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.
By John Alexander
The old expression, “Just like Riding a Bike,” is often used to describe something that comes second nature and should be easy to do. It implies that we know everything about an activity and can take off where we left off. That couldn’t be farther from the truth when it actually comes to “driving” a bike — we can always learn more and continuously improve our skills.
As a kid I loved zipping around on my bike and was very proud when I saved up enough money to buy twin newspaper baskets, which made me an entrepreneur. In college I was fearless, easily navigating 4” bike trails through the woods from the dorm to class. For a long time after that, I put didn’t spend any time on a bike. A couple of years ago I purchased an Electra Townie bicycle to renew my bike riding habit and improve my fitness. For the most part, the bike sat comfortably parked in the garage. At the beginning of this year I finally followed through and dropped 30 pounds by using a treadmill, which also prompted me to dust off the bike and begin riding. Portions of the Cross Seminole Trail run near my house and I began to take advantage of the fun of short rides.
All went well until I ventured off to another part of the “trail” — really a sidewalk— and experienced my first crash. An approach to a narrow bridge over a creek consisted of a 90 degree left turn, immediately followed by a 90 degree right turn — after a downhill approach. I was going too fast and smacked into the sturdy guardrail, reinjuring a shoulder that I had just rehabbed from a torn rotator cuff. My garage door opener flew out of my basket and into the creek, but I stayed upright, though frustrated and discouraged. An acquaintance put me in touch with Mighk Wilson as a result of that incident and I began to follow the work that he was doing to improve bike safety.
After reviewing the information on the Cycling Savvy Course, I decided to invest some time and energy into the program to improve my skills and give myself more confidence. Friday evening was the classroom session. Even though I am 59 years old, I was nervous as I entered the room and wondered if I was “out of my league.” Everyone made me feel welcome and included — from the instructors to my fellow classmates. I quickly learned that the group consisted of a variety of ages and skill levels and immediately began to relax.
Right out of the gate, Mighk and Keri opened our eyes to several myths about bike riding and the new vision for safe and effective two wheeled transportation, which applies equally well to both the novice and the daily urban bike commuter. They supported their case with extremely well prepared videos and animations to demonstrate each aspect of this “technical” portion of the program. As a trainer myself, I could clearly see that they had found a way to break through to the adult learner. My classmates and I were not only being informed, but were being challenged to rethink what we knew about cycling. It was exhilarating to realize that we were being empowered to “lead the dance” out on the road.
I arrived a few minutes before the designated start time on the Saturday morning. I had checked my tire pressure the night before, so I was very surprised to discover that I have a flat tire when I removed my bike from the car rack. One of my classmates, Randy — a UCF professor — immediately sprang into action and patched the flat but it didn’t hold. Mighk kindly loaned me a tube to use and informed me that the inner band on the wheel had deteriorated and was allowing the end of one of the spokes to pierce the tube. I followed his advice and promptly folded up a dollar bill to cover the errant piece of metal. Although slightly embarrassed that I’d held up the group for a few minutes, I felt a sense of camaraderie with both my trainers and classmates. They weren’t going to leave anyone behind. This was going to be fun.
And fun it was! Though not always easy. The three hour bike handling skills took place in a large open parking lot. Each drill was carefully designed to improve our comfort, confidence, and command over our “vehicle” — our bikes. Snail races, using gears for quick acceleration, super slow tight turns, balancing after stopping, shoulder checks, and evasive snap drills led to high speed turns and emergency stops. The “building blocks” all came together by the end of the morning, with each of us now possessing a “tool bag” of essential bike-handling skills.
We had ridden several miles criss-crossing that parking lot and next on the agenda was lunch. Only one thing was standing between us and a tasty burrito — navigating down Maguire and turning right onto Colonial Drive, crossing three lanes of traffic and executing a left-hand turn onto Primrose Ave. ARE YOU CRAZY ????? Between the faith that we’d placed in our instructors and the new found confidence that we had in our individual ability, the class ventured out and successfully and flawlessly completed that first “feature” as a group. Collectively, we realized, “We can do this!” As with many of the other specific tasks that we would face throughout the afternoon, our trainers mapped out the plan with colorful chalk on the pavement, explained both the hazards and the best approach that would ensure ease and safety. Getting the first exercise under our belt, followed by a collective “high five” was a glorious moment.
