It was time. I’d been meaning to return to riding to work after a hiatus of a decade or more, but acting on that intention kept getting pushed back. One reason is my tendency not to have much money to spend just on myself once the family budget has eaten my salary (Two children and two orthodontists to support). The other was simply fear.
The 17th was Ride to Work day, so I made that my Return to the Bike day, although it felt a bit lame. Fancy someone from the Netherlands or Beijing thinking they should get a special breakfast put on for them simply for riding their bike to work. Still, it helped set a drop-dead deadline.
I found my bike at a garage sale for $80. It was a hybrid, probably at least a decade old, and without a visible brand. It looked as if it had been a good bike in its day, and the frame was properly made with cut-outs at the joins instead of the ugly blobs of weld metal which pass for bike frame construction these days. The gears and other bits were all good. I took it to the bike shop to be refurbished, expecting that shop person thing: “It’ll cost yer more to replace all this stuff than to buy a new bike. Now, we just happen to have one here…” But the bike shop guy had a good attitude. “I thought you’d try and talk me into buying a new one,” I said. “No, it came up nice,” he said. There wasn’t as much wear in the moving parts as I’d assumed there would be, so he didn’t have to replace expensive things like cranks and gear derailleurs.
No, the problem was me.
It wasn’t always thus. When I was in my early twenties, my boyfriend was a hardcore road bike enthusiast, and during our two year relationship I was always supplied with the very latest in unobtainium frames, feather-light gears and up-to-the minute wonders like cotterless cranks (gasp!) In those bygone days, I had the advantage of the twentysomething delusion of immortality which allowed me to ride properly and assertively in traffic without losing my nerve completely. Of course, the car and truck traffic has increased since then. But I was fast and relatively fearless. I’d even ride the two-lane blacktop to Warrandyte, Kinglake, and up to central Victoria – Mansfield. Toolangi and other lovely places.
An unscheduled meeting between the road and me, resulting in quite a lot of damage and medical expenses, wasn’t the only thing that drove me from the bike. The other was learning to play kit drums. The station wagon and panel van inevitably took over the bike as I entered a decade or two of lugging large amounts of equipment around. This meant that as someone who previously hadn’t owned a car, and really had biked everywhere, I got to experience the road from the point of view of a driver.
And holy crap, it scared the living daylights out of me.
Off-road bike paths are fantastic, but those so-called “bike paths” (bike lanes) which are painted onto an existing road next to lines of parked cars: no thanks. I’ve lost my nerve. I don’t remember being doored back in the 1970s, but for now I fear being doored more than I fear being knocked off by a passing car. If that happens, I might get away with merely being flung into the gutter and injured. If I cop someone’s opening door at a 45 degree angle, I’ll be horribly injured and my teeth knocked out and then I’ll be flung sideways into the traffic to incur who knows what additional horrors. It helps not to have an imagination, but articles like these show I’m not just being a worry wart.
And of course, there’s always encounters with dangerous animals.
So, this was my experience of Ride to Work day:
The actual riding part: wonderful. And I wasn’t as slow and unfit as I’d expected to be.
The fearing for my life every minute part: Not so wonderful.
Conclusion: I’ll be fine riding as far as my nearest hub station and catch the train the rest of the way – train times permitting (they’re too packed to do this from seven to nine in the morning, so I can’t do this most days when I have to be in early). Riding the rest of the way through the inner suburbs and CBD: Nyet. When the council and/or the RTA get around to properly separating bicycles and other traffic, then I’ll consider it. Otherwise, it’s too much of a near-death experience for me.