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Making Strides: A DC EcoWomen Bicycle Journey

This post was written by DC EcoWomen Board Member Lina Khan, who overcame her fear of biking in roads in honor of National Bike to Work Day

Little By Little

The first time I biked on roads was in my last summer of college in Kirksville, Missouri.

Most students went home for the summer, including my sister. She let me borrow her bike. Since it was a college town in summer, there weren’t many cars on the road, so biking to my campus job or to my friends’ apartment was pretty fun. I could catch a breeze on a hot day – and cut my traveling time in half. After I scraped my bare toes on a brick wall, I just made sure to wear shoes.

But when the summer ended, so did biking. Earlier that year, I bought a bike of my own for $2 at a bike auction – but it was heavy and not easy to carry over stairs or curbs. I decided not to take it with me when I moved away in the fall.

It took me another 3 years before I bought another bike. By then I was living and working in Washington, DC and found Craigslist fairly useful. I finally found a bike with a 15” frame (just like my old one). And this bike was a hybrid – a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike – so it was lighter. I metro’d to Alexandria and paid $150 for it, even after bargaining.

I liked this bike because the pink and blue colors reminded me of a wild berry poptart.

After I brought it home (also on the metro), I promptly put it away in the shed. The first time I went for a real ride on it was a few weeks later. I felt more comfortable with the idea of using it on the streets of DC.

But then my boyfriend suggested we bike to an Indian restaurant for an anniversary dinner (I know, how totally young and creative) in Adams Morgan, about a 10-minute bike ride from home.

We biked through crowded streets and crossed busy intersections, but the autumn air felt nice, and I liked how bright my borrowed bike lights were. But then we rounded a tight winding section of road between parked and moving cars, and I was terrified of running into one or getting grazed.

My boyfriend (I’ll call him Calvin) sped up, and I couldn’t catch up at the speed I had settled on. I got frustrated and pulled over, he doubled back. I said I hated this, we got back on and continued until we finally made it to the restaurant.

For most of it I was thinking how much I’d rather metro or take a bus home—it meant less danger or vigilance. In the end, we walked home with our bikes. Calvin noted, after some self-reflection, that it took him months to work up to biking on busy roads with cars. Also it was nighttime. Also I’m a scared-y cat. I didn’t bike again for a long time.

Fast-forwarding another 2 ½ years to this week, my now husband Calvin offered to ride with me to work so I could write this blog. By I now have my own bike lights and have biked in my new neighborhood to get to the post office before it closed on a Saturday (so five minutes before lunch time because the post office didn’t really want to be open). By this time, I’ve also biked to another restaurant (Thai) and various other places taking trails and side roads, so theoretically I’m more familiar with the whole thing. But I still didn’t know how to use the gears—I kept forgetting. Also I still don’t like riding it.

Anyway, Tuesday morning my tires needed to be pumped (they weren’t as firm as overstuffed couch cushions) and I couldn’t use my bike pump because an old roommate’s boyfriend had run over it with his car. Luckily Calvin had one. So if you’re keeping a tally for bike parts, that’s bike lights, bike pump, and should also include sturdy bike lock, and if it’s a relatively nice bike, tire screws that can only be removed by a special wrench.** We biked from Hyattsville into DC, taking less busy roads that Calvin mapped ahead of time. He took my bike around for a bit and concluded that the short gear on right slowed the bike down, while the longer gear eased it up, and that it was the opposite on the left. When I was on it I tried it out, and started to say he was wrong until I realized I was using the left side.

After a few minutes of riding uphill, my legs got tired and I noticed a sign for Brookland metro station. I was also running late for work. Good thing I’d had breakfast and a full night’s sleep, otherwise I would have felt hopeless. But I still wanted to bike to Brookland instead.

We did.

Calvin noted that I needed to raise my seat up higher, so that my pedaling would cover more ground and I wouldn’t need to work my legs so much. I like being able to put my feet on the ground for emergency stopping, so this will take getting used to.

Since, to be honest, I’m happiest metroing into work, I will give it another try on a weekend, when trains and buses run less frequently. But I still remember how to use my gearshifts, and I breezed by quite a few cars on Tuesday without almost no fear (maybe just a little). So I’d say little by little I’ve made strides. Although it has taken me 5 years to get to where I am, I promise I won’t quit.

**I’m not sure my bike warranted one, but I was living in Takoma at that time and there were 2 bike shops on the same street that promised nice people and interesting equipment.

Did you participate in Bike to Work Month or Day? Tell us your story!

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