Women on Bikes Series: Christine Hanosly

Christine on an Xtracycle 24D
She's named Georgette!
I'm a full-time working mom in a one-car household. I live in one of the bike-friendliest cities in the US - Portland, Oregon - and work at one of the bike-friendliest places in town - Portland State University. 

Outside of work I do a lot of writing, mostly not bike-related, and manage a writing website. I don't race; I don't run; I don't go to the gym. I wanted to share my story to show other women that you don't have to be a full-on hardcore cyclist or mountain biker to have fun on two wheels. 

When did you first start riding a bike?
I grew up in a small New England town. Everybody had a bike. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember it was a green one-speed Schwinn, and I loved it. My dad taught me to ride. The man has the patience of a saint! By the time I got to high school, though, I’d pretty much stopped riding at all. Bikes weren't cool, and they certainly weren't transportation.

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
I picked up a bike when I moved to Oregon in 2001, but only used it for casual weekend rides around the neighborhood. My partner loves to ride, but at the time, I rode grudgingly. I have never been a particularly sporty person and really had no interest in getting sweaty, working hard, etc. I became a bike commuter completely by accident in August, 2012. There was week-long stretch where I needed to be to work by 7:00 am each day, and with two kids needing to get to daycare and only one car in our family, I decided to try biking in. (Mainly this is because I would have had to get up 45 minutes early if I wanted to take the bus into work!)

I biked for the week, and then another, and somehow, I just couldn't stop. Biking to work cut my commute time in half (vs riding the bus). It’s the only time I get to myself, other than 15 minutes in the shower every morning. I’m a bit of a writer, and I plan a lot of my pieces while I’m biking. And it doesn't hurt that I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since starting to bike to work.

Here’s more on that, if you’re interested:

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I have not - I’m more interested in my bike as transportation than for recreation, though it’s nice that the two can go together. That being said, I’d love to do some bike touring with my family sometime. I lived in Copenhagen for a year, and I know there are amazing bike routes all over Denmark. (Plus, it’s flat!) I do like group rides - Sunday Parkways in Portland is a good example. It’s a celebration, not a competition.

What kind of riding is your favorite? (paved, gravel, mountain, etc.)
Paved, for sure! I’ve never really ridden off-road.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride? (If not a mountain biker, how about first commuter ride, paved trail ride, gravel, etc.)
My first commuter ride: I was terrified. What if I couldn’t make it up the hill? What if cars didn’t see me? What if other bikers laughed at me? I felt like a fraud. It didn’t help that most of the bikers I’d seen were all decked out in spandex and cycling gear and those fancy shoes that click, or on the other end of the spectrum, in flowing skirts with trendy panniers and baskets full of flowers. I wore what I had: shorts and a t-shirt and Tevas, or sometimes sneakers. I didn’t fit the vision I had of a “bike commuter.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
I just kept at it. I reminded myself that other bikers are more likely to be friendly than not - they’re just happy to see more bikes on the road. I practiced being aware of my surroundings so I could avoid cars that weren’t paying attention. (I’m still afraid of being “doored,” however.) And I stopped worrying so much about what I wore! Getting up the big hill on the way home is still tough for me. I keep expecting it to get easier, but if that’s happened, it’s so incremental that I haven’t noticed. I just keep my eyes on the top of the hill and focus on just getting there. The reward is a bit of a downhill that cools me off.

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
I use plain old platform pedals. Anything else makes me nervous - I’m afraid I won’t get my feet down in time if I need to, especially in traffic.

If you are a commuter what are some of the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is evening rush hour. Traffic is stop and go downtown for about 6 blocks, and on a particularly busy day it can take 12 minutes to go those 6 blocks. (As a comparison, I made it in 3 minutes one evening last week with no traffic.) I try to be predictable and follow the rules. I take the full lane and signal. I don’t ride between lanes or between the moving vehicles and parked cars (unless the cars can’t turn right at the next intersection). I try to be polite - I let cars and other bikes merge in from the parking garages, etc. I don’t know if that helps, but it feels like the right thing to do.

Do you commute even if the weather isn’t ideal? Why or why not? If yes, what do you do to make it more tolerable?
I live in Portland, Oregon, where it rains for nine months straight, and I commute year round. I didn’t expect to, honestly, but I acquired proper rain gear piece by piece, and now I hardly notice it. I have a bright yellow jacket with a rain hood, front and back flashing lights, a light for my helmet, rain pants, and covers for my panniers. It takes a little extra time to gear up in the morning, but you get used to it.

Have you had a bike accident? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I had my first bike accident about a month ago. I was riding down a hill on my way into work and -- I’m almost embarrassed to say this -- a bug flew in my face as I was braking for a stop sign. I let go with one hand to swat at the fly, and apparently kept braking with the other. I pretty much went ass over teakettle and landed on my left shoulder. A guy walking his dogs helped me up. Luckily for me, I wasn’t going that fast (maybe 10-15 mph), there was no automobile traffic, and I was wearing my helmet. I gathered up the bits of my front light, which had scattered across the street, got back on the bike, and slowly made my way into work. I think I was a little bit in shock.

