bike commuting

Ride Big And Carry A Great Bag

bike training, bike commuting

Shannon Martin (Nashville, TN) and Yvonne LeFave (Lansing, MI) at their CyclingSavvy instructor training in Orlando (March 2017)

“Do you always wear jewelry when you ride?” a fellow CyclingSavvy Instructor asked me during our training. I actually felt rather underdressed on that particular day. It seemed like some bracelets were the least I could use to jazz up the CSI polo. Hi-Viz yellow is very difficult to accessorize.

I’m no fashionista, but I like enough lovely, sparkly and feminine things to put me squarely in the girly-girl camp.

When I first started commuting by bike, I wore exercise clothes and dutifully packed my pretties into a pannier. This got old quickly. Invariably I would forget something: a belt for my dress clothes, cycling gloves for my riding. Then I happened across some of Elly Blue’s excellent writing. She noted that riding in heels is actually a benefit, as the heel provides a nice prop when you’re at a stop. With Blue’s blessing, I pulled out my favorite red patent leather pumps, hopped onto my bike and haven’t looked at cycling clothes since.

bike commuting

Shannon in typical garb on her daily rounds in Nashville

I came to cycling in my middle age. In 2016 I suffered a severe arthritic flare that left me disabled for weeks. After a slow recovery, I took up cycling as part of a low-impact exercise regimen. I loved it, but Middle Tennessee’s epic hills were more than I could manage on my daily commute. When someone suggested an e-bike, I tried one and fell in love.

I treasure my “unplugged” bikes for flat and gentle terrain. But for this Nashville girl, an e-bike is pretty much the only way I roll.

You’ll notice I’m not your typical cyclist. An e-biker riding in pearls and heels. Perhaps I’m an oddity, but I’ve found a welcome home in CyclingSavvy. CyclingSavvy offers me a way of riding that allows me to be exactly who I am when I ride. No lycra required.

One thing is required of me when I ride, whether in heels, on an e-bike or by my own steam. When I ride, I ride BIG. Thanks to CyclingSavvy, this has come to mean several things for me.

I nearly always ride with front and rear lights, day or night. I was convinced of this necessity long before I started cycling. My region has a disjointed pedestrian infrastructure. Sidewalks terminate abruptly or do not exist at all. As a result, walkers and runners often use the roads to travel. As a motorist I’ve had a few close calls during the day with pedestrians and runners obscured by shade, sun, and blind spots on curvy roads. When I am on the road on foot or on bicycle, I use lights. Reflective gear is great and I do use it, but nothing takes the place of lights for me.  My helmet of choice is Lumos.  It illuminates white in the front and red in the rear, is smartphone compatible, and has an impressive battery life.

I also ride big by communicating.  I make eye contact with other drivers and pedestrians and clearly communicate my intentions with hand signals.  I over-exaggerate my communication to make sure drivers see me.  It’s discouraging to see how many of them are on cell phones, but such is life. I really don’t feel any safer from distracted drivers in a car than I do on my bike. I adore my helmet-mounted rear-view mirror (I never ride without it), but it doesn’t replace a firm shoulder check. These are all skills students learn in CyclingSavvy.

Most important, I claim my full-lane rights, like every other driver. My commute forces me to use traffic-heavy arterial roads. To protect myself I typically maintain a definitive left-tire track position. Nashville drivers are delightfully cooperative with me! Very rarely do I experience incivility from other drivers.

Claiming my right to take the lane is the very best thing I can do to keep myself safe on the road. To my fellowbike training, bike commuting Tennesseans: You may not believe me, but Nashville drivers are wonderful!  Check out CyclingSavvy and test these ideas for yourself. (The link is to the online course. I’m not offering classes in Nashville at this moment because of my young children. But as all parents know, they’ll grow up soon!)

Tennessee bicycle laws do not mandate that cyclists ride in a bike lane, but it does have a “far to the right” law that compels cyclists to ride as far to the right as “practicable,” unless impediments such as “substandard lane width” make it unsafe.  I consider all the roads in Middle Tennessee substandard for my safety as a cyclist.  I haven’t used a single travel lane here that I consider wide enough to share side-by-side with a car.  There simply isn’t enough room for both of us.

In Nashville, bike lanes can be problematic. Recently I was riding with someone in Green Hills (a traffic sewer by anyone’s standards). She suggested we get into the bike lane during part of our ride.  I warned her that we would be subjected to motorists constantly turning in front of us or cutting us off, and we were. We were fine because we used CyclingSavvy bike lane strategies to protect ourselves, but it was inconvenient and unnecessarily delayed us. Later that day we passed through the same section, this time using the regular driving lane and disregarding the bike lane. We had no problems whatsoever and no incivility from drivers.

My savvy cycling journey over the last year has been nothing short of transformational. I learned to ride a bike when I was 11 years old, fell off, and never really get back on one until I was 44. I’m not a road warrior. I’m a middle-aged wife and mom who needs to get exercise for her arthritis. Cycling just made sense.  Cycling has come to mean so much more to me than mere exercise. I fell in love with the bold vulnerability I feel every time I get on my bike and engage my world from two wheels.

In order to keep riding my bike I need to do it exactly as I am. Pearls and heels. Sometimes batteries are required. If it’s a particularly breezy day I’ll throw in a scarf. It is unbridled joy to ride with a scarf flowing behind me, tunes cranked on my mobile speaker, sunshine illuminating the path ahead. Take it from this girly girl: It’s an experience you don’t want to miss.

bike commuting

4 replies
  1. Katherine Tynan
    Katherine Tynan says:

    As I said the morning of our Tour of St. Louis, I dress for destination as well. Work is the notable exception to this. Of course my work fashion statement is best described as Granimals for the Business Professional. Everything in my wardrobe matches the black wedge heels, and black flats that live in my cube. There are as many right ways to bike to work as there are bike commuters. Maybe someday I will own a bike with a skirt guard and pedal assist. In the meantime, I’ll be controlling the lane in street clothes but not a suit. :)

  2. Patrick Smith
    Patrick Smith says:

    My son and I rode around Nashville a couple weekends ago when we were up there for the solar eclipse! I was on my e-bike, pulling my son on his tag-a-long bike (an extra 75+ pounds of kid and bike behind me). And just like Ms. Martin, we had no problems whatsoever. I was supremely thankful for having the e-bike on the big hills. And being on a bike made it much easier to navigate the crowds around the Titans game on that Saturday! We parked at our hotel about 3 miles north of the stadium, and rode all the way into downtown, towards West End (the Parthenon) and back again. We had a great time!


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