I rode my bike to work.
Write about it, an editor suggested. But was this really news? And by the way, my colleague Jeff Robb just did this very thing and more heroically, chronicling a 17-mile, two-hour bike journey from Millard (!) to downtown (!!) in the rain (!!!). My 2-ish mile commute from Gifford Park pales in comparison.
Yet this bike-commuting thing is all still very vanguard for Omaha, which has a much smaller cycling commuter community than other cities where cycling is embraced and respected by motorists. A recent survey of downtown and midtown Omaha workers showed that people want to try something other than their c-a-r, but almost 8 out of 10 of them are still driving solo to work.
Guilty. I justify it because dropping three kids at school and running from interviews to office to interviews makes the bus-bike-carpool-gig seem too inefficient and cumbersome. Global warmer I am.
However, it’s summer. No school drop-offs. Plus I have a sweet new bike. When the editor suggested I tell you about my ride, well, this column is proof that I’m capable of following orders. And bragging. (Disclaimer: This author is more Lucille Ball than Jeff “Lance Armstrong” Robb. And my journey was no Tour de Millard.)
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Fact: I had not ridden my bike to work since the first George Bush was president. This was back in college in Milwaukee, a time and place when few students had four wheels. A bike got you to class, to work, to the lake, and I’ll neither confirm nor deny, to bars. Back then, my bike was a Trek hybrid — not as heavy as a mountain bike but more durable than a road bike. She was teal. She was pretty. I named her Ramona.
Ramona went all over Milwaukee, then all over Washington, D.C., and, then all over the south Louisiana town where I landed after graduation to teach high school. Three years later, on the road to Omaha, she bounced on the back of my old Corolla. Then Ramona began her sad roll into oblivion as I rolled into new stages of life: A World-Herald job with night hours. A husband who doesn’t ride and a city that doesn’t seem to have a strong bike culture. Kids. Ramona sat in garage after garage and finally got lost.
A friend dumped his old bike on me. But that hand-me-down, clunky mountain bike was more furniture than fun. It sat unused, the way a lot of people’s bikes do, sparking the kind of exchanges that have sparked a cottage industry for Marie Kondo.
Husband: Can we finally get rid of it?
Me: No! I need a bike!
Husband: But you never ride it.
Me: Your point is?
Then one brilliant day this past March, my birthday in fact, I opened an envelope marked “Mom.” In it was a gift certificate to Greenstreet Cycles, a place I’d written about back in August. My husband might not ride, but he reads. And remembers.
Remembered how I fawned over Phil Rivera in my column last year. Phil pedals 15 miles from his home in the midtown neighborhood, where I grew up riding my Brady Bunch bike, to his job at Greenstreet in Papillion. Remembered how I’d fawned over those bikes. Remembered how I pitched getting us both one, though we both knew I meant me.
Husband went to Greenstreet, talked to Phil and purchased one gift certificate for moi. On Mother’s Day, I took said piece of paper to the Papillion store and, with Phil’s help, picked out my new ride. I named her Violet because of her purple color. Like Ramona, she’s a hybrid, light and durable. Like Ramona, she’s pretty and fabulous, a Specialized model on its way out, priced at $400.
Pro tip: If the last bike you bought had a banana seat, today’s bikes come with no extras, not even kickstands, which are pooh-poohed because they flop and get loose. So I splurged on this necessity: a water bottle holder. I chose “rainbow shimmer” (I know, I know) that was a good $20 more (I know! I know!) than the standard black.
When I told Phil I didn’t need the Mercedes of bikes, all he had to say was, “just one to get you to the farmers market?” I was then in for a rack and a basket because, baguettes.
A car rack was out of the question because it would mean a hitch. And a thousand dollars. And I didn’t have either.
But Violet fits easily inside our minivan. Which was important because I had no plans to Phil it home from Papillion. I drove.
The rest of May, Violet sadly sat in our garage, benched by the aforementioned school-soccer-weather calendar that required four wheels and fossil fuels.
Then came June. No school, no soccer, more sunshine. Time for Violet’s liberation.
Time for mine.
Inspired by colleagues, including Jeff, I suited up. Running pants. Sneakers. Helmet. Very Nike ad.
Bye! I waved at the kitchen window as I pushed Violet into sunlight and toward our driveway gate. I added a gym bag with work clothes and a purse, patting myself on the back for the basket.
Then, our dog Delaney burst upon the scene.
Bike went down. Purse spilled. Golden retriever off like a greyhound. The only freedom in the air was Delaney’s. I clomped after her in my helmet. Not very Nike ad.
Once the naughty puppy was back home, I did not wave. Instead, I pulled Violet off the ground, second-guessing that whole no-kickstand thing. I shoved my purse back into the basket. I pointed us both east, coasting almost the whole way — a fact I did not realize would foreshadow a different ride home.
Taking Dodge or Cuming was out of the question for this maiden trip. Because, traffic. And because, hills. Omaha Twitterverse suggested taking Burt Street east. Then 16th Street south. At 18th, Burt gets a dedicated bike lane — a thing I had not fully appreciated until now. Stretches of 16th and 14th Streets have them. Solid advice.
Two blocks in, I wasn’t pedaling. I was flying. The wind in my face felt great. So did the moral superiority at not being, for this moment at least, a climate changer. My trip clocked in under 20 minutes, scarcely longer than if I’d driven, parked and walked.
Takeaway: Biking to work is a breeze!
Going home was another story. Because, hills. Because, sun. Because, rookie mistake: No water bottle in that shimmery, overpriced bottle holder. I huffed. I puffed. My quads burned. I took a breather in some shade, weighing the shame factor in walking Violet up our street.
Then I shoved my dignity in the basket, hopped off the saddle and pushed my new bike home.
Takeaway: Biking home is harder!
Give it three days, my colleague and fellow bike commuter Christopher Burbach said. He was right.
Second trip was to the farmers market downtown, where two baguettes and a lovely head of lettuce made the ride home. Because my 13-year-old daughter accompanied me on her bike — and scorched me on our hill — I made it up this time, pedaling hard.
Third trip was to work again. This time, I wasn’t dog-delayed, but I did have to contend with morning rush hour.
Takeaway: I hate you, cars! Takeaway: Why doesn’t every street have a dedicated bike lane? Takeaway: A helmet seems suddenly inadequate when you’re pedaling next to a semi.
Takeaway: The bike route was lonely on a perfect weather bike day.
Maybe it is news to pedal to work.
Though perhaps it shouldn’t be.