Sunday, October 6, 2013

Changing the Story

I surpassed 100 cycled miles in a little over a week, earlier today. Nine days ago, I began using the website and app, Map My Ride. Since, I've spent, on average, almost an hour a day riding a bicycle. In the last five weeks, I've probably biked between 400-450 miles.

If you had told me I would be writing this just three or four months ago, I wouldn't have believed you.

Here's the story I've told for the last several years:

Oh, I would never ride a bike in this city. I mean, I'd love to be able to take a bike and go up and down the lake shore bike path, but ride in traffic? Never. It's too dangerous. I borrowed a friend's bike a couple of times my first year in the city, and it's not for me. I'd get myself killed in a week. 

Besides, everybody I know who owns a bike in the city has had at least one stolen. The first time I had my bike stolen, I'd be so pissed, I'd never buy another one.

So what happened?

Divvy Bikes.

For the non-Chicagoan (or the non-south or west side Chicagoan who hasn't stepped outside in a few months), Divvy is Chicago's relatively new public-share bike program. In the last three months or so, more and more bike stations have been springing up around the city. In the last month, it seems, every time I'm out and about, I see at least one more spring up.

The way it works is this: You check a bike out of a station, where fifteen or so are magnetically-locked. Whether you have a 24-hour pass, or an annual membership, you have a 30-minute window with your bike before extra fees are incurred. You can ride, then return your bike to any station with an open dock. (And if you know your ride is going to be longer than a half-hour, you can stop at a station somewhere along your route, briefly dock it, then check it out again. This helps avoid late fees.)

The one Divvy station in particular that caught my attention was the one steps off the Diversey Brown Line stop, also right next to the Einstein's Bagels I all to often stop at on my way to work in Lincoln Park. Then a station popped up at Western and Lincoln Avenue, two blocks from my home.

The idea of riding in traffic still terrified me, but the possibility of having access to a bike without having to worry about it getting stolen piqued my interest. So upon leaving work one afternoon, I bought a 24-hour pass, and rode home, taking the lake shore bike path for most of the trip. The ride along city streets did intimidate me a little, but not near as much as the two rides I took on my friends back in 2006.

The next day, I ended up leaving work about an hour early, and I realized I was still in my 24-hour window. So I rode home again. Less scarier still. And it felt great. After a couple of more rides over the next couple of days, it hit me that after seven years in the city, and having used public transportation for most of them, I was just tired of taking the train or bus everywhere. This was in that stretch of August where we actually had a few near-100 degree weather days. Even with the heat, I realized that the idea of leaving work and going to stand on a train platform in the sun was more tiring than jumping on a bike and riding home.

Very shortly after, I bought an annual membership - $75. For an entire year. Unlimited 30-minute rides. While I waited for my member key to arrive in the mail, I went out and bought a helmet. (Pulling the helmet from its box, it really occurred to me for the first time that a helmet is something you buy but hope you never have to use it to its full capacity.)

In the last five weeks, I've rode a Divvy bike instead of taking the CTA whenever possible. I'm as safe as I can be when navigating traffic, and I've gotten braver and more confident. I rode a bike home in the rain the other day, the downpour getting so bad at one point, I was soaked to the bone, coming this close to killing my iPhone. I'm currently the Foursquare Mayor of three Divvy Stations. I'm hooked.

While I love Divvy bikes, I'm already frustrated with how slow they are, and am considering buying my own - and if it ends up getting stolen, it's a rite of passage, I guess, right?

But ultimately, this isn't about biking. This is about the capacity to change the story you tell yourself and over and over.

Based on two initial bad experiences of my own, and some unfortunate stories from other bikers, I decided years ago that I could never be a city biker. It's the story I kept telling myself and others over and over and over again.

Here's why that's silly. When I was kid, I rode my bicycle everywhere. When my parents started letting me go out and ride on my own, and not just on our own street in front of the house, I would go off on hour, two-hour long bike rides around my small Southern Illinois town. One day, I was out riding on the highway, in the pouring rain, and a semi-truck drove by, and only after it passed did I realize that the passenger-side mirror had come mere inches from my head. And it didn't really faze me. I just thought, "Huh. That was close" and kept doing my thing.

Either stupidity or bravery, somewhere along the way, I lost it, at least in regards to biking. And for years, I told myself I could never be a city biker, only to have that be proven very wrong in the matter of a couple of weeks. The more I think about it, the more I regret having held myself back from this experience these last seven years.

On social media, people love to throw out inspirational sayings:

I throw these around a fair bit myself.

But having this recent experience makes these a little more real to me now.

We become the stories we tell. We become the things we say we can and can't, what we do or won't do.

For better or worse.

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