We love hearing from the members of our Love to Ride community about how riding a bike has changed their lives.
One of our Instagram followers, an active Instagrammer herself, published this amazing story as a series of posts on her Instagram account. She tagged @lovetorideglobal, and when we read the story we knew we wanted to share.
Becoming a bike commuter is a journey. There will always be setbacks, but @womanbikecommuter's story proves that where there's a will, there's a way.
I hope that sharing my journey with biking will be helpful or relatable for anyone who bikes or would like to bike more. I took this picture at age 19 when I visited Cambridge, UK. According to Wikipedia: “Cambridge has the highest level of cycle use in the UK. According to the 2001 census, 25% of residents travelled to work by bicycle. Furthermore, a survey in 2013 found that 47% of residents travel by bike at least once a week.”
I visited Cambridge for 3 months to visit my sister who happened to live there, but getting to experience a city where biking is as common as driving had a real impact on me. In Cambridge, everyone bikes. EVERYONE! There’s no stereotype about the “type” of person who bikes because everyone does it. All ages, all classes, all genders, all races. People biking in business suits or high heels is a regular sight. As you can see from this photo showing a traffic light for bikes, the city is full of bike infrastructure as well.
In America, the only people I knew who regularly rode bikes were super decked out with all kinds of fancy gear, or really into fixing up bikes and had all kinds of tools and mechanical knowledge. With the bar set so seemingly high, I felt insecure about biking because I felt like I didn’t measure up. I felt like to start biking I needed to invest in so much stuff, or I should really know more about bikes than I did.
After going to Cambridge I saw that my assumptions about what it took to start biking were all wrong. I saw a world where biking was for anyone who had a working bike and the ability to ride it.
"I saw a world where biking was for anyone who had a working bike and the ability to ride it."
While I knew America wasn’t as bike friendly and didn’t have quite so much bike infrastructure, seeing Cambridge gave me a new perspective on bikes. When I returned to America, I didn’t have that hesitation about riding a bike any longer. I had no fancy gear and I didn’t have a lot of mechanical bike knowledge, but I had just come from a city where I’d seen tons of other people like me riding bikes, and I was ready to give it a go myself.
This is not the exact bike I had when I was 19, but it’s similar:
After seeing Cambridge, UK where 1/2 the population bikes, I came back to America ready to try urban biking myself. I was lucky and my mom’s friend gave me a bike for free since her son had outgrown it/didn’t want it. It was a very cheap Schwinn and had pegs in the wheels to allow for tricks. I never used the pegs, but it did have gears which was nice in the hilly city I lived in at the time. It also gave itself flat tires every month. There would always be a hole in the same place, the rim side of the tube where the valve was.
Though the constant flats were obnoxious, I learned a lot while figuring out what was causing them. Bike rims have holes in them where the spokes attach. I learned that rim tape is applied to the rim to protect the tube from these holes. Even so, after replacing the rim tape and having a mechanic look at it, it still gave itself flats on the regular. At least it let me get good at fixing flats!
Back then I almost always rode on sidewalks. Nowadays, I wouldn’t recommend this, but back then I had little bike experience and I was too scared to ride in the street. At that time I also lived in a city with minimal bike infrastructure, and there were very few bike lanes. That being said, I believe you should always ride in whatever way you feel most comfortable and safe. It’s better to ride in a way that makes you feel safe than to not ride at all.
When I first started out, I locked my bike with a combination cable lock, though now I know these are the easiest to cut and often lead to stolen bikes.
I’ll be honest. Since I got this bike for free and it always got flats, I often left it for days on bike racks because I kind of resented it. Sure enough, after leaving it on a grocery store bike rack for 3 days, I came back to get it and it had been cut loose and stolen. I didn’t report it, I knew it was my fault and I just shrugged and moved on.
After my first bike was stolen I started dating someone. He and his roommate were both regular cyclists. My boyfriend did have a car, but his roommate used a bike for all transportation. They had tons of bike knowledge. A close friend of mine had also just finished building his own custom bike. Seeing these bike commuters made me miss having a bike myself. I wanted to be like them!
