Diana

I Am No Road Warrior

I am a Liberated Cyclist.

by Diana Steele

Does this look intimidating? These are strong intact males with powerful jaws and sharp teeth. But they are actually just two of my samoyeds playing quietly on a hotel room bed while waiting for me to fix their breakfast, so it is not scary to me in the least. But I spent many years of my life with a fear of dogs.

Does this look intimidating? Well, bicycling on this street looked frightening to me, and it was just one of the things that kept me driving a full size Chevy van the three miles to work, when I really wanted to ride my bike there. I see bicycle riders every day riding this section of Primrose on the sidewalk, riding in the striped off emergency area under the expressway, then through the pedestrian crosswalk, desperately aiming for the miserable bike lane, only to get back on the sidewalk a couple of blocks later when the bike lane disappears to make room for a left turn lane. They look like they are running a gauntlet.

In January of 2009, I emailed Joan Carter, M.A., Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator D5, Florida Dept. of Transportation, to whine indignantly about the bike lane on Livingston Street, which would be on my route to work if I survived navigating Primrose. I am embarrassed to quote from my own email:

I drive this section of road usually four times a day. I would love to ride my bicycle to work, but am not sufficiently brave/suicidal to attempt it on weekdays. Most days I observe at least a third of the vehicle drivers using the bike lane as a means to “smooth out” their drive on the brick road. Trash bins are frequently in the bike lane, along with construction vehicles and delivery vans. The lawn care trucks and trailers are the worst. Livingston has heavy traffic, especially during work commute hours, and I don’t see the bicycle lane as being sufficiently well marked or respected.

I continued to drive my van and lament that my bicycle was still gathering dust because Orlando was just too dangerous for cycling.

Ms. Carter responded immediately and graciously, and also forwarded my message to Mighk Wilson, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for MetroPlan Orlando, who contacted me immediately with suggestions and encouragement. I tried out my planned route to work on a beautiful Sunday morning when there were very few motorists, and found it a physically easy, but nerve-wracking ride. I concluded that it would be too difficult to ride in workday traffic. I continued to drive my van and lament that my bicycle was still gathering dust because Orlando was just too dangerous for cycling. There had to be a way…

I found the Commute Orlando website, and felt like I had hit the jackpot. I read every post, and studied in detail particularly the video of Keri Caffrey riding a simple cruiser bicycle on Orlando streets. Being a skeptic, I wondered if perhaps the presence of another cyclist filming her ride had made the drivers behave better, or if it was because she was a cute girl on a cute yellow bicycle that charmed them, or if she was just exceptionally lucky that day that her risky behavior of riding in traffic didn’t get her killed. It is hard to give up one’s cherished belief in “conventional wisdom” and accept a new paradigm.

I was practicing my interpretation of “vehicular cycling” but it wasn’t fun, and I didn’t see that it would get any better.

I went on Commute Orlando’s inaugural night ride, and enjoyed it, although I was a bit apprehensive. I joined the Commute Orlando Forum, and continued to read. And to question. By October 2009, I finally began my commute to work by bicycle. Most of my friends and coworkers were horrified and concerned for my safety and sanity. Physically, the ride was easy, but I was honked at and yelled at and passed too closely by motorists at times. There were some mornings when I just didn’t feel up to the stress of being the “road warrior” I thought I had to be to bike to work, and I drove the van in feeling disappointed, guilty, and somewhat relieved. I was practicing my interpretation of “vehicular cycling” but it wasn’t fun, and I didn’t see that it would get any better. And riding in the cluttered, intermittent, conflict-ridden bike lanes was certainly no panacea.

In November 2009, I was invited to participate in the pilot class for what would become CyclingSavvy. The classroom session (Truth and Techniques) was interesting and made sense in theory, and the multi-media materials were well presented, but I was not completely convinced it would work for me on the actual road. The morning of bicycle handing skills class (Train Your Bike) was both fun and challenging. I learned useful techniques for handling my bike that I didn’t know, and hadn’t known that I didn’t know. The instructors made it enjoyable, and made sure we were set up to feel safe and to succeed. The afternoon class on the streets (Tour of Orlando) was the best thing ever. The strategy sessions analyzing the traffic patterns and different road features were fascinating. Actually riding in traffic through these road features was nothing short of a revelation. Riding my bike solo through traffic on a heavily traveled section of the dreaded Colonial Drive, while the rest of the class watched, was amazing. And empowering. And I didn’t die!

By practicing the CyclingSavvy techniques I learned, my commute became easy, and so routine that I tried different routes and bicycles. I joined the Florida Bicycle Association. I went on (and thoroughly enjoyed) many group rides, I’ve had fun towing various utility trailers behind my bike, and going places I might not otherwise have gone. I have found a wonderfully interesting, fun, supportive and encouraging group of bike riders through Commute Orlando.

