A couple of years ago, I felt the fervent, windblown wrath of the Cult of Bike after I wrote a column mildly criticizing the then-new bike lanes and how they were thrown up suddenly, with no direction on how motorists should navigate them.
I received mail from New Brighton to New York, much of it missing the point that I think people riding bikes to work is swell. One online publication even presented me with the prestigious title of “Bike Hater of the Week.”
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Numerous riders also challenged me to hit the mean streets and experience the jubilation and frustrations of the bike commuter first hand.
Well, brothers and sisters of the bike, I am now one of you.
On Monday, I took the pledge to join more than 3,000 “joyful cyclists” in a promise to ride my bike every day for the month of April.
The event, concocted by friends Patrick Stephenson and Zachariah Schaap, was designed to get people outside, riding their bikes and enjoying nature. You don’t have to do a marathon, just get on your bike every day. The event has grown, and now people all over the globe join in and post their experiences on social media.
When I told Stephenson I’d be joining the effort in order to get a better sense of the biker’s lament, and following up with a column at the end of the month, he said: “This is great. It’s been shown that doing something for 30 days can create new habits and can change your life. This will be really, really fun.”
I noted that the temps that day hovered in the 20s.
“Please keep telling me that,” I said.
“This will be really, really fun, ” Stephenson said.
I began my journey Monday afternoon. I put on three layers of clothes, then dusted off my trusty “Townie” and attempted to pump up the tires. Either I’m daft or the pump was broken, so after 15 minutes of furious pumping I was drenched. I threw the bike in the trunk of its nemesis, the Sonata, and took it to get air.
I warmed up with a few laps around a nearby park. Five minutes in, my jaw began to feel numb.
“I’m joyful,” I said to myself. “This will be fun!”
At one point, I encountered a senior citizen pushing her walker down the middle of the bike path. I slowed, and gave her wide berth. Still, she glared at me. “Idiot,” I could almost hear her thinking.
Tuesday morning I got up early. I mummified myself so much the parking lot attendant at work did not recognize me.
I zigged through a couple of neighborhoods, cruised through the Loring Greenway and followed a wagon train of buses down the Nicollet Mall.
A couple of my colleagues and I have a running battle over whether car or bike drivers are worse. One colleague routinely films his drives to work, so sure is he that a biker will inevitably dart out in front of him and get hit. The other colleague, an avid rider, takes photos of chucklehead drivers who block bike lanes.
The biker, whom I’ll call Annoying Colleague No. 1, gave me a tip: Choose streets with less traffic, even if you have to bike farther.
A biker following the challenge on Twitter added this advice: “Grin like an idiot.”
I couldn’t help it, actually. During my ride, my lips had been blown back and frozen into a Jokeresque grin-snarl. You might call my first commute “invigorating.” I might use other, less newspaper-friendly terms. It took me roughly the same amount of time as driving.
Stephenson assured me that by the end of the month, my life will be changed. I’m not so sure, but I have seen an immediate difference in my life.
It’s colder. A lot colder.