I reached out to the friend and asked him to keep an eye out for a good bike for me. Since I had only ever had my free bike, I had no idea what to look for when buying a bike and I wanted help. He soon reached out with a Craigslist link for a used version of the Jamis pictured here:
I bought it without even riding it first. Again, I had never done this before. But the bike was all wrong for me. It was too big, and the length from the seat to the handlebars was off even after adjustments. My back would start aching 5 minutes into riding it.
My friend had done his best to find me a bike. He just didn’t know the best bike for a short woman as he was a tall man and had no experience with what I needed. I didn’t even know myself.
Intentional or not, my boyfriend and his roommate really discouraged me from riding. They would tell me how dangerous biking was and focus on the negative even though they biked just fine themselves. They gave me directions for a hidden bike path to get to my university but suggested I not try it until one of them went with me first.
When I tried it alone and got lost it felt like an “I told you so” moment. I never tried it again. I felt underestimated. Instead of supporting me through missteps and giving guidance to continue, I felt missteps were used to reinforce feelings of inadequacy. They didn’t believe in me, and I sadly believed they were right. After all of this, I regressed to mostly using a car to get around. I sold the Jamis and I was bike-less.
This was a low point in my bike story. All the steam I had from seeing the bike capital of the UK was gone, I got an ill-fitting bike that made riding painful, and then I was swayed to think that if I could even manage to ride I’d probably get in an accident. At this point biking just felt overwhelming.
No surprise, the boyfriend who undermined my desire to bike didn’t stick, and we broke up, but the damage was done. I had been convinced that commuting by bike was a mountain I couldn’t climb.
"I had been convinced that commuting by bike was a mountain I couldn’t climb."
One day soon after the break-up, my mom called me from a garage sale to tell me a woman about my height was selling her old Nishiki bike for $60. Buying a bike from another woman made me feel more confident the fit would be right, and at $60 I didn’t have much to lose so I said yes. Once again without riding the bike first - when will I learn?!
Luckily, this time it worked out. The bike was a little bit too tall, but not enough that it was a problem. I owned and rode this bike for years! As I'd had some stumbling blocks prior to getting this bike, it took me a while to be comfortable riding again. For years I only rode it for leisure and to very close-by places, like a coffee shop less than a mile away that I could get to using quiet back streets and a bike lane. Slowly over the years I built my bike confidence back up on this bike.
This Nishiki was a tank. It was pretty heavy, but it was so reliable and sturdy. I definitely used and abused it and it took it all in stride. I loved this bike!
When I moved into a new house that was a 10 minute ride from my job, I began to commute by bike again for real. I was bartending at the time and would ride home around 3 or 4 in the morning.
One night, I took my bike up my long driveway to my fenced in backyard. The back door wasn’t visible from the street, and though I usually brought the bike inside with me, this night I left it outside since I planned to ride it again first thing the next day. It was tucked behind a fence and not visible from the street and I thought it’d be fine.
Sadly it was stolen; I must have been followed. I filed a police report and looked for it online for years with no luck. I was super bummed out about losing it, especially because at that point I had become very reliant on it for transportation.
The silver lining: I had my bike commuter mojo back.
Let’s talk about driving a car. I’ve only ever owned one car. It was a gas guzzling, oil leaking classic my mom’s friend sold us for $800 for my 16th birthday. It was the first car he’d ever fixed up, and he had used it to learn on. It was full of quirks, rust, and left me smelling like exhaust everywhere I went. I won’t lie, for a while I loved that car. Most people with cars of that age don’t actually drive them around too much, but that’s all I had and I drove it everywhere.
When I went to college, I couldn’t afford to pay for a campus parking permit. My student ID gave me free rides on the city bus so I began to use public transport instead. While in college I took the bus more than I drove, and this was my first taste of what not using a car was like.
