24 September 2011

Bike Notes 4: First Ride to Work; First Troubles

After Sunday, leaving my bike chained up in the house was kind of hard to do. The new bike smell—bikes have new bike smells!—would greet me from the bottom of the stairs every time I stepped out of my room, and the long wait for jeepneys at the end of each work day suddenly seemed much longer.

I didn't want to set out without knowing what I was up against, though, so I waited until I'd studied that bicycle safety page some more and observed other bike commuters on my planned route. In my previous post, I planned to do little neighborhood rides at first, and it would be at least another week or two before I'd try an EDSA crossing. By Wednesday, though, I was feeling confident/stupid enough to think I could survive Aurora and E.Rod and make my first major bike ride to the office.

Timing was off. That night, I had to sleep over in Makati to see my dad after his business trip and give him back the family netbook*. Thursday morning, I went straight to the office from Garma's** house for the annual company physical. It wasn't till yesterday, Friday, that finally I saddled up.

I scowled at the overcast sky and knew I was tempting fate, but I just really, really, really wanted to ride my bike. I packed my breakfast and an extra T-shirt, put on my helmet, and pushed off for Aurora.

It was awesome.

I kept the bike safety tips in mind, watched other bikers on the road to see what they would do, and just pedalled at a steady, relaxed pace. It was really funny to let the jeepneys zoom by and then to catch up to them at all the stoplights.

As I approached that bike shop with the overpriced moldy foldies, I was tempted to shout something witty and scathing at the smiley shop boy who wouldn't take me seriously, but it was enough just to sail past his dusty wares. Also, I don't know how to be witty in Filipino, because I speak the language of the lost burgis.

I'm not going to lie, it was really intimidating to share the road and travel in such close proximity to all these bigger and faster vehicles. I'm very, very, very thankful that they all steered clear of me.

All told, I reached the office in roughly the same time it normally took me to take jeepneys. As I entered the room, I thankfully cheered, "I'm alive!" at my officemate—and never felt more so.

Getting there, of course, was only half of the day's adventure. I still had to get home. Before I could even pull out of the company garage, though, I already had trouble.

One other reason I'd waited to bike to work was that I still had to buy one of those blinky red LED lights for the rear of my bike, to make sure that vehicles coming up from behind at night would be able to see me. Before I left the house yesterday morning, I finally screwed it onto my bike and put in fresh batteries.

When I came down to the garage after work, my hand went right to the light to turn it on and found that the lights were there, but the reflective cover and the batteries were gone. Some jerk at the office—only employees can park in the company garage—thought it would be funny if I didn't have a working safety light for my ride home. I have no idea who it was, as I wasn't the only one tickled by my new bike; another officemate took a picture of half the company's burly motorcycle couriers clustered in curiousity around my little bike. It was funny then, but it hurt to imagine it again as I made my way home. I couldn't believe that someone might consider a pair of double-A batteries, or worse, a stupid prank, to be worth more than a colleague's safety.

Later, I realized that the light might have fallen apart on my way to work that morning, and I simply hadn't noticed, but I have no way of proving this, either.

It was a good thing that I had two lights with me; I'd also bought a white light to fasten onto my handlebars. I was able to improvise and fasten it to the back of my bike before setting off. I don't know what might have happened if I hadn't had that second light with me, really, and thinking about the ride home makes me even more thankful that it was there.

I was really rattled by the theft/loss, and the Friday night rush to get home didn't improve my spirits. Drivers weren't in a mood to give way to each other, much less to a bike commuter. Again, though, I just followed the guidelines I'd studied and stayed slow and steady. The EDSA night crossing was actually the easiest part, right before the snafu of jeepneys and FXs jockeying for passengers between Puregold and 20th Avenue. I figured it was better that drivers honked at me for being too slow and taking up their lane*** than to go fast, weave, and risk getting rear-ended by a Marikina jeepney doing the same thing.

Just as I neared my turn, my second light**** fell off. I'm not sure how; maybe my foot kicked it while readjusting the pedals. Traffic usually stands still at the stoplight there, though, and the jeepney driver behind me pointed the light out to me so that I could walk back and pick it up. Everyone in that lane—at least, the driver behind me and the passengers in front of me, all staring—probably thought I had no business being there, but no one was gladder than I when I made my turn and got home.

Yesterday, I biked to and from work for the first time. I was no longer a pedestrian and claimed a little bit of road for myself. I'm alive, glad, and ready to see how far I can go today.

Probably just down to Shopwise to get a new bike light.

Lots of asterisks for today's notes!

* My parents got the same model netbook as me, and after the supplier-installed OS started giving them problems, I put Ubuntu on it. It works pretty fine for them, except for the rare times it doesn't. Then my dad and I e-mail back and forth about what to do with it. This time, he actually sent it to me to fix.

** We've called my maternal grandmother Lola and my paternal grandmother Grama for as long as I can remember. I guess it avoids confusion. Garma is a childhood mixup that stuck.

*** On my way to work, I stayed toward the right side of the road because that's where the other bikers tended to cluster. Also, I had to make a right turn to get to the office, and I just knew it would be easier if I didn't have to weave among other cars from the wrong side of the lane.

Going home, though, I stayed on the left side of the lane, so that I could make an easy left turn onto my street. This may have been the cause of half the honking, but it really seemed better than staying on the right and then having to cross to the other side of the lane.

**** That was the only time that light worked. After the fall, it wouldn't turn on anymore. I suppose that's what I get for choosing cheap imports over the branded lights in the sporting goods stores, but P50 and P88 just seemed a lot more practical than P500 each for the same thing. I told my dad about it, and he said to still get the cheap ones, plus a box of rubber bands.

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