Biking. That thing that some people take up naturally, zipping through city streets with confidence and efficiency. It’s one of those things a lot of frugal folk can’t help but extoll the virtues of, Mr. Money Moustache included with his post of “What Do You Mean ‘You Don’t Have a Bike’“.
I have always been filled with excuses when it comes to biking in the city of Toronto. Partly to blame is the sheer number of pedestrian and cycling accidents frequently published in the media, which added to my fears. This very present and constant reminder created within me a laundry list of excuses, a list that I resorted to without hesitation. Some of these excuses included:
- “I don’t bike because Toronto drivers are crazy.”
- “I don’t bike because other cyclists are crazy.”
- “I don’t bike because pedestrians are crazy.”
- “I don’t bike because there are no bike lanes.”
- “I don’t own a bike because it will probably get stolen.”
- “I don’t own a bike because I don’t have the patience to buy all the accessories like locks and helmets.”
- “I don’t own a bike because I don’t know anything about maintaining them or what to shop for”
- “I don’t bike because my sister once got caught in streetcar tracks 10 years ago and hurt herself.”
And the list goes on and on… But the true thread across this list of excuses wasn’t the notion of economic loss, lack of skill, or exposure to personal injury – it’s always been fear. Fear of not being the perfect cyclist once I hit the road. So what did I do?
Step 1: Learning Form, Signalling, and Confidence on Two Wheels
The last time I biked as a child, I had crashed into a parked vehicle, flipping over onto the hood of the car. For a period of 12 years afterwards, I didn’t mount a bike again until a vacation provided a short risk free opportunity to do so.
I had to regain confidence somehow when it came to sharing the road. So 2 years ago I expressed to my girlfriend I wanted to start cycling. To my good fortune, she happened to be an expert cyclist (though she denies this). I used her as my resource: borrowing an old bike of hers and hitting the road with her so she could “show me the ropes”. I credit learning hand signals, form, and confidence on two wheels all from her. Her awareness of how to stay safe also led her to me requesting a nice bike helmet for Christmas, which leads to…
Step #2: Safety First – Always!
As much as you learn signalling and confidence, you still need some basic safety measures. So yes, my girlfriend bought me a lovely helmet and I bought myself a very unfashionable fluorescent vest from Wal-Mart.
Accidents still do happen and while cars will defeat a bike every time, the more ways you can protect yourself, no matter how minor, matter.
Step 3: Identifying the Safest Routes to Start
There are two ways to bike in the city: take the shortest and highest risk route, such busy streets with no bike lanes, or take the longer but lower risk routes, routes with medium to big bike lanes and less variables to manage.
As a new cyclist I definitely wanted to start with the latter method. Whenever I walked anywhere (which is a lot), I began to monitor what street I was on, how busy it was for the time of day, and what type of bike lane existed. I noted some streets had none, some had a crude strip of paint next to the curb, while the nicest were wide and had polls/planters or elevated curbs separating you from the main road.
By tracking all the options available to me, I started to become aware of the optimal routes for safety and devised my own permutations of how to commute to and from different locations across the city. Luckily, I also had the Cycling Network Map that the helped me validate just where all the different types of lanes were.
Step 4: Rent, Don’t Buy.
I know – this is a philosophy that typically people associate with the Toronto housing market, but I think it also applies to bikes. Too frequently I’ve encountered people who have recounted how their bikes were either stripped, damaged, or altogether stolen, no matter the quality of lock.
This posed a dilemma: as a commuter, I valued comfort when cycling and that typically entailed using better quality bikes. A beater bicycle wouldn’t do it. Enter Bike Share Toronto.
Similar to bike kiosks in other cities, Bike Share Toronto offers daily, weekly, and annual memberships to their bikes. How it works is that unlimited 30 minute trips are included in your membership. This incentivizes short term distances and a consistent inventory of available bikes for rent.
My girlfriend and I had participated in their daily rentals before to bike along the waterfront, frugally checking in bikes at stations every 30 minutes and checking them back out to continue our journeys, but never did I consider using it as a method of commuting.
Researching their annual memberships, I was surprised to find they cost $61 after tax for a new member with a transit card. Doing the math quickly, I realized that if I commuted to and from work a total of 20 times in the year, I would make back my money in saved transit fares.
The memberships offered my incredible value: I wouldn’t have to maintain my bike or worry about its theft with the check-in technology at each kiosk. Better yet, I realized I could commute one way to work and transit home should the weather become unfavourable and vice versa.
Step 5: Just Digging Deep and Hitting the Road.
My first bike ride to work ever! 17 minutes down to work, 21 minutes home. The biggest obstacle? Not other cars or other cyclists: rather the feeling of bitter cold wind on my face as I ventured closer to the lake and the numbness that emerged in my fingers despite the gloves (this was when I started in March). And then on the way home the dread of continuously biking uphill. I imagine this will get easier over time as I continue to develop those muscle groups, but all in all, a roaring success!