While I did love that car, it also stressed me out to no end. Parts could be hard to find, and the mechanics who would work on it were specialists and therefore, expensive. As a person who suffers from an anxiety related disorder (BFRD, please look it up, it’s very common but rarely talked about!) the stress of this car made my disorder harder to manage.
Even if it wasn’t broken down, the upkeep of a car was too much for me. Oil changes, tire rotations, new tires, registration, inspection, insurance-- I found it all overwhelming. Additionally, it was emotionally exhausting as a young woman to insert myself into the world of classic cars which often is full of older men who made me feel uncomfortable in one way or another. Slowly, over time, owning this car felt like a fight rather than fun.
After a while, when my car would need attention and taking it to the mechanic was too much, I would just use the bus or bike instead for a few days. The next time, it would be a few weeks. Then months. Finally, I realized my car had sat for over a year, and I thought to myself, “Why am I holding onto this car that causes me so much stress and costs me so much money when obviously I don’t even need it?”
And that was that. I said goodbye to car ownership.
I knew I wanted another bike, but wasn’t sure where to start. I had an email alert set up on Craigslist to send me any posts that might have been related to my stolen Nishiki in case someone tried to sell it. Through this, I was sent an email about someone selling a 90s Cannondale for, as the listing put it, a small woman or child. That’s me!
I test rode the bike this time! The seller wanted $400 for it, which was the most I’d ever spent on a bike. It fits me better than any other bike I’d ever ridden, and it was super light. It’s nothing compared to new bikes nowadays but it’s the fanciest bike I’ve ever had!
This is the bike I still ride. Now that I’ve had it a few years, I’d say it’s just a smidge small for me. I’ve made some adjustments, such as putting a riser on the headset, which have helped. When I’ve taken it on super long rides it can get uncomfortable so the fit isn’t 100%, but for day-to-day commuting it does great.
Although having a lightweight bike is cool, after dealing with having a carbon fibre fork that got a ding in it after a fall, I miss my old steel frame bike that was a little more impervious to damage. That’s just my personal opinion, there are good and bad aspects to all bikes. A lot of what works or doesn’t work has to do with what you’re using your bike for. Since I’m not racing or riding super long distances, weight isn’t as important to me.
After getting this bike I began bike commuting again, and this time it stuck hard. I was still bartending in Texas, and it was so fun riding home at 4am when there were no cars on the road. I often took it with me on the bus too, which made commuting longer distances more achievable.
At this point, I was regularly commuting by bike, so when I decided to move to a new city it was easy to get rid of my car and fully commit to using a bike as my primary mode of transport.
When I moved, I got a new job that offered perks to employees who bike to work. My job has profiles on Love to Ride and Strava that I use to log rides to and from work to qualify for benefits. I had never even heard of Love to Ride or Strava before starting at my current job. These profiles have been a gateway to seeing how many others are out there commuting by bike!
I began seeking out more bike resources, and specifically I wanted to follow other women bike commuters on social media. I had a really hard time finding any! Now that I’ve had Instagram for a while I’ve found quite a few, but my initial searches turned up very little. I found some businesses geared towards women on bikes, and many professional athletes who bike for sport; both of which are great and much needed! But it was harder to find accounts about women commuting day-to-day on a bike for going to work, running errands, or riding out to meet friends.
A big part of why I want to share my story is to show others that it doesn’t take anything special to be a bike commuter.
When I couldn’t easily find exactly what I was looking for, I figured I’d start an account myself. A big part of why I want to share my story is to show others that it doesn’t take anything special to be a bike commuter. I got into it very gradually, starting with short easy trips on weekends and slowly getting comfortable riding. I’m figuring it out as I go along, and anyone else who wants to try can figure it out too. If you have a working bike and the ability to ride it, that is all it takes to get started.
We hope you enjoyed reading this guest post as much as we enjoyed sharing it. Please share your story at lovetoride.net/mysite/stories to tell us about your bike journey!