By Jordan Kohn
Originally published Fall 2012.
Grinding through the rush-hour commute, everyone is my enemy. If you cut me off, you’re an asshole. If I cut you off, you’re an idiot. My blood boils while the blasting A/C of my VW burns its motor to cool my skin. But when I hop on my bike, everything is divine. The subtle breeze and physical exertion mellow me out. Squirrels making love up a flowering pecan tree take pause and giggle as I ride past. A fragrant bouquet of jasmine gently wafts into my nostrils. A fellow cyclist waves as he rides by, and I realize that on a bicycle everyone is my friend.
Okay, okay, maybe this imagery is too bucolic for Druid Hills, but as a daily bicycle commuter I can personally attest to the joys of riding around town and how much more enjoyable it is than rotting in traffic. If you’ve ever spoken to me for more than five minutes, you’ve likely heard me mention how great biking can be. And like many others, you may seriously doubt that getting bike-sexy is right for you.
Let’s face it: driving in traffic is stressful. Especially in Atlanta, which has one of the longest, most congested commutes in the country. Given the recent epic fail of the metro area’s T-SPLOST bill, don’t expect relief any time soon from improved public transit. If you’re fed up with paying thousands of dollars per year in fuel, parking, and insurance costs, ruining your health, polluting the air, and contributing to global warming, there’s an amazing solution: bicycles.
I’ve heard all of the excuses: “I’m too out of shape,” “It’s too dangerous,” “My bike is too shitty,” “I’ll get all sweaty and gross,” “What if it rains?” “That’s just for hippies,” and the list goes on. These are all legitimate concerns, but most have legitimate answers. In order to address these issues, let’s listen in on a conversation about biking in the Atlanta/Emory area:
A. Praxia: “This isn’t Berkeley! Biking in Atlanta is awful. No shoulders, no bike lanes, curved streets, fast cars whizzing by my ear. I’m scared!”
J. Crank: “You’re right. That scares me too. But, if you map out your route to avoid thoroughfares before hitting the road, you can avoid most of those dangers. The cycling directions on Google Maps are a good starting point. These will put you through residential, sub-35 mph streets with low volume. In fact, Emory is very well positioned to provide back-road access to other parts of town, like Little 5, Oakhurst, O4W, and VaHi. By circumventing the main roads (e.g. Briarcliff, N Decatur, Ponce, N Druid), you’ll learn how to navigate through town in crafty ways. Atlanta Bicycle Coalition also has a great website with information about bike laws in Atlanta (did you know that riding two-abreast is legal in Atlanta?) Lastly, always practice ‘see and be seen.’ Wear brightly colored clothing, use flashers at night, and make eye contact with motorists when yielding. You can also get little rear-view mirrors to clip to your helmet or sunglasses (Take-A-Look Cyclist Mirror), or awesome neon-green tube lights to wrap around your frame (www.bikeglow.com) for 360° visibility.
AP: “Okay, so it’s possible to be safe while biking, but I haven’t worked out since the last time I played Wii Fit. I’m too out of shape to start biking all over the place.”
JC: “Just start off slowly and build mileage at your own pace. Bicycling is a low-impact, leisurely form of exercise. Chances are good that you live within 3 miles of campus, in which case a very mellow ride at 9 mph would take you 20 min. Remember, that’s not 20 min of hating life while starting in disbelief at the McCain/Palin ’08 bumper sticker in front of you; it’s 20 min of squirrel-f***ing goodness. Moreover, by riding to/from campus you’re guaranteed at least 40 min of moderate physical activity per day, and if you do this every day you’ll easily satisfy the CDC’s recommendation for weekly aerobic activity. At 9 mph, you’ll burn ~500 cal/hr. Since 3500 cal is equivalent to 1 lb of body mass, riding every day without increasing your caloric intake will result in a 2/3 lb. weekly weight reduction. So riding to campus daily for one semester (13 weeks) without doing anything else will yield a ~9 lb. weight loss.”
AP: “I guess I could lose a few pounds…but that means I need to buy a bike. I can’t afford that shit!”
JC: “Oh, but you can! If you want to start riding ASAP, check on Craigslist. You can find a solid circa-80’s road bike for around $100. Alternatively, you can buy a frame from SoPo Bicycle Cooperative for ~$25 and build the entire bike yourself! Volunteers there will walk you through the whole process, free of charge. The DUC has a repair center that’s staffed by Bicycle South from 11-1pm on Wed/Fri where you can make small adjustments and repairs. Bike Emory also has a daily bike share service wherein you can check out a bike at no cost, as well as get discounts on all purchases.”
AP: That’s not so expensive after all! But, I can’t roll into lab meeting dripping with sweat.
JC: “You’ve got some options here. The first is to pack a clean shirt and deodorant. Change into it once you arrive. The other is to use some of the showers on campus, which can be found in the WoodPEC or the SOM building. Lastly, sweat does not equal stank. Studies have also shown that a modicum of human body odor, which contains adrenostenol, actually makes you more attractive to potential mates.”
AP: “Alright, but no one else in the city actually bikes. I don’t want to be some hippie loner out there.”
JC: “Atlantans are bicycle commuting in ever-increasing numbers! From 2000 to 2009, bike commuting in Atlanta has risen from 0.33% to 1.1%, and there are lots of community bike rides where you can meet fellow cyclists. There is a Critical Mass held at 6pm every last Friday of the month in Woodruff Park. A full list of other rides can be found here (http://www.sadlebred.com/atlroadrides.html).”
To summarize, biking is a safe, expedient, inexpensive, healthy mode of transit in Atlanta. If you have any questions about biking or want more info, feel free to contact me directly. Ride on!