Looking back on how great biking to work in Portland has been, a fleeting thought often crosses my mind, “why didn’t I start sooner?”
In reflecting on this question, I’ve determined there were a number of things that held me back from riding. The things that stopped me however, have quite easy fixes. The reasons that held me back and their fixes are outlined in this list below.
Proper Bike Fit and Sizing
My first bike in Portland, was the mountain bike my parents got me for 9th grade. This bike has been slightly too small for me since I was 18 back in 2002.
Here’s how to find a bike that fits:
I’m super lucky; my brother identified that my bike wasn’t a great fit and ultimately gifted me a bike that was a much better fit. After getting this bike, riding daily became a lot less of a chore.
Bike Safety – Brakes, Lights, Bell
After a few months of riding the bike my brother got me, the rear brake started work a lot less well. My stopping distance went up, and this got really sketchy. I have a hunch that bad brakes could be holding people back from riding. It’s subtle but unnerving enough that it could make riding unpleasant.
I went to my local bike shop and had them throw on a pair of new bike Kool Stop brake pads and boom I was able to stop faster than a cat pouncing on a laser.
Bike Lights Saved My Life
Or at least I think they did. In Oregon, front bike lights are required by law at night, but I keep mine on at all times. I think drivers often don’t actively look for cyclists so a bright pulsating light can catch their eye.
In one particular instance, I pulled out behind a truck, which also happened to be pulling out of a parking spot. I think it was my light, right in their rearview mirror which got them to notice me and stop. Here’s a tweet on the incident:
I was almost hit by a @notifypdx truck today. The truck was parked in a bike lane servicing a park. I came from a path and joined the bike lane just behind the truck. The truck started to pull out, but noticed me at the last second. Not their fault, not mine. Be vigilant folks!
— Nathan Corliss (@oakfive) May 15, 2018
Though this is scary, it’s one close call after hundreds of miles ridden. The point is, always ride with a bright bike light on. Currently I run two CatEye bike lights in flashmode whenever I ride.
Ding Ding Ding – Get a Bike Bell
I purchased a cheap bike bell on Amazon. It’s helped alert countless peds, cyclists and even drivers of my presence. Definitely ride with a bike bell.
Know Your Local Bike Laws and Resources
(Consult your local bike regulations before making decisions on the road, the section below outlines my personal experience and my own interpretation of laws in my area.)
Knowing local bike regs actually can save you time. When I first started riding I tended to follow automotive rules and acted as if I was a car. For instance if a line of cars was queued up. I would wait in that line of cars as if I was one. This cost me a ton of time and made biking not fun.
Upon reading local regulations, however, I found out that on roads without a bike lane cyclists are expected to ride on the shoulder, which means there are circumstances where cyclists can pass cars stopped in traffic. Doing this has saved me a ton of time, but it has been critical that I’ve been vigilant of my surroundings and looked out for things like cars turning and parked cars opening their doors.
In Portland there are some intersections with a special bike sensor on the road, so the light knows to change for a cyclists. Had I not read the local regulations I would have never known those were there.
In this same vein, there may be local classes and resources (often for free) that can help you get started. Google “free bike lessons [my area]” and you may find a club or a class.
Helps to have a bike buddy and/or take a skills class too.
— Barb Chamberlain (@barbchamberlain) August 31, 2018
For a goof, here’s a couple examples of what cycling in extreme circumstances in big cities can look like. Again check your local regulations before trying anything you see below:
Basic Bike Maintenance to Make Your Rides Oh So Much Smoother
Keep proper air pressure in your tires
Keeping your tires inflated keeps rolling resistance down, which makes riding easier. I find I have to top off my tires once or twice every couple weeks.
Keep your chain oiled
Hardcore cyclists will cringe, but I literally spray some WD-40 on my bike chain every few months. Hardcore cyclists often prefer bike specific lubricants, but good ‘ol WD-40 has done the job for me. Similar to keeping air in your tires, keeping your chain oiled helps it works smoother in turn making your ride easier. You should also periodically clean your chain too for the same reasons listed above. For a treat, Google “Hank Hill WD-40”.
Attire Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy
Heather responded to this article after it was originally published with this absolutely spot on message: daily cycling doesn’t require fancy clothes. And she’s a Vancouverite!
Great article. I would add “getting over the need for Lycra on a short commute”. My commute is just under 4km, and as soon as I realized I could easily get there in a skirt and heels, I started biking more often. https://t.co/m044SfzB6Q
— Heather Deal (@VanRealDeal) July 23, 2018
Don’t Let Them Get You Down
People are jerks. I’ve been honked at, yelled at and finger wagged at from everyone from drivers to pedestrians to other cyclists. Half the time someone scoffs at what I did on a bike I have no idea what it was for. Maybe I truly did break some etiquette or maybe the person is having a bad day. 🤷
I do make a conscious effort to follow laws, yeild as required and to be respectful of other folks on the road, but for some reason I still get yelled at or honked at occasionally. I think it’s just the way of the road.
The point is, don’t let the haters get you down. Keep cycling!🚴