If you hang around here, you’re probably already familiar with the awesome Catherine of The Freckled Diaries. We asked her to share her bicycling story and tell us more about her cool bikes.
I’m Catherine, a librarian working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I live in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia–a small city just on the other side of the Potomac from DC. I own two bikes–one regular and one electric and I’m in the final stages of going totally car-free and I’m excited about it!
A little about my bike history:
I was big into bike riding as a kid, particularly from ages 10-14, when I pretty much lived on my bike. I had what felt like free reign to the whole universe, but in retrospect, the outer limits of what was allowed was a mile and a half away. It didn’t matter though because my school, after school activities, most of my friends, the YMCA, the library, playgrounds, etc were in this 1.5 mile circle around my house so, for a pre-teen/young teen, that may as well be the whole world. My bike riding came to an abrupt stop at about age 14 when I started high school in a town 10 miles away and I outgrew my pink Schwinn. This being the mid-90s, it was replaced with a mountain bike. I hated that bike. I didn’t like the way I felt riding it, but because I didn’t know any better, I figured it was because I had outgrown bikes. In retrospect, it was the hunched over feeling, the perched too high feeling, the handle brakes (as opposed to coaster brakes which I still prefer) that I hated. I think I rode that thing twice.
A Reintroduction to bikes and the Electra Amsterdam:
Fast forward a double-digit number of years and I find myself living in Old Town. It’s pretty much the perfect city environment for bike riding: streets on a grid, not heavy or fast traffic, everything you need within 2 miles, extensive trail network all over Northern Virginia and DC to get elsewhere. I bought an Electra Amsterdam with the intention of riding it around town for errands, getting myself to the Metro station, etc. I thought maybe I’d take it out on the trail every now and again, but at the time I was heavy and not physically fit and “cyclists,” particularly those out on the trails, seemed like such athletic people that I couldn’t really imagine doing much more than scooting around town.
I quickly learned that I need a better imagination.
The bike commute:
When my bike arrived in March, I immediately fell back in love with the freeing feeling of cycling, and found myself inventing errands to do so I could spend more time on the bike. After a few weeks, I took to the trail to see how far I could make it, and after doing that a few times (by mid April) I realized that I was 3/4 of the way to work and that I really could make a go of bike commuting. After dealing with a broken foot (minor setback), I started bike commuting twice a week in early June.
The commute is about 10 miles each way, and is largely flat but does have a few short but steep hills and one very seriously large and steep hill at the end. (Here’s a video I made of the commute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvYI2PYivw8). It’s a great ride: a bit of Old Town streets, then a trail all the way up and across the Potomac, a sidewalk/trail to the Washington Monument, then a straight shot up the National Mall to Capitol Hill. It also takes me past two rugby fields, which I particularly like because there’s frequently a match in the spring and summer evenings. I love rugby and rugby players, so it’s kind of an ideal situation for me :).
My e-bike decision:
A combination of the time factor, my fitness level and various logistic concerns made a daily commute not really workable for me. I thought about it more and more and realized that if I got an electric bike, I could bike commute every day and completely replace my car with the combination of the bikes, Metro and Zipcar. By early August, I had my e-bike (an Ecobike Elegance) and began bike commuting every day–most days with the e-bike and some with the Amsterdam. I still consider the Amsterdam my main bike; it’s all I use for everything but the longest of rides, and I frequently take it on Metro to get to/from farther-flung friends’ houses. The e-bike is more the utilitarian commuting beast. Either way, I haven’t driven my car since September and have its sale in the works. All in all, the sale of the car will cover the cost of both bikes, and between insurance, gas and maintenance (plus the ability to rent out my parking space), I’ll be saving/earning almost $5000/year (the parking space is worth a pretty penny ’round these parts).
More about the electric bike:
About e-bikes….they introduce a level of complexity into the situation but I’m really a proponent of them. Mine works in two ways–one by “turn the handle, bike goes” (the throttle option) and by pedal assist option–you pedal and the bike “senses” the effort you’re putting in and matches it. Most of the time, I use pedal assist because that’s what comes naturally to me and it doesn’t drain the battery nearly as much. I use the throttle mainly to help starting from a red light (particularly if I’ve forgotten to change gears before stopping!), or every now and again for a little “daredevil” boost of speed. Most e-bikes work in a variety of different ways (some allow the cyclist to select the percentage of assistance for pedal assist, others are throttle only, some regenerate the battery when coasting/breaking). I know that they’re a little “controversial”, mainly because of the perceived “laziness” factor, but I think that this quote from a recent New York Times article about e-bikes in the US addresses that nicely (and coincidentally comes from my brand):
“Four years ago, we encountered many people saying, ‘Oh wow, we are so lazy, we need motors on our bikes’ ” said Scott Shaw, president of EcoBike USA, an e-bike maker in Southern California. “Now people are understanding and saying, this is more a utilitarian vehicle for commuting and getting outside on two wheels rather than four.”
I think it’s really important to recognize that not everyone is willing or able (physically, or time-wise) to commute, or otherwise travel daily by regular bike. While e-bikes are not as simple or “green” as regular bikes, and don’t provide the same level of exercise, they are far simpler, more sustainable and provide far more exercise than cars and public transportation. I think they’re a great option for that large segment of people who “would cycle to work but….”. I think that the more we embrace (or at least not dismiss) e-bikes, the more we’ll see bikes being thought of and used as transportation rather than “just” recreation.
So that’s it! If anyone’s ever in the DC area and wants some tips on where to go, what to do (or even a personal tour of the Capitol– a little staff perk), drop me a line!
Thanks so much for your inspiring story, Catherine! Visit Catherine at The Freckled Diaries.
Her story contains a common thread that also runs through my and Trisha’s stories: that of abandoning the bicycle in early teenage years, only to rediscover as adults the fun of riding a bike. We are curious to hear who shares this experience. Or has anyone ridden bikes without pause from childhood up through adulthood? If so, what kept you from falling into the societal trap of trading a bike for a license? On the other end of the spectrum, has anyone picked up a bicycle for the first time in adulthood, having never ridden as a kid?