The afternoon was spent analyzing and facing down several other features. This experiential form of training was perfect for adult learners. We weren’t being lectured to. We weren’t being given some meaningless test. We were part of the learning process and the success of each individual in the class was just as important to us as our own small victories. We rode together between exercises, but were given the opportunity to personally experience each feature on our own. From riding through a round-a-bout to learning the proper way to cross diagonal railroad tracks, to seamlessly controlling the center lane on Princeton to avoid the I-4 on-ramp, to navigating the fearsome Ivanhoe Interchange (not once, not twice, but three times), each exercise brought us a new level of confidence.
After making our way through the construction near the new Arena, we had to cross the bridge over I-4 on Anderson. That climb was a challenge, I downshifted so far that there was only one gear left — my internal “Little Engine That Could” — but I made it to the top and was rewarded with a swift ride down the other side. I learned a lot about my bike that day too — after cresting that hill, Keri rode up next to me and said, “Yeah, your Townie is great for stopping, no so much for climbing” and then told me she was proud of me for toughing out that hill. At that point of the day, my competence and confidence were soaring — I wasn’t going to fall behind my classmates in any way.
It dawned on me that I was riding side by side with him just a shoulder width apart and tracking exactly one wheel length behind the rider in front of me — and I was perfectly relaxed, comfortable and having a blast.
One of the reasons I took the Cycling Savvy Course was that I had begun to feel uncomfortable riding on sidewalks to get to the trail in my area. I learned that there were plenty of good reasons to feel that way — uneven and broken sections of sidewalk, the need to steer around pedestrians and other bikes, the possibility of a wheel getting caught between the sidewalk and deeply edged grass which could lead to a fall and the higher risk of being hit by a car. I had feared that my balance was an issue. By going through the course, I had plenty of opportunities to disprove that assumption and build my skills. As we were riding in a group at the end of the day, I was carrying on a great conversation with one of my classmates, Harry, about cruises that we had taken. It dawned on me that I was riding side by side with him just a shoulder width apart and tracking exactly one wheel length behind the rider in front of me — and I was perfectly relaxed, comfortable and having a blast. This program helped me to realize the freedom and fun that comes with being in command of your own bike. I was a kid again!
Since the class, I have ventured out to the trail several times — now comfortably doing 10 mile routes without breaking a sweat. I participated in my 1st “First Friday” night ride with several of the Commute Orlando and Cycling Savvy group — a fun, social way to spend an hour or so, and a way to share the message that bikes can co-exist with cars on the road. This weekend I will be headed out for a Holiday Light ride — what better way to see the decorations? I’ve begun to set new goals as well. After hearing about people taking 500 mile bike trips, I’ve begun logging my miles with “500” as my first target. I might reach it by only pedaling 10 miles at a time, but I’ll get there — with a smile on my face.
The support and inspiration that Mighk and Keri have provided has been tremendous. She definitely “had my back” while we were riding the final leg back to the parking lot during the class. While riding along, I felt my wedding ring slip off my finger. Using a skill that I had learned that morning, I turned around in the saddle and told her that my ring had fallen off. She said, “I know, I just rode over it.” She promptly went back and retrieved the now “flattened” ring. If she hadn’t trapped it under her wheel, it might have rolled off into a gutter. Nice save! More significantly, I mentioned to Keri that I was looking for a better way to get to a portion of the trail in my area. She came up to Lake Mary and helped me evaluate several options and then rode the route with me — capturing it all on a video. She wrote a fantastic article about that experience, which can be viewed here.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the beginning of 2010. I have learned that active bicycling has been proven to reduce some symptoms.
