A commuter’s conversion

My bike helps me see Calgary — and myself — in a lovelier light

The 5th edition of the Sprawl — the Summer Bike Edition — is here! This is the edition’s second story. If you value our work, please support the Sprawl so we can keep doing local journalism like this.

I didn’t give much thought to cycling until last winter. A nasty blizzard stranded most of my car-driving co-workers at home, where they chose to work instead of braving the frightening roads. My house is where productivity goes to die. So I made my way to the office and along the way saw three cyclists — head down against the biting winter sleet, pedalling furiously.

I was intrigued.

I wondered what the hell could motivate anyone to not only leave their home on a day like this — but on a bike, too. What made cycling that enjoyable?

My knowledge of cycling as a means of transportation was limited. I had a vague understanding of my conservative friend’s hatred for bike lanes, a strong concern regarding my leg strength, and a curiosity as to what would lead people to forgo the warm comforts of motorized transport. I began to take notice of cyclists everywhere. Each morning they would fly by my car.

Stuck in traffic, I would stare with envy, imagining the wind in my face and the extra gas money in my bank account.

So this summer, I finally gave it a try.

I had no concrete plan to actualize my bike dreams until, when wandering through East Village Junction one sunny afternoon, I saw it — the baby-pink, seven-speed hipster cruiser of my dreams. I did a quick calculation and justified that I only had to forgo 11 tanks of gas over the course of the year and the bike would pay for itself.

The couple at Rath Bicycle who sold it to me was infectiously excited about bikes, and within my first few rides, I came to realize that it was foreshadowing. The #yycbike community is an endless wellspring of warmth and information — both online and in-person.

Getting on a bike for the first time in close to ten years made every hair on the back of my neck stand up. I felt a rush of endorphins as the crisp morning air hit my face and my lungs expanded. I joyfully pedalled down the gentle slope along 34 Avenue SW in Marda Loop to get to work.

As a motorist, I would often shake a fist at cyclists holding up traffic by daring to use a busy road. Now I understand that it’s far more challenging from the other side.

The majority of my daily commute is along the river pathway and takes almost
the same amount of time as the drive, but with some notable exceptions. Traffic jams usually include a friendly “hello” or conversations with other cyclists. Roadblocks are often small animals crossing.

Sharing the road with bikes may be occasionally difficult, but sharing the road with motorists is regularly frightening. We cyclists don’t set out to inconvenience drivers. We do our best to let them pass, but what’s a small dip in the road to a vehicle could throw me off my bike.

Traffic jams usually include a friendly “hello” or conversations with other cyclists.

Becoming a cyclist has made me a better driver — more careful and empathetic.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have the iron resolve to become one of the winter cyclists that set me down the path to becoming a casual bike commuter, but I’m a happy summer rider. Like many Calgarians, I inhabit both worlds: sometimes I bike, sometimes I drive. The comforts of my car and an aversion to showing up for meetings drenched in sweat are incentives enough for me to regularly get behind the wheel.

But buying a bike has added a simple yet invaluable amount of pleasure to my day-to-day life. I show up to work in a better mood, I have more interactions with people and my health is most certainly improved by it. I see Calgary, and myself, in an even lovelier light.

I’m officially a converted commuter.

Santana Blanchette is a freelance writer, marketer, and casual bike enthusiast living in Calgary. She has an educational background in journalism and has written for such organizations as Alberta Oil Magazine and Calgary Economic Development, in addition to contributing to The Sprawl.

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