Monday, May 14, 2012

Liberation by bike

Not that I was in any way "imprisoned" without a bike here in Portland! Since I do not have a car, I have relied on my feet and the excellent public transportation provided by TriMet. I felt like I had plenty of options to get around town, but I also knew that having a bike would open up another realm of possibilities. However, since my husband, Greg, & I are currently unemployed (other than our "extra" work on Grimm & Leverage and some freelance writing assignments for me), purchasing new or even used bikes was not exactly in our budget.

I've always loved bicycling. My parents bought me a bike and taught me to ride at an early age. Thankfully, we lived in a suburban Nashville (TN) neighborhood that was conducive to bike riding. And when we went on vacation, most often to a state or national park, it almost always involved camping and biking.
my mom dug up this old photo of me on my first bike
Fast forward to adulthood. Due to my itinerant lifestyle, I have not owned a bike in several years. The bike I purchased in 2000 from REI in Sacramento, CA was stolen from my garage a few years later. Since I lived in Manhattan (NY) for most of the past decade, I relied on public transportation and just borrowed or rented a bike when I had an opportunity to ride. The last couple of times I actually rode a bike occurred outside the U.S. Most recently, during our honeymoon in Ireland, Greg & I rode around the island of Inishmore in September, 2011. Prior to that, it was during an excursion outside of Luang Prabang, Laos in January, 2011.
stopping to take a picture on Inishmore

Greg & our guide riding from Luang Prabang to Elephant Village, Laos
Which brings me to the present day. As I've recently written about, I was very lucky to win a Trek Atwood bike via a Facebook contest sponsored by Mellow Mushroom in conjunction with this year's 10th Anniversary Filmed by Bike film festival. With dry weather forecast for all of last week, I couldn't wait to pick up my new bike!
getting fitted at The Bike Gallery
On Thursday, May 10th, Greg & I took a bus from our apartment in southeast Portland to the Bike Gallery flagship store in Hollywood. Once there, it took about 30 minutes to get fitted for the bike and for me to ask lots of questions about maintenance, accessories, and pretty much anything else I could think of. Note that Greg & I had already attended a free bike maintenance class at the REI store in NW Portland the previous week. I had also already ordered & received the free Portland bike/walk maps provided by the city's Bureau of Transportation. Thus I departed on my new bike more thrilled than apprehensive about riding the streets of Portland for the very first time.
ready to ride
My first stretch of riding covered 4.5 miles, following the bike route along NE Tillamook St, across the Broadway Bridge, to Mellow Mushroom at NW Flanders St & 14th. Greg took the bus; I beat him by a solid 10 minutes and that includes stops to take pictures. The Mellow Mushroom hostess, who did not know I was coming, actually came outside to greet me as I was locking up the bike because she recognized it since it had been displayed in the restaurant for several weeks.
I made it! Time for pizza & beer!
After some celebratory pizza & beer, it was time to head home. Again Greg took the bus, while I rode across the Morrison Street Bridge and up SE Salmon St to our apartment just off Hawthorne Blvd. It was such an exhilarating experience -- I enjoyed the fresh air, well-marked bike lanes/routes, mostly courteous drivers, and camaraderie with other riders. And I had easily managed to ride 9 miles in my first day on my new bike!
crossing the Broadway Bridge with I405 bridge in the background
On Saturday, instead of taking the bus (which previously would have been my only viable option), I rode my bike to The EastBurn to help set up & serve beer at Brewers for Boobs. As you already know, I frequently volunteer at local beer festivals and enjoy the opportunity to support a good cause and, of course, drink some great beer! Having a bike definitely enhances my ability to participate in these events by giving me more flexibility with timing and potentially allowing me to attend events that are less accessible by public transportation. Since The EastBurn isn't too far from my apartment, I only rode a total of 3.6 miles on Saturday.
Greg couldn't pass up this opportunity :)
On Sunday, I was thrilled to take part in the first Portland Sunday Parkways event of the season. Greg borrowed a bike from our neighbor so he could ride with me. The weather was fantastic and we took full advantage of our bikes, riding all the way from our apartment up to northeast Portland to hook up with the car-free eight mile route. We were also thrilled to discover that Breakside Brewery was directly in our path and stopped for a requisite pint about two-thirds of the way through our ride. Just as the parkways route was opening back up to car traffic (at 4pm), we turned towards home. Total distance traveled on Sunday was almost 16 miles! Thus I have ridden approximately 28.6 miles in the four days since I picked up my bike!!!
self-portrait while biking Sunday Parkways
As you can see, I'm really taking advantage of my new set of wheels. Living in a bike-friendly city is one of the many reasons Greg & I moved to Portland and based on my three days of riding experience I am not disappointed! I am really looking forward to using my bike to explore areas where previously I had to use public transportation. Before, I generally considered a grocery store or shop within walking distance if it was less than one mile away. Now, I feel like I can hop on my bike and go anywhere, anytime!
love the car-free streets!
In closing, I do want to briefly mention a few of the items I have purchased to complement my bike. Some are for safety, others for convenience. My brother-in-law has been commuting by bike for almost 20 years and I solicited his feedback on minimal gear to have on hand. Also, there are numerous bike shops all around Portland with highly trained & experienced staff who can steer you in the right direction no matter what your biking needs.
So far I have only purchased a few accessories, but I gradually plan to acquire a few more (like a bell, fenders, chain lube, pump, etc.). My Giro helmet is over 10 years old but was only used off & on for about two years and has been safely stored in a climate-controlled environment ever since. While certainly sufficient (i.e. better than nothing), the newer models have a much more solid construction and offer better protection in the event of a mishap. Here is what I have for now:
Bontrager waterproof panniers

Here's to many excellent adventures by bike!!!