I Biked To Work For A Week In LA And Here's What I Learned
TL;DR I didn't die.
I'm sweating profusely. My heart is racing 1,000x per minute. I can't do it. This was a mistake.
I'm giving up on biking, and I haven't even gotten on the bike yet. I've just been standing in my driveway for about 30 minutes glaring at it.
"I don't wanna," I mutter childishly.
I wonder what my neighbors think of me, a grown woman standing in her driveway wearing a helmet and backpack and yelling at a bike.
The bike continues to stoically lean against the fence, seeming to say, "Too bad."
I haven't always been like this. I used to LOVE biking.
That is, until I moved from the very bike-friendly New York City to bike-averse Los Angeles. At first I tried to keep it up by going on weekend trips and occasionally riding to the office.
And then about two years ago I was in an accident.
That's probably a little too dramatic. I should really say: And then two years ago I was barely in an accident. A teenager trying to make a right on red turned into me while I was on my bike. I say "barely" because we were both going maybe 5 mph. But that was it. I was done.
It wasn't even a conscious decision — suddenly two years had gone by and I'd all but stopped riding.
But the truth is, I missed it. I missed the freebie workout, the sailing past cars, the saving on gas money. Yet, every time I tried to bike again I'd be overcome with anxiety and wouldn't make it out of my driveway. So I decided the only way I'd get back into it would be to force myself to. For one week, I would only commute by bike.
Here's everything I learned:
So how did I get myself on my bike that day after I was through glaring at it? Did I muscle up some courage? Face my fear head on? Reason that if I was healthy and in good enough shape to ride my bike then I should appreciate that?
I promised myself that if I did ride in I'd buy myself some chili mac from a BBQ place near the office for lunch.
It turns out that fear is no match for chili mixed with macaroni and cheese with a side of cornbread. It was as though a switch flipped in my brain, and I got on the bike. I made it safely to work. And then I bragged about my accomplishment the entire day to anyone who came within earshot, conveniently leaving out the part where I stood in my driveway for 45 minutes too scared to go anywhere.
My commute is pretty simple. It's about a six-mile trip each way, only a small part of which is on actual standalone bike lanes. The rest of it is on what is considered a "bike route." This means it's along normal streets that have the outline of a bike painted onto them, giving the impression that another bicyclist had been hit, smooshed flat, and painted over.
But it turns our cars were not the worst thing about biking in LA. The thing that actually almost destroyed me every day were the hills. Los Angeles has three out of the top five steepest streets in America, and I'm pretty sure all of them are along my commute. I was actually worried at times that I would flip my bike over backwards attempting to ride up them. But I didn't. Because I got off and walked.
There is no shame in walking.
The bottom line is that biking in LA is sweaty business. There are plenty of stores that sell "commuter-friendly clothing," but I discovered that all clothing is commuter friendly — you just have to accept that you will get sweaty.
Also, your hair? Forget about it.
Every city has different helmet laws. In Los Angeles, no one over 18 is required by law to wear a helmet. But I like helmets, so I always wear one. Helmets, while excellent at preventing brain damage, are terrible for hair.
Here is my personal tutorial for achieving stylish helmet hair:
I found that the real key to successful bike commuting is having my life together ahead of time. This wasn't anything major — just leaving a half hour earlier if I needed to pick up a prescription or contacts from my optometrist before work. Or remembering to pack front and rear lights if I had to stay at work late.
I discovered that this actually helped me become more aware of my schedule, and as a result I became more punctual and efficient.
Suddenly, I was showing up early for things and was more prepared than I'd ever been prior to biking, simply because I had to be.
A helpful factor was the bike itself. The Alibi, through some miracle of science, has puncture-proof tires. As in they can't go flat. Anyone familiar with conventional bike tires has known the pain of having to fix a flat on the side of a busy street or in the middle of nowhere. I was very skeptical of these tires because, unlike most unpoppable tires, they don't weigh 900 pounds.
"No way. I don't buy it," I muttered, purposefully cruising over glass to test them.
But I will admit that I was wrong. These tires are unpoppable. And believe me, I tried.
I spent a lot of my first ride on the sidewalk. Los Angeles permits riders to use sidewalks if they do so safely, but this is not a universal rule so people should definitely check their own city's laws.
But even sidewalks can be riddled with obstacles, uneven pavement, cars pulling out of blind driveways, and those pesky pedestrians who act like they own the place.
After surviving my first ride, I slowly began to relax and venture out into the road to take my chances with the cars.
No matter what type of driver you encounter in LA, there's really only one rule: Be vigilant.
Any car at any time — regardless of how well behaved they have been — could turn or park directly in front of you without signaling. A driver who has seemingly been sitting in their car for hours will choose the exact moment you're beside them to open their door to exit.
It can be nerve-racking, but despite a few wild cards the majority of drivers here are polite, attentive, and cautious, giving me no reason to worry about them.
But then you'll encounter that one driver who honks and yells at you for merely existing.
Don't take it personally. They are likely just having a bad day. The best way to deal with these drivers is to smile and then make it as awkward as possible when you're both inevitably stuck at the same light only moments later.
One day towards the end of my experiment, I was casually leaning against a pole and waiting for a light to change when I heard a voice to my right.
I turned to see a very tall man come out of the nearby pharmacy. He appeared to be about 60 and was using a cane.
"Oh no, he's going to want directions or something," I thought because I'm a jerk.
But instead he said, "Young lady, I don't know what it is, but as a gay man, you scare me."
I smiled, laughed, and dramatically replied, "Oh nooooo!"
He winked at me. The light changed, and I continued on my way.
This is why riding in LA is the best.
I wouldn't have scared this 6'5" gentleman at all stuck behind the wheel. But because I was on my bike, I had a perfectly lovely, albeit strange, interaction with a stranger.
My commute time by bike was about 10 minutes longer than driving, but the benefits of my not carrying anger toward whatever car cut me off that morning and just being out in the sunshine were worth hours of my time.
Am I cured of my fear? It turns out that all I had to do was get back on the horse, er, bike.