Spring is here, which means, it’s time to bike to work again. Gone are the excuses of darkness and weather. It’s been a few weeks since I got back into the swing of bike commuting after taking a break for the winter. As much as I love not having to cram myself into crowded transit, and as much as I enjoy the actual ride, it still sometimes takes a self-pep talk to get myself on that bike rather than taking the “easy” way – a much less fulfilling skytrain ride where I steal time to finish a book or watch a movie.
Scott Adams was onto something when he talked about the importance of establishing systems in our lives over setting goals in his very entertaining and interesting autobiography. I let myself feel reluctance – even dread – at having to bike to work, but I get myself ready for the ride. Somehow, once I’m in my reflective stripes and rain pants, I’m ready to fill my panniers, and off I go. Once I’m actually riding, its’ not so bad. Most of the time, it’s actually quite fun, and I get a kick out of watching the numbers tick upwards on my odometer (now nearing 2000 km!).
My foray into bike commuting started last summer. After 20+ years of owning the same department store bike, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I figured, with a lighter and more attractive bike, I might actually spend more time on it. After shopping around for a bit, I came to the conclusion that an entry-level bike intended for recreational biking was pretty similar across different brands. What the differentiating factor was, convenience, namely, how do I go about bike shopping without taking time away from weekend time with kids?
It was with this thought that I found myself at West Point Cycles, a bike shop within walking distance from my workplace. I was not looking for an entry level bike, for recreational use. I even remember thinking that disc brakes were not worth the extra cost since I would only be riding in nice weather. I made the purchase on lunch break and picked up the bike days later. The day my bike was ready for pickup was a beautiful sunny day. I could ride this bike home from work, I thought. For anyone else, this might have been obvious, but I had not done a whole lot of biking on roads and (horrors of horrors) with traffic and the idea was indeed a somewhat spontaneous and crazy thought. Why not?! I thought and asked Google maps for a route recommendation. Google predicted it would take me an hour to bike home. I left work early, allotting an extra 30 min to pick up my new ride and I was off.
That ride was memorable for many reasons. Riding on a well-tuned and light bike made me feel like I could fly. It had been unsure whether I would be able to make to home since there was a big hill right at the start. But, even in my not-so-fit state, it was doable and I began to appreciate the value of my first “grown up” bought-from-a-bike-store bike. I also managed to make it home in pretty much exactly the time that Google predicting, making me feel very proud that I was pedaling at average (and not below average) speed. It was also on that ride that I encountered my first e-bike.
I was keenly aware that two middle aged men were cycling behind me for quite a ways down the bikeway. As the bikeway ended, we merged with the car traffic and …ZOOOOOM! They zipped past me and amazing kept up with the speed of traffic until I lost sight of them. It was at that moment that I knew I had to look into e-biking.
My search took me to several shops around Vancouver. Some made custom bikes modified from non-electric bikes, others sold top-of-the-line manufactured e-bikes. I was certain that a grin was plastered on my face as I took that first test ride and I knew that this was something I wanted. I wasn’t even that much into biking, yet, just as I had made one bike purchase I was already pining for a second!
In my first months of bike commuting, I realized that there were a mixed bag of reactions to e-bikes. Some people felt a need to race you, and then upon realizing that you had help from a motor all along, shower you with disdain. (This happened once from an older lady, who informed me that the point of biking was the hills. I shrugged and informed her that I just wanted to get to work and back in the shortest time possible and complimented her on her socks, which was decorated with tiny bikes). There were people who take great satisfaction in cutting in front of you at intersections so that they can stop at a stop sign first. Once, a man told me as we were stopped at an intersection, that I had installed my panniers backwards, only to realize that not all panniers have reflective tape on their back. And then, there are others who cheer you on, or share with you their joy as you share the bike path.
Back when I took a stint at the sport of power kiting, a sport that some park users find a nuisance, I made an extra effort to be considerate and follow park rules. It is the same way with e-biking. If e-bikes are to gain broader acceptance, users will have to make a point to show they respect traffic rules as well as other bike users. Currently, it is still a niche activity, but it is a new technology that is gaining increasing mainstream acceptance as I see more and more colleagues riding e-bikes to work. The most amusing thing about e-biking is the number of people I come across who accuse me of cheating. Who am I cheating? Did I ever try to hide the fact that my bike was electric). This funny and informative article sums up well some of the sentiments that I have encountered in these first few months of commuting.
In March, I celebrated a milestone:1500 km of riding and my first brake pad change. If not for my e-bike, I would not be a daily bicycle commuter. E-biking has enabled me to fit some fitness into a busy schedule consisting of work and being mom to two young kids. It has allowed me “me-time” and daily outside time in all sorts of weather, both of which I’m realizing is so necessary to my mental well-being. It has renewed in me an interest in biking. My e-bike is perhaps the best purchase I made in 2018.