Reading a recent article by Mike Snyder, “Along for the ride-Aspiring cyclist hits the White Oak Bayou Trail” reminded me of my days riding my bike to work.
As the City of Houston’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator through 2007, I felt the need to experience bike riding in Houston myself. Although I started as a recreational rider growing up in California, I always considered myself a utilitarian rider. I rode around the neighborhood for practical purposes and taught my kids through example.
Gaining a true understanding of the needs of a cyclist in Houston I did what I felt was needed to think like a cyclist: I rode my bike to work. I became a commuter.
The idea was a winning one. The experience would allow me to put into practice all the tips I shared with Houstonians on how to ride your bike. It would allow me first hand experience that would enrich design projects and identify education needs at all levels.
The first thing I did was take a safe rider course offered by The League of American Bicyclists. Local certified experts offered a day and a half of tips, rules, bike mechanics, and hands-on practice. The course gave me an understanding of how I fit in as a commuter and a punch of confidence. I certainly got my money’s worth on my way home that day. I was able to apply one of the techniques and avoid a motorist who made an erratic left turn on his northbound lane while I traveled southbound. He probably didn’t see me or gauged my speed wrong but I was very glad to avoid his car by automatically responding with a maneuver I had learned and practiced in the course.
So I rode to work year-round.
I later took the League’s instructor course to further enrich my understanding. I acclimated to riding in Houston weather but the ultimate was to ride in winter and feel the cold tingling sensation that disappeared after three blocks. I felt a connection with my surroundings, with the community, and yes, even with fellow commuters as I approached downtown off the trail and took my lane, like any other vehicle.
I still consider myself a utilitarian rider and though I mostly look at my bikes longingly in the garage, I can’t wait for more bikeways and safe connectors to get me where I want to go.