Editor’s Note: Marilyn Lipko is one of the newest employees at the BTA, serving as our Finance Assistant. Since starting at the BTA, Marilyn has been riding her bike to work and recently completed a bicycle safety training course. Below are some tips she’s learned to keep herself safe, comfortable, and happy out on the road.
I remember looking out the bus window on rainy mornings thinking, “You people are crazy,” as we passed hoards of people on bikes on a slick-looking Hawthorne Bridge. Nowadays, I can hardly wait to get on my bike for my leisurely ride to work. I would go so far as to say that my morning commute is transformative both to my health and to the spirit that I bring to my day.
I have always owned a bicycle for recreational purposes and in the 18 years I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve done the Springwater Corridor Trail too many times to count. I remember mountain-biking around Timothy Lake my first year here and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction it afforded lifted me right out of that new-girl-in-town funk.
Short trips in my neighborhood to the Post Office and grocery store were the only practical uses of my bike. Frankly, as a middle-aged woman, I found myself nervous about riding in traffic and especially about getting “car doored.” But as I’ve started riding more, I’ve learned about a few simple tips that empowered me and gave me the confidence that I needed to ride in the city during rush hour.
- Have the proper gear. Basic gear for dry, cold weather: you’ll need gloves, a warm windbreaker jacket, and a helmet liner or warm hat. Don’t forget ankle ties for your right ankle if you don’t have a chain guard, so your pants don’t get tangled in your gears. And it’s never a bad idea to have a good rain coat handy. Oh yeah, and a good lock, unless you have a private storage space.
- Use bike lanes and low-traffic streets when you can. Bike route maps are available through BTA, Metro, and are for sale in just about any bike shop. This is what makes bicycling safe and fun in the city! I take the sleepiest streets I can find in the morning and it feels like I’m on vacation in the middle of rush hour. If I’m in a bike lane next to lots of parked cars, I listen for car engines and look for movement in the drivers’ seats to avoid being hit by a door opening.
- Taking the whole lane can be somewhat intuitive. I never go fast enough to take a lane with fast-moving traffic, but it definitely comes in handy when I’m waiting at an intersection behind a car that’s making a right hand turn and I am going straight. The person in the car behind you is obliged to wait, and sees clearly what your intentions are.
- Be predictable, no matter where you’re riding. Make eye contact with other people on the road and use hand signals when you can safely. It’s important to remember that a bicycle is legally a vehicle and so it’s helpful to act like one on the road.
- Learn how to ride around other people on bikes. Always pass on the left and look behind you before pulling out or making turns. I don’t even have a bell (yet), so I sing out, “On your left” to folks when I’m on a multi-use path. Hand signals help with this too, even if they’re subtle.
It’s still a challenge for me to ride in the pouring rain. Hey, take it easy on yourself, especially if you don’t have the right rain gear (yet). Take the bus if you need to stay dry or read or listen to some music or even take a nap. Own your commute!
The self-sovereignty and freedom of beingness that I experience by bicycling on my morning commute is compelling and I was quickly motivated to buy a light pair of rain pants that slip on right over my jeans. Now all I need is a good pair of waterproof rain boots. And I’m still wondering if they make tiny windshield wipers for my eye glasses!
Now that I’m riding more, some of the mild slopes of Southeast Portland that used to make me whine are now behind me before I even realize it. The aerobic activity and oxygen intake boost the endorphins and my mood level, helping me feel a relaxed energy at work.
Now I look at the people on the bus from my bike and think, “I know the secret to life.”