Sara Young with Her BikeOpinions columnist and 25 Days founder Sara Young with her bike.
I am on an epic journey across the US. I started in Portland, OR, and will finish, after having traveled to 15 cities, over one year later in Washington, DC. I will be riding a bicycle on the streets of each city I visit and talking to people about livability in cities and how bike commuting and bike culture contribute to it.
As I was first plotting out my course, I decided to plan so that I could be in each of the 15 cities at a point in time when it would be ideal to ride my bicycle. After that, I contacted Amtrak to strategically plan to take my bike with me on the train. This was the first roadblock, as, unfortunately, Amtrak is not incredibly bike-friendly and would not take my bike on several of the legs of my journey. After figuring out how much it would cost me for various shipping enterprises, I decided to leave my beloved bike at home and pick up a bike in each city I visited.
In San Francisco, my second city, I persuaded a local bike rental place to sponsor me. Blazing Saddles has valiantly stepped up to the plate, and lent me a sturdy and comfortable tourist bike. While this bicycle was initially frustrating to ride, I have come to love the slow pace I must adopt while riding, and, indeed, this pace has provided a more accurate view of the streets I ride through.
I have brought my own helmet with me, as it is a pivotal piece of my strategy for being welcome on foreign city streets. It is a Nutcase helmet with brightly-colored polka-dots all over it, and at least once a day, I get compliments from others about it. Many times, these compliments are coming from people driving cars. It is a refreshing change to hear shouts of “Sweet Helmet!” coming from drivers, rather than the ubiquitous, “Get off the road!”
I feel like, when it comes to bike-commuting of any kind, you have to use anything you can to not only be safe, but welcome. Instead of being annoyed by my presence, drivers are amused by it.
In addition to my helmet strategy, I have taken on certain behaviors while commuting by bike in strange new cities:
1) I make eye contact and smile at as many drivers as I can. Generally speaking, this puts drivers at ease, as they know I see them and won’t do anything silly like pull out in front of them at a stop light.
2) As with most things in life, bicycle commuting is all about communication. I have also slowed my pace considerably. I don’t know how many times I have heard, “she came out of nowhere!” after a cyclist has been hit by some poor driver. It is much easier to be seen when you slow down. That’s just physics.
3) Another thing I do is, if I experience a near miss, I am incredibly humble and kind to the person who almost hit me. You might be thinking that this is going too far, but, there is one thing I know for sure, no one wants to hit me. The driver who hits a cyclist is very often emotionally scarred, and every time I have experienced a near miss, the driver is just as freaked out as I am.
I have taken on these strategies because I am going to be bike-commuting in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, to name a few. While bike-commuting might be a foreign concept in these places, friendliness, consideration and communication are probably quite familiar.
Sara Young is a writer, artist, cyclist, amateur yogi and avid poetry appreciator. Originally from Chicago, IL, and most recently from Portland, OR, Sara is presently traveling the US, working on her project, 25 Days, in which she travels to 15 cities around the US, talking to people about their favorite places and bicycle commuting. She hopes to create a more bike-friendly society through advocacy, and a more peaceful world through listening.