Category Archives: Commute Reflections

Figuring Out How to Speak Bike

Recently Elly Blue put a question out to the Twitterverse, asking people about the things they found difficult when first taking up cycling. Her question took me back to 2003 or so when I began cycling around Washington, D.C., for transportation and fitness.

As I wrote about when describing my evolution as a transportation and recreational cyclist, I had a desire to explore the city on two wheels and get my blood pumping in the process, but I possessed little knowledge of the bicycle itself.

This inability to speak bike created a sense of frustration and vulnerability. Until I began riding as an adult (using a Ross mountain bike from my high school days), I had no need to know any of the proper words for bicycle parts.

Few of my friends shared my blossoming interest so my initial bicycle outings were solo affairs. I continued to put more  miles on my bike, and over time it dawned on me that my bike required regular TLC to keep it rolling smoothly. Naturally, I learned this through problems that manifested– flat tires, worn brakes, rusting chains, tires balding, and the like.

I couldn’t do this type of maintenance myself so I had no choice but to search for a bike shop. The whole idea of a bike shop was daunting.

Bicycle Letterpress Card from Larkpress
Bicycle Letterpress Card from Larkpress*

I knew little about bikes. I did not know how to talk about them. I imagined all the people working in the shop would be male and that they would all look down their noses at me, a struggling novice who couldn’t speak bike.

When presented with the choice of letting my bike fall into unusable disrepair or a visit to the bike shop, though, I mustered up my courage and went. As I feared, it was all men working in the bike shop, but they didn’t seem too horribly condescending or unapproachable so I started talking.

I hearkened back to my days living in Colombia, when I lived in a second language. I called all the parts and processes I did not understand by “thing,” and made full use of my pointing skills. “My chain and this thing…” “Using this thing while I change gears…” “This thing here doesn’t seem to be working correctly.”

Language is not learned in a vaccuum, although you can try. You can sit at home studying grammar and vocabulary, and it will certainly help you some. It’s through having occasion to use the words that they begin to lodge themselves into our heads.

Even though I speak bike more than I ever did, I still don’t speak it very well. Yeah, I learned the basics alright because my bike is generally my preferred transportation method, and it’s necessary for me to have a roadworthy steed at all times.

The finer points of bike speak are reluctant to stick, like a person whose name you know you should know, but you have a delayed ability to recall it. Seat stay, chain stay, skewer, cantilever vs. caliper. Bah.

My lack of good bike speak doesn’t hold me back from bike shops and caring for my bike these days. I now have the experience that comes with 11 years of daily riding. I also have a circle of friends, established relationships with bike shops, and a randonneur and real-life spouse who are fluent in the language of bike. If there is bike vocabulary I need to learn or a particular aspect I’m struggling with regarding my bike, I’m comfortable asking.

It wasn’t that way in the beginning. I look back on that woman just starting out as a cyclist and I feel so much empathy for her. She did not have a support network to teach her the language of bike. I’m proud of her for reaching out and overcoming her fears. The bike rider I am today thanks her.

*The card featured in this post is from Larkpress. They make beautiful paper goods (perfect for Valentine’s day, hint hint) so check them out here.

Combating Cynicism Through Active Commutes

Today I was reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.”  In it, he addresses the theme of selfishness, as well as the tedious aspects of adult life and how we all construct and view our life experiences.

Our challenge, he says, is to step outside ourselves, take an active role in interpreting our surroundings, and not succumb to that everyday tediousness.

I call this fighting cynicism. In recent years, the importance of this challenge has been very present in my own mind. It’s easy for me to become irritated by the day-to-day administrative functions of my life as I fume about how they hold me back from a potentially “rad” existence. I’ve been hearing that word “rad” a lot lately, and I hate it, so I’m using it here. Cynicism! Wait, where was I?

As I read David Foster Wallace’s speech, I thought that it would have benefitted from a paragraph suggesting that one of the best ways to stave off cynicism is through actively commuting, whenever you can. Continue reading Combating Cynicism Through Active Commutes

The Wheelman’s Song

Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I’ve been perusing old issues of The Wheelman and Good Roads.

Both magazines were publications of the League of American Wheelman, which is now the Bike League, and date back to the late 1800’s, when people’s fascination with the bicycle was just beginning to take hold in the United States.

The excitement and novelty of riding a bicycle permeates these editions. From tour recounts to illustrations and poems, men (mostly men, as women are unfortunately largely absent from these publications) unabashedly adored bike riding.

An example of this appreciation for the bike is found in the poem below, “Wheelman’s Song, ” written by Will Carleton in 1884. It seemed a fitting way to end one year and help inspire the next. Continue reading The Wheelman’s Song

Giving Thanks for Bike Rides

Ten years ago I began life as a daily bike rider, after years of mass transit and more driving than I care to remember.

My bike was my tour guide, encouraging me to explore and familiarize myself with the city.

Because of bike rides, I gained physical strength and confidence.

Surly LHT in DC
Surly LHT in DC

Through a friend of a friend I learned about the D.C. Randonneurs, and soon began clipping in with them on brevets and flèche rides.
Continue reading Giving Thanks for Bike Rides

Hard Reset

I came over to this computer intending to write a Coffeeneuring Challenge update (entries due this Monday!), but instead I’m pondering other matters– small changes in my own life that have altered my daily routine and energy levels for the past few months.

One month ago– though it feels longer– I completed my second marathon of October, the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a stimulating event that turned out to tip my emotions and fitness into unexpected fatigue. I lost most of my enthusiasm for riding and running, and ate too much during the lull.

I fell out of balance, which sometimes happens to me after a period of intense activity.
Continue reading Hard Reset

Chasing Mailboxes: The Pursuit of Something More

Where does your energy go? What do you choose to pursue? Does each day pass in a blur of routine, or do you save a sliver of time to wonder about the existence of something deeper? You don’t know what the something deeper is, exactly, and you are not convinced it is a thing.

You hold onto an optimistic belief that if you go out in the world, if you work out, read more, eat better, if you try and stretch yourself in some way, eventually you will find it. Your personal pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The sense that your something deeper is out there helps you wake up each day.

Continue reading Chasing Mailboxes: The Pursuit of Something More

Bicycle as Escape

I never seem to tire of writing about bicycles. I love talking about them, dreaming about my next bike trip, figuring out the perfect bike commute setup, pondering the ins and outs of randonneuring… you get the idea.

This love of riding bikes led me to start Chasing Mailboxes. I was searching for an outlet to write more creatively, compared to the technical writing and editing I do in my work, and wanted to focus on a topic that I felt passionately about, but was not overly intimate.

Chasing Mailboxes is a platform to diary the sensations experienced while cycling. These may include moments of discomfort, jubilation, frustration, or even self-doubt. It’s remarkable how the simple act of riding a bicycle can serve as a petri dish for so many physical and emotional states. Continue reading Bicycle as Escape

“Bikes” All The Go: From 1904 to 2014

Two weeks ago, I attended “Pedaling Through History: A Look at Cycling Collections Across the Library of Congress,” a one-day exhibit at the Library of Congress. I learned about it via Rambling Rider so hat tip to her and all those fancy things people say.

Lady Cyclers

“Pedaling Through History” was a compact display full of ye olde treasure. Photos, illustrations, books, letters, sheet music, newspaper articles, trade publications, maps featuring bicycle-friendly routes, and movie clips  were some of the items shown. Continue reading “Bikes” All The Go: From 1904 to 2014