Today is bike to work day. If you learned this just now, chances are you didn’t ride in. That’s ok. Tomorrow would be a great day to start.
A few years ago, I had to travel to a meeting in downtown Los Angeles. My best friend lives in LA, so I planned to stay with him the night before. For years, I’d hassled him for not biking to work. I rode everywhere by bike in San Francisco, so I brought my bike to LA expressly to bike commute to downtown LA and prove how simple it was.
I’m a devoted cyclist. I do ride almost everyday and I’ve ridden bikes all over the world. This LA commute was 16 miles along city streets, which seemed mildly challenging, and easily manageable. I was 100% misguided.
I suffered my first flat tire at mile 9, on Olympic Boulevard, in a white-knuckle environment for a cyclist. Drivers locked in a rally race against their fellow motorists seemed not to realize a fellow person was trying to pedal in the 8 inches of space between the cars parked on the curb and the paceline of racers charging down the street. It felt a world away from my quiet bike path at home.
As I scanned for people opening car doors on my right, and guarded against cars speeding inches from my shoulder on the left, I failed to notice a piece of red-hot razor wire stretched across the nonexistent bike lane until I was directly on top of it. I picked up my front wheel just in time go avoid it, but my rear wheel slid squarely across the offending debris, which tore completely through my rear tire. I fishtailed to a stop between two parked cars.
I breathlessly gave thanks I hadn’t veered left and been run over. It was 7:45am on a Wednesday. I was filthy, my rear tire was destroyed and I’d been riding for 20 minutes.
Luckily, a CVS pharmacy close by had duct tape. I flatted one more time on the way downtown. (My makeshift tape patch only had a few miles in it.) I was able to get a new tire at lunch, so I did finish the roundtrip commute, but not before LA humbled me.
Last week, the San Francisco Bike Coalition organized a ride-to-school at Rosa Parks Elementary School in San Francisco. Volunteers from the YMCA, SF Bike Coalition and the school set up a commute caravan for the kids. Families met at designated ride spots around the city and groups rode together to school, all in time for pre-school assembly.
It felt like one small pedal for me and one giant revolution for the kids at Rosa Parks Elementary. It’s not always simple to ride bikes, and it’s often challenging to make riding part of everyday life.
The effort is worth it. The pre-schooler puttering around the driveway today, will be the kindergartener zipping down the bike path tomorrow. The third grader riding to school today, will one day be the intrepid adult biking to work. Maybe even in LA.