How to bike to work without turning every car against you

I was sitting on a Divvy bike at the intersection of Kinzie and Absolute Chaos, one of those five street intersections where you just kind of close your eyes and hope for the best.

The traffic signals were a red light, a green arrow, and I’m pretty sure a blue question mark. I started pedaling forward with a little below zero confidence.

I got to the middle and had to carve through a group of five bicyclists going in the opposite direction. Dodged a car too. One of the bicyclists shouted out, “What are you doing!?”♦

As a bicyclist—correction, “casual bike rider,” I haven’t earned the cyclist title—I am neither in alliance with the person in the full spandex suit flying down the street at 70 mph nor am I on the same page as the bus that keeps creeping up behind me. Or any of the cars trying to get to work on time but now stuck behind me and my vague left hand turn signal.

Out on the road, it’s car vs. bicyclist. Bicyclist vs. casual bike rider. Casual bike rider vs. everyone else. The origins of this commuter conflict, the source of the stress on the streets is because every commuter believes they have the superior way of getting to work. But, deep down, they also have a healthy level of envy for all the other modes.

Examples:

Bus riders & L 

Pros – I can get close to where I am going AND save money by not having a car.

Cons –  Crap, she looks like she’s having a great morning out on the bike. And she looks pretty relaxed in her Range Rover. And here I am packed in, eye-level with that guy’s sweaty khaki buttcheeks.

Bicyclists

Pros – I get to work faster than everyone else. I fly through traffic because stop signs and red lights only sort of apply to me. Fresh air, exercise, and I save a boatload of money.

Cons – I am an adult wearing a helmet. And I’m sweaty at work. And the pickup line, “Hey baby, want to share this tandem bicycle home with me?” is 0-for-22. Nothing humbles a man faster than solo-riding a tandem bicycle.

Helicopter – That was really fast. I am really awesome. But did I really need to do that?

Now insert us casual bike riders. We are despised like deer crossing the road. Only difference is people know that hitting a deer totals your car. Hitting a bike rider? That’s just kind of funny.

If you are considering becoming a casual bike rider commuter, taking your talents from the bike trails to the bike lane on a busy city street, then there are several things to prepare for. Here is a little bit of Medium Rare advice:

The Helmet

When buying a helmet, remember to balance two key factors – 1) Will this protect me vs. 2) Will this make cars want to hit me.

Stick to a traditional style and don’t go with too wild of a color.

Projected budget – Do the $50 – $60 price range. Treat it like renter’s insurance, a frustrating hit to the wallet that will probably never come in handy.

Livestrong Apparel

If you wanted to start riding a bike five years ago, the first thing to do was grab a Livestrong bracelet, Livestrong shirt, and pretend to watch the Tour De France.

But now it gets a little trickier. The sentiment toward Lance Armstrong has definitely changed. Two years ago I wore a Livestrong t-shirt into a restaurant and I was confronted by a guy near the buffet line who asked, “Lance Armstrong? How could you support such a cheater?”

I was about ready to use the high horse defense: “Oh, sorry for supporting cancer research, just trying to help save lives.” Which made me even more of a dirtbag because the truth is I hadn’t done laundry in three weeks and the Livestrong t-shirt was the only thing I had left.

There’s a lot of venom out there against Lance Armstrong so just be prepared to receive more anger than support for your Livestrong apparel. Have a response prepared for these confrontations.

Getting in Shape

On paper it would make sense that riding a bike to work everyday vs. bus/train/car would lead to weight loss. Instead, here is what happens.

I rode my bike this morning.

Hey, doughnuts in the conference room!

I deserve that doughnut.

Lunch Special – Buy 1 medium pizza and we will fill your backpack with breadsticks 

I mean I did bring my backpack to work…

Head’s up, there’s construction on that street with the bike lane

Welp, guess I can’t bike anymore.

Spandex 70 mph bicyclist guy can eat whatever he wants, but for the casual bike riders like me, the morning ride is really just glorified sitting down in a chair.

Rules of the Road

Know that as a casual bike rider you are not going to be everybody’s buddy on the road. Hybrid cars will have that, “Hey, we both support the environment” bond but that’s about it. Ultimately we are still the obstacles, viewed with the same disdain as a pothole. Even in the bike lane.

To help improve our image: stop at red lights. Use crosswalks on busy intersections. Never pull out a phone to text. Don’t get greedy and use the car lane, there is no sense trying to keep up and having sore thighs for the next two weeks. And just remember, someone out there is wishing they had your commute.

-The End-

Burnt Ends (aka Footnotes) 

♦ The fact that she didn’t swear made it all the more hurtful. You swear at anyone. That’s just good ol fashion road rage.

But, “What are you doing?!” That leads to more of an existential crisis. I wanted to turn around and shout back, “I don’t know! Who am I??”

My friend Katie says the best thing to do in a road rage situation is not a swear, not flipping the bird, but instead just giving the other person a Thumbs Down.

♦ Exception being motorcyclists. The real bikers. Out on the highway they look like they are having an awesome time. In the city? They look miserable. They’re forced to go slow and every time they park their bike you see them look it over with this sad look of, “Welp, that’s the last time I’ll see it without a scratch.”

More Medium Rare advice

The Divvy bike is a borderline military vehicle.

Sizzles with public transit

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