This might surprise some people who think bicycling in Charlotte is serious, or scary: Riding is fun! If you come and ride your bicycle with me, you'll most likely have a good experience. I've been leading bike rides since 2013, sometimes three per week. I also teach CyclingSavvy, a skills course that equips riders to move around our city safely and confidently.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the pictures on my Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride Facebook page. Look at those smiles.
I've been riding since 2006, when I got my first adult bike. After riding for a few years, I took CyclingSavvy at the recommendation of a very good friend. It was so life-changing and amazing, that I became an instructor because I thought everyone should take this course. It has empowered me to ride wherever I want, and I ride daily to do whatever I need to do. I shop local and eschew ordering stuff because I don't want to induce a truck to come to my house and idle out front, emitting CO2 just to bring me something I can go get on my bike. I now ride about 6,000 miles per year.
But really, how?
CyclingSavvy taught me that I need to be visible, predictable and relevant. I can be expected and respected as traffic by using lots of communication and cooperation, skills and situational awareness. I’m educated on how I can use the roadway features to my advantage. When I teach, I explain that I am driving an invisible car that looks like a bike.
But people still ask: Is it ______?
Here's the answer: 98% of my riding is pleasant. Whether I'm driving a bicycle or a car, let's face it: Sometimes other drivers are having a bad day. When that happens, I feel like they would honk at me if I were driving my car or bike. It's not me, it's them. But I generally don't get honked at — maybe once every other week. And I bet you get honked at too sometimes while you're driving your car.
Perception is not reality
If you’ve never biked in Charlotte, you may have the perception that it is hard and scary. The reality is, riding is so much fun. But no words will convince you. What I can offer is to take you for a ride so you can see for yourself what it's like. I encourage people to go with someone experienced like myself so they don’t have a bad first experience riding our roads and get turned off for good.
What's the difference?
The difference is that I have practiced my skills more. I prepare a route, and when riding, I use lots of communication to cooperate with other roadway users. Since I teach monthly, I've taken CyclingSavvy more times than anyone else. That's how I keep my skills sharp. Just ride with me and see for yourself.
I’m speaking from experience — over 15 years and 65,000 miles.
|2006 - May 2011||5,855|
|May - Dec 2011||1,818|
Current total: 65,400
My bike is my primary and preferred mode of transportation
People frequently ask whether I own a car. I do. I bought it right before I bought a bike. I haven't gotten a new one, and I drive my car less and less. I make all in-town trips by bike except one drive per week — to keep the car battery charged. I do use the car occasionally for out-of-town trips, but. I prefer Amtrak because I can take my bike with me and I just hand it to the baggage car attendant. When I get to my destination, I have my transportation. I've traveled with my bike this way as far as Portland — Oregon and Maine — Jacksonville, Fla., Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.
How I prepare
I plan out my day or week and write out all the places I need to go, keeping in mind where I need to go, what hours the store is open, what I need to carry. I think about where things are located and what's in the same direction for that day or week. I plan my route using the computer and smartphone app RidewWith GPS if I'm unfamiliar with the streets. I can see satellite and street view so I know what street, which lane I need to be in and where the traffic signals are. I will then write my route down on a 3 x 5 index card and put it on my handlebar. I'm usually fairly familiar with the roads so I just need to write down L Cedar,greenway, R Morehead, for instance. I can get about 80 miles of directions on one index card front and back. That's how I got from Greensboro to Snow Camp.
I may have some stuff to take or drop off like glass recycling to the yellow bin. I may drop off some Bike Benefits stickers to the Recyclery / Trips for Kids. Today I dropped off Bike Benefits stickers and Cycling Savvy scholarships as prizes for the Skip the Car Trip contest to Mecklenburg Air Quality on Suttle Ave. That's UP Morehead. Most times I don't need my trailer. I can get most stuff on my bike since I carry 4 John's Irish Straps. They are 1 meter long and have a metal buckle. They are so useful. I can connect them together to make 2 really long straps. When I'm going to get something like charcoal, a big bag of rice, or bulky groceries (why does toilet paper come in 12 rolls?) I take my trailer. Or if I'm unsure if I'm going to have a lot of stuff, I bring a big Ikea bag that I can strap on the rack with my John's Irish straps. Or if I'm traveling and can't take the trailer. If I did it all over again, I'd get a trailer first and use it when I need to carry stuff then I wouldn't need the rack and bags. And the trailer is less expensive than the rack and bags. But I didn't know.
What have you done on your bike?
The better question is what have I not done on my bike. Here's a few things I’ve done: Bought two 20-lb. bags of charcoal, a 50-lb. bag of flour from the Chef's Store, a 20-lb bag of jasmine rice from the Asian grocery store, groceries, brought home a hardwood floor sample, brought home an area rug, gotten several Christmas trees through the years, gone bike camping, traveled by bike from Sparta, N.C. to North Topsail Beach over a week, took the train to the Philadelphia Bike Expo, went on vacation to D.C. with my daughter, flew with my bike to Key West to teach CyclingSavvy, flew with my bike to Portland, Ore., to catch the train to Glacier, got a couple of root canals (separately), routine medical check-ups, annual eye exam, dental check ups, dropped off my car for a oil change and state inspection, get a bike tuneup, picked up bike parts at the bike shop, bought air filters, returned a friend’s pressure washer, gone to weddings, receptions, parties, teaching CyclingSavvy, brought home lots of stuff rescued from the curb keeping stuff out of the landfill, and rode to the airport to pick up a rental car.
If I can do it, you can too
I'm not particularly athletic, fit or young. I started by riding around the block, to the park to the grocery store, or the library. I worked up to 10 miles, then 20, then 30. Now, I can bike up to 85 miles in a day. Keep at it and be consistent. I don't go fast, but I get where I’m going, eventually.
Here’s the big secret: I like to ride.