How biking 18 miles a week is making me happy

by Blagica Bottigliero

Bikes in Chicago surrounded me. The majority of those bikes have been of the Diivy variety. I’d look at cyclists and think, ‘How nice, they are riding their bike to work.’ But then I’d think about the type of gear they must haul along and the potential sweat beads they fought…not to mention carrying a lock, darting away from traffic. Needless to say, I talked myself out of riding around town.

Then I moved to a neighborhood in Minneapolis where biking was the norm. Since living here, I’d see people of all ages zipping around, grinding up the hills and pulling kids on trailers. After selling the second car we didn’t need and taking up co-working space for a few days a week, I decided to take the biking plunge. I committed myself to cycling to and from work three days a week. I live a three-mile semi-straight shot from the office. This should be cake, right?

At first, things didn’t go too great.  I was used to packing up a work bag, lunch, etc., but adding a layer of a helmet, lock, bike friendly shoes and ensuring my right pant leg was away from the chain took some extra planning. The mornings have been brisk and I needed a smarter jacket solution.  I picked up a Land’s End fleece sweater.  So far, so good.

On a few days, the morning cold pierced through my hands. I was cursing the 15 minutes to the office. I was freezing.  Though my body warmed up, my hands turned into ice on the hill descents.

Let’s talk about those hills. Oh you damn hills. This town is set up in such a way where my ride is up and down gradual hills. The first week, laptop and gear strewn on my back, I was kicking myself for going on this biking odyssey. But then I saw a gaggle of middle schoolers chugging up a nearby hill to school and I began to get competitive with myself.  Now? I’m addicted to the little workout I get chugging up the hills, not changing gear, but digging deep with every mini climb.

I mentioned the sweat factor up top.  There is a shower where I work, but so far, I haven’t needed it. A little refresh in the bathroom and I’m good to go. If was in a corporate setting, I’d most likely bike to work in sweats, shower and then get ready for the day.

Even after the extra packing, planning and educating myself on tire PSIs, I’m a cycling convert. You see the world differently on a bike.  Stopping at a bike with fellow commuters is a terrific feeling. The cars and cyclists co-exist here in a way that isn’t ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’. If this relationship does exist, I don’t feel it or hear about it.  When I get home to the family, I am energized and love the idea of taking full control of my commute. I got myself there. My own body and spirit. No car, no bus, no train, just me.

In an earlier life, my daughter used to ask, ‘Hi Mom. How was work today?’

Now she asks, ‘Hi Mom. Did you have a good ride to work? What did you see outside?’

The focus is on something else besides ‘what I do’. At dinner, we review our day together, its highs and lows, but I no longer bring up the ‘long day’ or ‘difficult day’ or ‘tiring day’. I still have those, but the topic doesn’t dominate.  Instead, we chat about the coffee shop I saw or the kids playing in the park.

I’m by no means an expert or biking pro, but I like being a new member of the club.

I’ll be reviewing this setup once the Minnesota snow comes. Perhaps then, I’ll take up snowshoeing?