large as Charlotte.

Though I have been riding my road bike for a couple of years with groups like PMTNR or the Harris Y Triathlon Team, the idea of commuting to work didn’t appeal to me. I thought it was too far, unsafe, and I’d be a sweaty mess at work. Nevertheless, after getting a little older, adding a few pounds, and finding less time to work out, I decided to try it.

You know what? It’s AWESOME. Sure, it takes about 15-20 more minutes than driving, but I use that time to think through ideas at work. Or sing aloud to some tunes playing over my phone (if you see me biking and belting out some classic rock or even some show tunes, feel free to join in). I do arrive a little sweaty, so fortunately I belong to the Y where I can shower. Or, there are always baby wipes (hey, they were good enough when I was in Iraq, they are good enough now, right? Coworkers, that’s right, right? Guys?).

Matthew-Ridenhour

I am sure safety is one of the biggest concerns for new commuters like me. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Drivers don’t always see you, so you have to see them and communicate with hand signs, eye contact, and verbal alerts. I ride up Old Pineville, and then take the Rail Trail to Uptown. I have not yet had any close calls with cars, but I have had a few close calls with pedestrians and other cyclists. The people I’ve had close calls with all have had earbuds in, and could not hear my verbal alerts, my bell, or my music. By all means, put the earbuds in and wait for the train or go for a walk, but please keep the music at a level where you can remain aware of your surroundings.

One thing I have quickly learned is that people make all the difference when it comes to bike commuting. Cyclists love to help you plan your route, make sure your bike is set up for the commute, and provide encouragement and support. My friend Pel planned a route for me that was appropriate for a new bike commuter — minimal hills and traffic. It’s also important to get your bike checked out. Bart over at Queen City Bicycles got my bike set up with some good commuting tires, a new saddle (seat), and a rack and panniers for my computer and clothes. If you’re interested in bike commuting, but don’t know anyone to connect with, please reach out to me. I’ll get you plugged in. With all of the bike lanes, fellow bike commuters, and Mecklenburg County’s great greenway system (hey, I’m a Mecklenburg County Commissioner—I have to give a shout out to Park and Rec), commuting by bike has never been easier or more enjoyable.

Get out, and ride a bike!

Oh, and be sure to double-check your bags before you leave for work. Thank you to my wife who also works in uptown, and brought me a belt today.

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