At work I wrapped my bruised elbow in ice, and then worked the rest of the day. (I did drop the bike at the campus bike shop for a tune-up, for which it was due anyway.) I started feeling it on my way home, and when I woke up the next morning, I could barely move. I ended up covered in bruises all up and down my left side and arm, a stiff neck (felt like whiplash), some residual back issues, but no permanent damage.

I recovered mostly by taking it easy for a week or so, and by looking at the incident with a lot of humor. After all, it’s my first-ever sports-related injury! I must be a real biker now. :)

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love that it’s so easy, especially in the summer. I just throw on my helmet and go. Parking is always free, and there’s a satisfaction in knowing that I’m not polluting the air. I like that my legs suddenly have muscles - I actually did a double-take the other day because I thought my leg was swollen, and then I realized, no, that’s just a muscle where I never had one. I like riding through the neighborhood, checking out people’s gardens and even looking in their windows. (I like to know what window treatments people use, and what colors they paint their walls.) I like having conversations with fellow cyclists at stop lights. It’s like being in a club, where your membership isn’t based on how many miles you ride or how fast, but on the fact that you’re on a bike at all.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Trek 7200. I think it’s a mountain bike, but the salesman called it a hybrid. Honestly, I picked it because this is what the guy at the bike shop recommended, it was affordable, and I had no strong opinions. It’s served me pretty well, though in retrospect I think it doesn’t really fit me properly. I definitely have opinions now about what kind of bike I’d buy. I’ve been looking at long- and mid-tail bikes, specifically because my kids are getting too big for their Chariot trailer, but are too young to be biking to and from school/daycare on their own bikes. (They are 3 and 5, and school is just over a mile away.) If I could throw them on the back of my bike, it would make life so much easier. The problem is, I don’t want to spend a ton of money on a bike I’m only going to use for (tops) 3 more years, especially when what I’d really like is a new commuter bike - lightweight, more upright, step-through or mixte. In a few years when the boys are bigger, I’ll probably splurge on something like that - after all, it’s cheaper than a second car!

What are some tips/suggestions you would give to someone new to commuting?
Take it one day at a time. Don’t psyche yourself up (or out) by saying, “Today I am going start being a bike commuter.” Just try it one day and maybe another. Make it part of your routine. Take a basic bike safety workshop or legal clinic, if you can find one. Keep your eyes on the top of the hill and concentrate on making it just that far. Smile at other bikers. Be polite. Follow the traffic laws. (Seriously - stop at red lights.) Don’t let a little rain discourage you.

In your own thoughts/words what do you feel deters people from taking the plunge and commuting to work (or for errands)?
A couple of things. A lot of the people I know (women especially, though that's only anecdotal) don't want to get sweaty; don't want to change clothes, etc. The weather turns people off (especially in Portland), and so do hills. I didn't ride for years because I didn't want helmet-head. :) It's hard when you've got kids, for example, and need to get them from place to place, on time. I'm lucky in that my neighborhood is extremely bikeable (and walkable, for that matter). Mostly I think folks aren't used to thinking of bikes as actual transportation.

Did you pre-plan your routes or just "wing it"?
I pre-plan. When I’m going to unfamiliar places, I always map it out - Portland has hundreds of bike routes. It’s one of the great things about living here. But then, I’d do the same if I were in a car. My sense of direction is abysmal!

What changes do you feel could be made to make your city/town more commuter friendly?
Portland is pretty friendly, I think. I'd like to see more cycletracks and other forms of protected bike lanes, but if it were financially feasible I'd love to have actual separated bike lanes a la Copenhagen, which is the first place I ever saw bikes being used as transportation. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
Number 1: My Nutcase helmet. My head hit hard when I fell, and I barely felt it. I also love my Showers Pass jacket - it is watertight, and yet I don’t feel like I’m in a sauna when I’m wearing it. Finally, the Chariot is what makes all of this possible. I get the boys to school in the morning, leave the trailer at school, and pick them up in the evening. Without that trailer, I’d need the car.

At this point, I bike in street clothes more often than not. I’ve even been known to bike in a dress and heels! It mostly depends on the weather. Luckily, my commute is short (4.2 miles each way), so I don’t get particularly sweaty on the way into work. REI has some great clothes that are comfortable to bike in but still look nice at the office.
What would you say to a woman to encourage her to give bike riding a try?
Don't worry about the helmet head. :) It's not actually that bad. And don't feel like you have to make a big commitment. Take it a day at a time. More than anything, just get on your bike, enjoy the ride, and feel free to brag.