Saturday, May 24, 2008

OK, I'll Tutor You on How To Commute

My class on Bicycle Commuting was a bit of a bust. The young lady from the TMO was there and was apologetic from the beginning because the neighbourhood newsletter advertising a whole series of classes, seminars and rides (of which mine was the first) hadn't gone out yet. I noted in the last entry that it could be anything from three to 175 people. I was too optimistic. They'd been touting the class at Bike to Work Day and other events, but in the end, one woman showed up.
Greenway entrance sign in late May

I ran through my spiel anyway. It was more responsive to audience input than it might have been with a larger group. On the off-chance it was a hit, I'd done thirty copies of my Bicycle Commuting handout and brought along a stack of the Trek One World Two Wheels (great name!) brochures. There were plenty of spares!

Despite the thin audience, it reaffirmed several points I made in the handout; both women were confused by derailleur gearing (they knew how to shift, but not about how to think about it or the amount of overlap and duplcation derailleur drivetrains have); the TMO woman does intermodal transport, taking her bike on the bus to work, then riding home, due to lack of shower facilities at her place of employment. I mentioned this as an alternative. She also said that the bike racks on the buses are getting more use, and she has had a bus come along with both slots taken even though she's early in the route; I mentioned that as well.

We went on for about an hour and a half when I detected fatigue setting in and wrapped things up. I packed everything back up, my 29 spare brochures (actually, I left one for the church, who I had credited on the back cover) and laptop, on which I had a pile of relevant photos in a Powerpoint show. It was beautiful outside, maybe 60. I had changed upon arrival to dress trousers, shirt and tie to make the point that it could be done, and decided to ride home all dressed up, just changing to cycling shoes.

Despite the lame attendance, running through the presentation in some semblance of order was worthwhile. The deadline helped, as well, as it made me write my handout. I consider this a beta version, but if you want to read it, it's called Bicycle Commuting: Making a Simple Thing Sound All Complicated and runs 20 pages. After Thursday's experience with my rapt audience of two, I'm tempted to make it longer, filling out the Gears and adding to How To Ride in Traffic in which, at the moment, I don't mention the Door Zone, for instance. If you read it and have comments, I'd like to hear 'em. My e-mail address is printed on the back cover (and the next version won't be quite so time-specific but will still make many references to the Twin Cities).

Anyway, I was riding home and going up Victoria saw a bicycle ahead of me which I easily overtook. It was a lady pulling her daughter on an Adams Trail-a-Bike. Her daughter was ringing her bell, so I rung mine back at her as I went by. I stopped at University at a red light and she caught up. She asked if I was riding home from work (still in tie, remember). Nope, I said, I actually just taught a class on Bicycle Commuting. Really, she asked, we're on our way home from church at the cathedral. We're trying to use the bike more. She was proud of her bicycle, a stylish new Trek. The light changed, we exchanged farewells and rode across University. Then it occured to me; I've got a couple of dozen spare handouts with me, why not offer her one?, so I pulled over and rummaged around in my pannier as she came up and stopped.

I asked if she'd like a Commuting handout. Sure! I gave her one and said I'd appreciate any comments she might have. She thought riding more sounded like a good idea, and thought maybe Commuting seminars are something they could sponsor at church. That probably wouldn't be a bad idea. We again exchanged goodbyes and rode on.

I wonder if this is finally Our Moment. My Trail-a-bike lady mentioned gas prices; my single outside attendee talked about her Suburban and gas prices and her commute. Is gas finally costing enough to make people begin to reconsider transportation options? I've seen false starts before, with the first oil embargo along with the 1970s Bike Boom, with the 1979/80 Iran embargo and high prices then. Cars got smaller, the speed limit dropped to 55, but then oil prices dropped dramatically in the mid-1980s and those efforts faded. The speed limit crept back up; our national fleet mileage peaked in 1986, the year oil dropped from around $30 a barrel to around $10; the young adult baby boomers who had driven the Bike Boom and cycle touring in the 1970s settled into middle age in motor vehicles. With oil so cheap it was hard not to partake of the cheap energy situation. This time, though, it doesn't seem like oil and gas will get cheap again. Is this the inflection point when some more permanent shift in transportation takes place? It feels like it, and hope to be able to help those wanting to incorporate cycling into the mix.


The Donut Guy said...

Awesome effort Matt....cycling needs more folks like you.

rigtenzin said...

I'm sure the bike commuting classes are what people need right now. I assume with better notice, your classes will have lots of students. Good work, keep it up.

GolgiApparatus said...

I read your pamphlet....great job!! It was definit;ey worth reading. I can certainly tell that you have some commuting experience under your belt.....keep up the good work!!!