What I Learned from Biking to Work (and Tips for Trying it Yourself)

Plus, the crash that didn't stop me from trying again.
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I didn't realize it until sitting down to write this post, but some of my all-time favorite memories include bikes. Growing up, my dad and I would go on weekly excursions along the Venice bike path, weaving through tourists to get to Manhattan Beach from Santa Monica. When my family moved from L.A. to Reno in sixth grade, I immediately set about exploring the new city by bike. I started cycling the two miles to school on a thirty-year-old Schwinn purchased with babysitting money, then the 12 miles from my house to the bookstore. My first kiss happened after I talked my crush into biking halfway to Tahoe, up a mountain highway, to swim in a creek. Even after getting my drivers' license, I still preferred to bike to the bookstore and friends' houses—even if it meant two hours of biking, compared to 15 minutes of driving. 

When I went to college on the East Coast, I left my bike at home, choosing instead to allocate my limited between-semester storage space to clothes and books. And by the time I moved back to L.A. two years ago, I'd all but forgotten about the Venice bike path. That isn't to say there weren't moments when I seriously considered biking to work. When our office was still downtown and just a ten-minute drive from my apartment, I gave it some serious thought before chickening out. Then, last week, I read an article that thwarted one of my biggest concerns: that biking would take too long. It said that people "often overestimate the time required to commute actively," and that it rarely takes as long as we assume it does. I assumed the seven-mile ride to work would take an hour and a half—instead, Google Maps put it at just five minutes over my rush hour commute time of 40 minutes.

After a quick search, I also learned that biking can reduce stress by 40%, save a considerable amount of money normally spent on gas, and, of course, has countless health and environmental benefits. According to one study, "commuters who cycled to work had a 41% lower risk of dying from all causes than people who drove or took public transport." That isn't to say biking itself isn't dangerous—Los Angeles has the most bicycle deaths in the nation—but that's nothing compared to the number of deaths in motor accidents. This handy but terrifying website showed me there's only been one cycling death along my route in the past twenty years, compared to six from motor accidents. This time, I felt committed.

Taken minutes after my first (mostly) successful ride to work, torn knee and all

Taken minutes after my first (mostly) successful ride to work, torn knee and all

On my way home that night, I passed a bike store with a 'Sale' sign, and took the sign as a sign. I bought a helmet, chatted with the salesperson about best routes, borrowed a bike pump from my neighbor to resuscitate my 15-year-old mountain bike, and Googled "Can I bike with a rusty chain?" I knew if I gave myself longer than 24 hours to weigh the pros (fresh air!) and cons (a visit to the ER...), I'd find an excuse not to do it. 

Leslie Biking_PQ

The next morning, I was on my way. While Sunset Boulevard is a far cry from back roads in Reno, my feeling of trepidation was soon replaced by one of empowerment. Similar to when I ran the L.A. marathon last year, I could feel the city shrinking as I covered more and more of it, powered by my own legs. Within a few minutes, the rush of adventure and freedom I'd experienced growing up came flooding back to me—that is, until I crashed. On Santa Monica Boulevard, thirty minutes into the ride and just a mile from our office, I panicked when a bus turned on its right-turn blinker. I quickly veered into a driveway to get out of its way, but underestimated the height of the curb—my bike stopped short while I continued over the handlebars and skidded to a stop on the sidewalk, leading with my chest. I immediately hopped up to retrieve my bike from the road, more preoccupied with the guy who said, "Oh shit—you okay, bro?" from his car window, than with my injury. The sidewalk had torn a hole through my pants as well as my knee, which was completely raw and bleeding. I had a gash from road burn on one of my hands I didn't even want to look at, but nothing so bad I wasn't able to continue on my way to the office, albeit a bit shaken.

Our team's Slack channel from my first morning biking.

Our team's Slack channel from my first morning biking.

After arriving at the office, I immediately texted Jonah, but surprised myself by writing, "I did it!!" The crash didn't even come up until a few texts later. Instead, I told him about the feeling of joy and empowerment I experienced, despite the throbbing pain coming from knee. While I love going to the gym every morningthe joy I experienced from biking felt entirely different and even more rewarding. I took in the fresh air (even tainted by car-exhaust), and the feeling that I was more present than ever in my morning commute. After work, I cycled to meet Jonah for a beer to celebrate my day of biking, which went much smoother on my way back—I beat him by 10 minutes coming from the same area, with zero crashes to boot! I almost put my bike away the next morning until realizing it happened to be 'Bike to Work Day 2018'—and what kind of a biking lover would I be if I missed that?

Final destination on Day 1 of biking: beer! 

Final destination on Day 1 of biking: beer! 

If you're interested in biking to work, here are a few resources to look into and steps to take before you do:

1. Make sure your bike is in good condition—and purchase a good helmet (I use this one and love it). You may also want to consider this gear, especially if you're planning on riding back at night.
2. Research your route. Google safe bike routes in your area—I used this map for L.A., and researched the fatalities along my route with this morbid but helpful site.
3. Consider hiring a 'bike tutor' to show you the ropes.
4. See if there are any 'bike trains' or community biking groups in your area
5. Learn the ins and outs of riding a bike, including those super-cool hand signals
6. Create a game plan for once you arrive at the office. Pack a hearty breakfast (I packed muffins and yogurt in a Lululemon backpack, similar to this one) and anything you may need to get ready, like a change of clothes and makeup (dry shampoo is a helmet hair life-saver).  
7. Most importantly, don't do anything you aren't comfortable with. There's a difference between feeling tentative and terrified—if you're terrified to commute in traffic, consider practicing in an area where there aren't many cars and work your way up, if that's something you want to do!

I'd love to hear: How do you get to work? Have you ever tried biking? Share your stories in the comments!