The Ride, Issue 108
Emily O'Brien started commuting by bike to high school in Washington, DC after the subway, encouraged by her traffic-cautious parents, failed to serve her transport needs.
"I got sick of lugging my stuff on the Metro, so I started riding my bike again," she said. "By senior year I was doing so much stuff in so many different places, it would have been impossible for me to do it any other way."
A youth spent riding in DC gave O'Brien the chance to be endangered by the world's political elite.
"One day it was pouring rain, and I was riding down a hill past the British Embassy, when a diplomatic car cut me off," O'Brien said. "I couldn't stop, so I swerved, hit the side of the car and went flying over it while my bike went in the other direction. I only skinned a knee, and my panniers full of schoolbooks protected the bike.
The shape of the diplomat's car was a different story.
"I knocked off the side mirror and antenna and broke the front wipers," she said. "The police and Secret Service guys out front saw the whole thing, and after that they waved to me when I passed."
Now a student at Boston University double-majoring in recorder and French horn, the 21 year old currently commutes on her 1974 Raleigh Professional, which she converted to a fixed gear herself.
Her typical commute is about five miles each way from Somerville to school in Boston and work in Brookline. But on orchestra rehearsal nights, O'Brien switches bikes for the fifteen mile ride to Weston, Mass.
"I usually take my road bike, a Trek 2300, because I want gears on a hilly trip with 20 pounds of French horn on my back."
In addition to her commuting miles, she rides "religiously every Sunday for at least 60 miles, usually more. Even if it's 30 degrees and raining, or 90 degrees and humid, or 5 degrees and windy."
Emily's dedication to riding has served her well in racing circles as well. As a member of the Boston University road cycling team, she recently scored second in The Rutgers Gardens Criterium despite having bronchitis.
In 2002, her mileage added up to 8,000 for the year, a mark she is poised to beat in 2003. As of mid-March, she had logged more than 2,000 miles.
As for sharing the road with cars, Emily suggests a platform of empathy.
"People should have to ride bikes around in heavy traffic before getting their drivers' licenses," she said." There's no reason we can't share the roads, but motorists have to realize that bicycles have a right to be there too."
Unfortunately, the harsh winter has brought new dangers.
"It was really bad on the roads around here. Gaping potholes capable of doing serious damage even to a car have been popping up seemingly overnight. They could be very dangerous for an unwary rider."
How can more people be encouraged to commute by bike? "The two biggest issues people have with bicycle commuting are weather and traffic," O'Brien said. "We can't make the weather cooperate, but there are ways to help people feel less intimidated by riding in traffic. Bike lanes help, and classes in urban bike handling would be a great as well."
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Planet Bike honors the silent hero of the Revolution: the bicycle commuter. A supercommuter rides through every season, in all types of weather, day and night. Choosing the simplicity, health and pleasure of bicycling, a supercommuter isn't necessarily against automobiles. They simply prefer to ride a bike to the grocery store, to work, to a concert or the cafe.
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