One last little detail that I would like to share is the fact that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the beginning of 2010. At this point, my primary symptoms are a “resting tremor” in my left hand and leg which is being effectively managed with a low dose of medication. I am very much aware of changes to my system and how they may affect my ability to live my life. I have learned that active bicycling has been proven to reduce some symptoms. I love my bike. I love the freedom that I feel when I am riding it. One of my strengths, according to a survey that I recently took, is “Positivity.” I am confident that I can take on this “unknown challenge.” To me, it’s just another “feature” to be mapped out and “ridden” through. With the new skills that I’ve learned through the Cycling Savvy experience, I will be a safe rider for a very long time. Michael J. Fox, as a spokesperson for PD, naturally is one of my heroes these days. While traveling through the Atlanta airport recently I saw a billboard with his photo and the message “Out Fox Parkinson’s.” That’s my plan too. I close this post with a link to a video he produced — “What is Optimism?”
by Darlyn Finch
If you had told me a few months ago I’d be taking a bicycling vacation along the Gulf Coast of Florida, I’d have thought you were joking. If you had predicted I’d cycle with equal confidence along bike trails, beach-side boulevards, and downtown city streets, I’d have called you mad. But that was before I took the CyclingSavvy class offered by Mighk Wilson and Keri Caffrey.
Armed with state of the art on-bike skills, a clear understanding of cyclists’ rights and responsibilities, and a double dose of new-found self-confidence, my fiancée and I strapped our bikes on the back of his car and hit the road. Our goal: to see as much of the Gulf Coast as we could before oil from the BP spill washed ashore, and to check out the varied conditions for cyclists we’d encounter on the way.
Starting in Orlando, we made our way to Alligator Point in the Panhandle, then meandered down the west coast of Florida, stopping for a day or two or three in Tampa, St. Pete, Ft. Myers, Pine Island, Sanibel, Captiva, and Big Pine Key. Highlights as a tourist were the Carol King/James Taylor concert, touring the Thomas Edison/Henry Ford compound, and meeting a real, live Olympian whose paintings were on exhibit at the art museum on the waterfront in Ft. Myers.
Highlights as a cyclist included riding in and around Ft. DeSoto, and getting a thirty-mile grand tour of the highways and byways in and around Ft. Myers with cycling guru Dan Moser. We also toodled around Pine Island, finding not only a beautiful facility devoted to the archeological study of Calusa Indian middens, but the house of one of my fiancee’s favorite writers. During the last week of our vacation, Key Deer watched from the tree-line as we biked past a house shaped like a geodesic dome where solar panels provided energy and rain barrels supplied the water.
We didn’t encounter many obstacles to safe cycling, but when we did, we knew what to do, thanks to what we learned in the class. I can say without hesitation that I would never have considered putting in the miles I did without the knowledge, skills, and confidence I learned from CyclingSavvy.
Now that I’m back home, I don’t think twice about strapping my shopping bag to my back and commuting a few miles to Publix for groceries. I even enjoy riding my bike to work now and then. But that’s another story. Click here to read it.
Freeway interchanges may be the most intimidating road configurations you'll encounter as a cyclist. Safe and easy navigation is possible! You need an assertive lane position, awareness, and thinking ahead about where you need to be.
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I had the good fortune to be part of a pilot group that took the bike handling class put on by Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson, now called CyclingSavvy. I heartily recommend this class to all riders. It will change the way you think about bike riding and open up new possibilities for you and your bike.
Most bike riders, myself included, tend to cling to the side of roads, take the sidewalks a lot, and breathe a sigh of relief when we get to a trail. We think of our bike wheels as bull’s-eyes for errant motorists and our heads cricket balls for extra long rear-view mirrors. If we can get past the fear of physical damage, there’s always the nagging feeling if you hold some motorist up road rage will surface and they will lather you with verbal abuse.
What you will learn from the CyclingSavvy course is that there is no reason to act like a shrinking violet on the road. In fact placing yourself in control of each situation is safer and a lot more fun. Much of the content of this course has been touched on at CommuteOrlando.com, but there’s nothing like having someone tell you, show you, and then guide you through each action, to get all the parts of your body working to actually carry it out.
