Melissa’s Report from the Newbie Trenches

It’s a crazy world out there for beginning bike commuters.  I remember how confusing and stressful my first couple of rides were and all I had to do was go over and down on a bike path.  After I gave Melissa custody of Smurfette last month, she planned to start bike commuting when she moved to a new apartment closer to work in the Chicago suburb of Aurora. And she did!

Makeshift bike lane - temporary detour from bike trail

Makeshift bike lane - temporary detour from bike trail

Unfortunately, the first try did not go smoothly at all. In fact, it sounded pretty awful and enough to turn off most people from bike commuting forever.

My ride was interesting. I didn’t really like it too much, actually. The way I have to go is rough. It’s only 25% on the trail and then the other 75% is along this busy road. I don’t want to ride on the road because the cars careen around the corner anywhere from 45-55 mph. But the sidewalk isn’t so good either. There are whole squares that are missing and the road crew uses the sidewalk to post road signs. Plus, there’s a lot of rocks and glass on the sidewalk. Also, there are no trees or buildings to block the wind. Today was a bit brisk so my face was cold and windblown. Later in the ride, I ride in front of huge buildings. During rush hour, there are a lot of cars turning in. One woman didn’t see me and cut me off. I thought she’d see me, as cars do runners, but I guess she didn’t. On the bright side, I saw a lot of birds and flowers…. and I feel healthier. I saw another bike commuter and pulled up next to him but he just ignored me.

Hmph. I was very sorry to hear about her first ride and generally pissed at the world that a girl can’t ride five miles to work without risking life and limb. I looked on googlemaps to see if I could figure out a safer, less direct route, but there are literally no secondary roads between her apartment and work – only two major roads and a gazillion cul-de-sacs. Darn suburbs. Then on Saturday, while walking into a bike shop to buy a helmet, she saw a cyclists get hit by a car (he was okay). Despite all of this, Melissa was back on the bike this week for another try!

Bike Trail - most of the ride looks like this

Bike Trail - most of the ride looks like this

The key was finding a safer route, which she did through the website Map My Ride. (So much better than googlemaps, which does not list bike trails!). The new route is 3 miles longer, but her report was considerably more optimistic, even though it was raining.

Very cool underpass on bike trail

Very cool underpass on bike trail

So I took my 2nd bike ride to work today. It was a lot better scene-wise. I managed to be on the path the majority of the time. It still took me an hour to get to work. I did stop 3 times for pics but otherwise, I think I was more hesitant than I will be later once I get more comfortable with the path.

Brick Street - not so fun for bikes

Brick Street - not so fun for bikes

It sounds like I may have converted my first bike commuter. Perhaps. But it’s hard – once a person gets over the huge mental hump of realizing that bikes can be used safely for transportation, she or he still has to get over all these practical humps thanks to our country’s abysmal alternative transportation infrastructure. Good thing cycling is so addictively fun, otherwise no one would do it!

She has one more issue to address, though. The heels of her palm (paw pads, I like to call them) sometimes hurt and get numb. She can’t raise the handlebars any higher. Maybe she could tilt the bars or buy riding gloves? I dunno.


Through the neighborhood

Let’s all send lots of supporting vibes to Melissa!! Be cool :)

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18 thoughts on “Melissa’s Report from the Newbie Trenches

  1. Sooncheol says:

    riding gloves may help. and your friend might havebeen too tense and holding handlebars a bit too tight. try to relax and grip the bars lightly.

  2. In Vienna, I do not cycle to work and have been riding only along the Danube trail for now. There is a stretch of maybe 3 miles on the very edge of the city, where the trail merges with the road and the cyclists essentially ride in traffic without a clearly labeled path. It is a relatively quiet part of the city, but it still makes me uncomfortable and I have had a couple of close-calls at intersections, where the cars did not stop properly at stop signs. I also feel that the cars do not give me enough clearance: I can sense them passing within inches of my body and it makes me incredibly nervous! Since I am this uncomfrotable cycling for just 3 miles with traffic on the outskirts of the city, commuting to work (which would take me through the busiest parts of Vienna) seems out of the question for now.

