“Freedom” is the word most people in my bicycle traffic skills classes associate with riding a bike. When they were kids, getting a bike meant freedom to go more places and not have to depend on mom or dad’s schedule for a ride. Today it means freedom from high gas prices, parking fees, and expensive car maintenance. Freedom is the word I use too. I love moving under my own power, having the wind in my face, challenging myself on hills, and feeling the sun on my back.
I’ve been riding a bike since I was six and biking to work whenever I can since my first job after college. Most people think I’m extreme, but I don’t think so, I just enjoy it. I may ride in some conditions other people won’t, such as the rain. I got used to riding in the rain on our honeymoon in Ireland. It rained half of every day, sometime the first half, sometimes the second half, and sometimes every other 10 minutes. If we wanted to get to the next town or see the sights, we had to ride in the rain. It was beautiful.
Since I was in college, I had always wanted to go on a bike tour. My backpacking experiences, hiking self-contained with everything I needed on my back, helped me feel confident. I wanted to do this on a bike, but until I met my husband, on a bike path, I didn’t know anyone who would go with me. Within the first two months of our relationship we were on a weekend bike tour in the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia. Our wedding gift was a tandem bicycle built by a friend. Instead of a department store registry, we registered at a bike shop for wheels, brakes, seats, gears, and everything else to outfit the bike. The two weeks in Ireland was magical.
A few years later when we wanted to look for a new place to live, we did it on the tandem. We built a single-wheeled trailer and flew to Seattle to start. We pedaled 3600 miles that summer checking out towns such as Eugene, Portland, Missoula, Boulder, and Sante Fe. We chose Spokane because of the great biking on the rural road, the four seasons, housing prices, and the prospect of finding jobs in our fields. The universities here were also important for us.
From this history, people who don’t know me may think two things 1) I am a hard-bodied bike rider and 2) I’m fearless. Both are inaccurate. I think the summer of our long tour, averaging about 60 miles per day, was the only time in my adult life I have not struggled with my weight. Also, all of this riding has accentuated my normal tendency for caution. My husband calls me the “professional safety nerd”.
Even after all that riding, when I learned from a friend, who also rides a lot, of a traffic skills class for cyclists, I took it. I learned many things such as 1) where I am in the traffic lane helps drivers know what I intend to do, 2) how when drivers know what I am going to do, they give me the space I need, and 3) how to communicate with drivers. Overall, the class gave me more confidence for riding in traffic. I thought the class was so great, I became an instructor so that we would offer the class more often in Spokane.
This year, with the help of a traffic safety grant, the City of Spokane is helping to off-set the cost of the classes so they are only $10 per person. For more information go to: https://www.virtualroster.com/index.cfm?action=vrevent and check the event list for Spokane Bicycle Traffic Skills 101.
By Cindy Green, Healthy Communities Program, Spokane Regional Health District