How I learned to Slow Bike

Amanda here!

A few years ago I heard about the Slow Bicycle Movement, and I laughed, literally, out loud. At the time I simply could not comprehend it. I used to ride a fixed gear and a road bike, and I was all about getting from point A to B quicker than if I took the CTA. I even had a couple Strava Queen of the Mountain standings around town. I was all about beating my previous ride times, shaving a few seconds off here and there. I was obsessed with tracking my rides. But ever since I got doored two years ago, I’ve been  riding a little slower.

When I got doored, I was riding to work in the South Loop, running a tad late, and going as fast as I could down Milwaukee Avenue. The section between Damen and Ashland is known for being pretty hairy, especially during rush hour, and I was in the middle of lunchtime traffic. I was squeezing in between the parked cars and traffic when a door flew open. I thought I could make it into the space between the door and traffic. I swerved into the moving car to my, left leaning into it, and clipped my bars on the door. I was so sure I avoided the door. I stopped to turn around and yell at the guy for carelessly throwing his door open at me, only to look down and see a large amount of blood coming out of my leg, soaking my brand new white cleats.

The paramedics who came to take me to the hospital kept telling me how lucky I was, that this was the first time they’d picked up a dooring victim that didn’t have massive trauma. They rarely saw lacerations from doors. When I went back to the fire station to get my bicycle a couple days later, the firefighter told me I was the first person to come pick up a bike from their station after getting doored.

As soon as the stitches were out I was back on my road bike. But I had lost my confidence riding in the streets. I never used to understand when a friend or a customer would tell me that they thought I was crazy for riding in a city, because it seemed to dangerous to them, but after the accident, I started to get it. Something that used to make me so feel so happy and free was now stressful, even scary. A door would open a half block ahead of me and I would panic.

I thought maybe if I got a more stable, slower, bike I would be able to overcome the stress. When I was working in retail shops, I would always steer my more timid, inexperienced customers to that type of bike, to help build self confidence in their riding. I also remembered reading about the Slow Bicycle Movement and decided to apply it to my own riding.

I stopped using Strava, got a step through frame, 7 speed commuter bike with a rack and big girly panniers. It’s not light, the components are not great, and it’s not a beautifully designed. But it helped me rebuild the confidence and get back to my old self. I started making a point of taking the lane whenever possible, and staying out of the “door zone”. Taking less congested routes and wider streets – no more Milwaukee Ave. between Damen and Ashland.

I’ve been riding in skirts, dresses, and whatever shoes I wanted to wear, instead of spandex and my cleats. I finally figured out that dragging around a change of clothes and shoes everywhere was unnecessary.

I started giving myself extra time to get places; I found that I was considerably less sweaty, even riding on hotter days. I didn’t have to take 5-10 minutes to cool off and get my breath back under control before I went into my voice lessons.

I was enjoying every ride more, I was finding local businesses that I had never seen, like the yarn store on Division, or a new restaurant. Little details on buildings, murals, sculptures, flowers, people walking cute puppies! I also noticed that I was smiling a lot more.

No more urge to pass the person ahead of me, like I’m in my own personal race. (Yeah, I used to be that person.) No more weaving in and out of traffic or blasting through intersections for this girl.

I think that every rider ought to incorporate some of the slow biking concepts into their commute. Slow cycling makes for happy, low stress rides, and I don’t plan on speeding up anytime soon… even if I’m running late.