The course’s three, 3 hour sessions cover laws, traffic dynamics and strategies in the classroom; bike control techniques are learned and practiced under controlled conditions in a parking lot; and then riders get to put into practice all they’ve learned on a road tour around Orlando.
We did class on Wednesday night, and the next two sessions back-to-back on Saturday. The two Saturday sessions are a full day immersion in bike riding skills and savvy. Riding around Orlando with a great group of riders and on a beautiful day was great fun, and the learning that went along with it was icing on the cake.
The small class size and two instructors meant we got plenty of individual attention with all questions answered. The name of the course, CyclingSavvy, is very appropriate as I can attest that I got a lot of savvy out of it.
I’m going to ride more and practice the techniques and strategies I’ve learned. I feel much more comfortable and in control wherever I ride now whether it is trails, roads or the occasional sidewalk. I know the advantages, disadvantages, and pitfalls to watch for wherever I’m riding. Thanks Keri and Mighk!
by Angie Ross
It’s official–I learned how to ride a bike this week! Yesterday, I finished up a CyclingSavvy class. This was a pilot class* for the Florida Bicycle Association; Part I was a three-hour lecture-style class and Part II was a six-hour road class. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the thought of adding on one more thing to my already crazy week (especially 30+ miles for the class on Saturday!), but I am really glad I went.
The classroom-class was an excellent introduction into the practical side of riding. It wasn’t focused on vehicular cycling per se, but it did feel like it had a commuter-cyclist focus. I was a bit surprised to see that most of the graphics and such showed riding in the bike lane. I have really mixed thoughts on that, but I’ll get into that another time.
I got an email on Wednesday with the route for Saturday’s road class and about broke out into a cold sweat when I read things like “drills” and “individual exercise turning onto Colonial.” I was thinking of the many reasons I might cancel (the kids really were sick!), but ultimately knew that these skills would keep me safer out there on the roads and thus Saturday’s class couldn’t be avoided.
The class included a lot of drills like turning, shoulder checks, quick stops, etc. I feel a lot more confident about my bike-handling skills after the class. The most valuable, though, was regaining confidence in my bike. I love my bike. Like, a lot. However, I have to admit that all my earlier issues had left me feeling less than 100% confident in my bike. It wasn’t the quality of the bike or anything like that. I was just carrying a bit of uneasiness around after nearly losing my rear tire and I hadn’t quite recovered. There were several times during the drills that Keri and Mighk (who both lead the class) were like, “Well, you don’t need to worry about that on the X.” I feel like I am riding the Volvo of bikes! The best was seeing that I could just about stop on a dime with my brakes–the very same brakes that I had been fretting over. Being reassured that I can trust in my bike and that this bike is safe enough to carry around my daughter was huge.
The ride was awesome. Downtown on a Saturday was so relaxing–I can’t wait to get out for a nice family ride! We covered some great exercises, including passing a highway on-ramp and crossing diagonal railroad tracks; these are things that I don’t normally experience on my ride, but would hate to be caught off-guard by with no knowledge of how to respond.
The class ended pretty late and Jesse had to meet up with me to bring my lights, so we made a night of it and enjoyed a nice dinner out as a family. The girls got rowdy with my phone on the ride home, so I got to practice all my new handling skills by swiping the phone from Sofie and then doing a hand-off to Jesse (all mid-ride without swerving once, thank you very much!). We had the clearest sky I’ve seen in ages and the most incredible view of the stars. Looking up while Sofie tells me that she’s putting the brightest star in her heart so she won’t be afraid of the dark reminds me why I love my bike so very much.
* The pilot class gave us valuable student feedback to improve the final course product.
I’m always looking for the key that unlocks mindfulness for students. My end goal is not to deliver information, but to inspire transformation.
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Freeway entrances create intimidating road configurations for cyclists. Safe and easy navigation requires assertive lane position, awareness, and thinking ahead about where you want to be on the other side.
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Repeat after me: I have the right to manage my space as I see fit. It's safer to ride in the lane than in the gutter.
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