What a difference! I have gradually expanded my cycling forays, and it just gets easier and more enjoyable.

My previous interpretation of “vehicular cycling” had made me feel like I had to fight for my right to space on the road, and the constant conflict was stressful and demoralizing. Cycling Savvy showed me how to read traffic patterns, how to ride confidently and let other road users clearly know my intentions, and how to gracefully integrate myself as part of the flow of traffic. What a difference! I have gradually expanded my cycling forays, and it just gets easier and more enjoyable. The skills I learned in the Cycling Savvy course will be useful to me wherever I go, and I will be forever grateful.

This is Maguire Blvd. Two years ago, I would never have considered riding a bike on this road. Now I don’t think twice about it—day or night. In fact, I prefer it to Primrose.

21 replies
  1. Stix Cook
    Stix Cook says:

    Very great post, Diana! As John says above, very inspirational. Makes me feel pretty bad not riding as I learned I can from the CyclingSavvy course. Thank you for your driving words!

  2. Rosa`
    Rosa` says:

    Very encouraging post. I’m still in a state of shock after riding up Tuskawilla road in Winter Spring. While riding in the bike lane with my friend, I saw something fliying past me missing me within inches. Puzzled I peeked over to my right and realized that a bottle of sunscreen lotion had been flung by someone in a car passing by. I could only thank my lucky starts that this projectile had missed us and wondered, horrified, about how and why someone would find such and action to be entertaining. Sadly, I’m now re-living the incident and lost a bit of confidence. How do you handle something like this?

    • Keri Caffrey
      Keri Caffrey says:

      Rosa, I’m sorry that happened to you.

      There is a small percentage of small-minded cowards who abuse cyclists simply because they can get away with it. It’s inevitable that we will cross paths with these people from time to time. Fortunately, such encounters are quite rare. In 22 years of cycling in Central Florida, I’ve had a bottle thrown at me once. In that time, I’ve had maybe ten or so encounters with people who did something deliberately intimidating. That’s out of tens of thousands of motorists who have passed me safely.

      If you compare the number of drivers who pass without incident, and even those who are exceptionally courteous, it puts this type of encounter into perspective. I find that drivers who simply make noise are one percent (or less), those who are actively mean are one in thousands.

      I know that feels like a small consolation when someone has just done something nasty and dangerous, but don’t let it own you. It would give a coward for more power that he deserves.

      • Rosa`
        Rosa` says:

        Thanks for your insightful response.
        By no means will I be intimidated by the coward, but I will not soon forget the incident.
        Looking forward to more education, regarding the rights of cyclists, for drivers.

        • danc
          danc says:

          I’ll ditto Keri remarks, that type of coward is rare. If you happen to get the vehicle license number don’t hesitate to report them to local law enforcement and get a report number. Keep riding.

    • Rodney
      Rodney says:

      A year ago I took a full gatorade bottle to the back while riding home one night. It wasn’t even a flavor I liked either. Shook me up because I was taunted before by the driver about 10 minutes beforehand.

      Even though it may sound harsh, I say get back on the horse! You have to be the better person here. That is what did it for me. Tailwinds.

  3. Gary Cziko
    Gary Cziko says:

    Diana, I think it would be informative for you to summarize the key differences in your “vehicular cycling” techniques before Cycling Savvy and after.

  4. Robin Frisella
    Robin Frisella says:

    Diana, beautifully written; you capture the ‘learning curve’ perfectly. BCS (before Cycling Savvy), Keri and Lisa taught me how to ride the roads. I went through a similar experience: fear of motorists on the work commute, so I didn’t do it. Enter Keri and Lisa. Suddenly I was commuting to work driving 9 miles straight down OBT, from Pine Hills to Parramore. Amazing what a difference a little knowledge makes, isn’t it? Great job!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] on roads that are comfortable for my skill level. It’s not impossible, doesn’t take super human bravery, and is simpler than skeptics believe. Educated and empowered cyclists don’t have to wait for […]

  2. […] Do you think you have to be a road warrior to commute in city traffic?  Read this inspiring essay from a commuter who begs to differ:  http://cyclingsavvy.org/2011/05/i-am-no-road-warrior/. […]

  3. […] to commute in city traffic?  Read this inspiring essay from a commuter who begs to differ:  http://cyclingsavvy.org/2011/05/i-am-no-road-warrior/. Cycling Savvy classes helped Diana Steele conquer her fears.  Are you next? Visit […]

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  5. […] on-bike portions for $15/session.  All three sessions normally cost $75!  Whether you’re a newbie, someone who’s logged hundreds of miles, or somewhere in between, Cycling Savvy has a lot to […]

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