    In Boston/Cambridge/Somerville, I have ridden on the streets a couple of times when I first began cycling again in April. For some reason, I feel pretty comfortable there, even thought there are almost no designated paths in the areas through which I ride. I have to admit though, that I’ve gone on the sidewalk when I found traffic to be too intimidating. And because I know the city pretty well, I can take mostly side streets — I think I would pee my pants if I had to cycle on Mass Ave. Baby steps!

  3. Betty says:

    yikes! Sounds like she had a rough ride. I hate it when other cyclists aren’t friendly. I always totally make it a point to smile and wave. I also have a very hard time finding a road route near my house that is safe. Also, a very busy road with no shoulder and it just feels so dangerous. I love that site you mentioned- thanks for the tip!

    P.S. That pink bike is divine!

  4. 2whls3spds says:

    Loosen the grip on the handlebars, adjust the bars so the wrists are as close to a natural position as possible, gloves won’t hurt.


  5. Mel says:

    Currently I’m commuting to my work only on weekends, almost 7 miles along one of the main crosstown streets in Toronto. Ather than the odd moron who insists on “buzzing” me (always seems to happen at one specific intersection) when the lights change I really enjoy the ride.

    My next goal is to start to commute on the week day that I’m scheduled…am looking for a decent alternative route for those days.

    Doing great Melissa!

  6. Kevin says:

    I like the handlebar adjustment idea, but don’t forget the other three contact points. Raising/lowering and fore/aft adjustment of the saddle can put her feet more directly over the pedals. Depending on the length of Melissa’s arms and torso, this should put less of her weight on her hands.

  7. Melissa Hope S says:

    Sooncheol, I have been working on relaxing my grip. So hopefully that will help!
    Kevin, I didn’t know that my feet position can help with my wrists. But when I think about it….it makes sense! I will adjust my seat tonight!
    Thanks for the suggestions!

  8. Hang in there. It’ll get easier as you gain experience.

    I also have a brick road on one of my common routes. I either end up on the sidewalk or riding the gutter. They may have some good reasons for using bricks. One might be that they slow down traffic, which is good.

  9. daniel says:

    Reading Melissa’s first encounter, I have some very encouraging words for her. Here in Singapore, there is no bike lane, no trails and very narrow pathways where cyclist fight with pedestrians for space. So the only space is the open road. Take a look at this picture I found on flickr and you get the… picture.

  10. Relaxing a little bit might help. I always suggest gloves. No matter how experienced a rider you are you eventually take a spill. I hate for my hands to be torn up. They also help with the hand numbness. If possible adjust the seat back or forward. Or tilting it a few millimeters makes a BIG difference. Finally as a last resort change handlebars. Something more upright may help. Bike commuting can be a blast. It will change your life.

  11. Jen says:

    I had the same problem on my hybrid. It was resolved by gloves and tilting the handlebars toward me. It took the pressure off.

  12. delores says:

    Relaxing does help the numb hand thing….it takes awhile to get comfy riding and it sounds like the route is a bit nutty and not especially relaxing. Couple of people suggested tilting the seat too and that helped for me, too. But the biggest thing was getting used to the ride and being comfortable with traffic. Now I work nights, so it is actually much easier because there isn’t much traffic. Kinda dark, but open roads! Hang in there, Melissa! it will get much better.

  13. Doohickie says:

    For the tingly hands, get some Iron Man cycling gloves from a bike shop. I had a terrible problem with that when I started but the Iron Man gloves pretty much eliminated the problem.

    Melissa’s second commute was better than my second commute, during which I did a face plant, broke my helmet, and trashed a bike I had owned for over 20 years.

  14. Doohickie says:

    One last thing: I found this site helpful as far as getting confidence while riding with car traffic.

  15. Trisha says:

    Sorry the way is so rough, Melissa — but good on you for pressing on. Hope the hand thing is resolved. Gripping the bars too tightly was a problem for me at first, too.

  16. E A says:

    Welcome to the bike commuting world. Definitely invest in the gloves, especially with an hour ride. I like the route you found on mostly paths. Looks a lot less hectic than the busy street.

    Care to submit a commuter profile?

  17. Kyong says:

    i’m following your reports closely, melissa, as i’m a newbie bike commuter too. you’re doing great. route planning is really helpful. glad you found a peaceful route!

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