Posted on July 15th, 2009 – 8:24 AM
By May Chen

Three weeks ago, I started biking to work.

It’s a 20-mile round trip and I am a New Woman. Liberated from My Car (on most days, anyway).

I’ve never been very steady on a bike. My husband, who both bikes and skates, is the guy with the wheels. I prefer to have my feet to the ground, running and walking.

It took a few things – some directly related, some not - for me to get my bike out of the garage and brush off the cobwebs.

1) The Biking Doc

Last winter, I did a story about Tom Kottke, a St. Paul cardiologist who faithfully bikes to and from work, even in the winter. When it snows, he rides a bike with studded tires.

He also has a foldable bike that he sticks in a suitcase and takes around the world, allowing him to see new countries from a perspective different from that of a car window. Closer to the people, and all that. What a fabulous idea, I thought. Just not for me.

2) The Car Crash

Last spring, I totaled my trusty Honda CRV (the one with the MLF plate, which Kay kindly pointed out (almost) stands for something naughty. Gee, thanks, Kay). The other car ran a red light. Everyone was fine, but both cars were pretty bashed up. 

In the slow-motion moments (it really happens like in the movies) after the crash and before the car fully stopped, I looked down and saw my fleece glove burn up on my palm from the effect of the airbag. Funny what your mind registers at these moments.

Anyway, like I said, I was fine. But after the crash, I didn’t want to drive much. The insurance company paid for a rental but when that ran out, I started taking the bus. The weather was warming up and I appreciated the quiet reading time to and from work.

Mentally, it also helped me give up the idea of driving everywhere. 

3) My Spreading Waist

After two babies and with the big 4-0 looming, it’s getting harder to keep weight off. I was still running three or four times a week, but my clothes were getting tighter. In his running memoir “What I talk about when I talk about running,” the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami likens the flab around his waist to strapping on several cuts of raw steak.

That’s how I felt. Padded. With sirloin. Marbled. I worried about this the closer I got to….

4) Our Upcoming Trip to Malaysia

We’re going home to see my parents, brother and a large extended family. We are soooo looking forward to it. Thing is, Malaysians are not known for tact. I could just hear the comments: “Wah! Put on weight, eh?” or worse, “Are you expecting again?”

Then came…

5) The Pushy Co-worker

Yes, Josephine, that’s you. And I’m thanking you for it. Josephine Marcotty, who sits next to me, writes the Bodytalk blog and who doesn’t blink at the idea of biking to and from work and playing competitive tennis all on the same day, in between writing a Page 1 story, finally got me off my butt (on my butt?) and onto the saddle by offering to bike in with me, showing me the fastest way to work.

That was three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been biking in two to three days a week, 10 miles each way. I feel fantastic. I’m fresh when I get downtown and refreshed when I get home. Luckily, the Strib has showers in the building and a “cage” to lock up bikes.

I haven’t had to buy much gear, just a pair of biking shorts. I already had an okay bike and a helmet. The dress code at work is pretty relaxed and I carry some uncrushable clothes in my backpack on the bike.

My route takes me past lakeside mansions and public housing. I zoom past kids splashing in the lakes and commuters getting off the light rail. Once, I saw a guy playing a flute on a park bench.

The Biking Doc was right. It’s a whole different world.

The other day, I biked 10 miles to work, did some writing, biked about four miles to a meeting on University Avenue, stopped for a cup of soup at Cupcake Cafe, feeling very urban as I locked my bike, biked back to work and biked home later.

I slept well that night.

As for the slabs of steak, they’re still there. But I have hope.

Any other biking Cribsheeters? Do you bike for pleasure, fitness or transportation? Fave routes?

On a related note, Stephen Regenold writes about new ways to cart the kids around on bikes in Kids as Cargo. I like the look of the kid’s tandem.

Update: After Biking Doc himself read this, he sent along these useful biking tips for commuters from the League of American Bicyclists.

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