Oregonian reporter conquers commuting fears

“Not knowing what I was in for created a lot of mental room for scenarios of death and disfigurement. So far, the worst thing that’s happened is when my chain popped off on Interstate Avenue.”
— Shelby Wood

Remember Shelby Wood, the Oregonian columnist who was “too scared to saddle up” and ride her bike in Portland?

Wood, who writes the PDXGreen column, said her fears about biking were representative of many Portlanders in the “thick, nervous mainstream”. When I shared her story back in May it sparked over 140 comments, including one from Ms. Green.

She wrote,

Oregonian columnist Shelby Wood
going south on N. Interstate Ave.
Watch Video Below
(Photo: The Oregonian)

“I’m fascinated by the commenters who don’t “believe” I’m scared… It is, in fact, the fear of being exposed without the “iron curtain” that surrounds me when I’m in a car. Honestly, I am nervous about getting knocked off my bike or squished up against a parked car. But I am going to attempt to get over it.”

And “get over it” she has. In a video published today, Wood put on a microphone, mounted a camera on her helmet, and confronted her fears of riding. The result is a very interesting perspective (both visually, and from Wood’s candid narration) on what it’s like to ride in Portland. Watch the video below and read Wood’s companion column, where she contrasts how her outlook on several issues (including the “bike vs. cars culture war”) has changed now that she’s an official bike commuter…

Bike Commute
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Coaster
Coaster
13 years ago

wow, so the Oregonian has lockers and bike hooks at their offices? I am surprised, given their efforts to propagate the ‘bikes vs. cars’ war retoric….

armando
armando
13 years ago

“deathwagon”- i love it!
if you continue commuting with your child, you probably will get a trailer, and then maybe a tag-a-long. it’s just a progression of them growing up and getting bigger. the hard part is still trying to set a safety example by stopping when you’re supposed to and not taking silly risks.

Robert
Robert
13 years ago

Hi Shelby,

Congratulations! That was awesome!

BTW I saw the photo above of you SB on Interstate. Personally, I don’t like that stretch SB cause it has two narrow underpasses and is used as a freight feeder route. I usually take the Broadway bridge instead to get downtown.

Anyway, welcome to the community of bike commuters!

SYK
SYK
13 years ago

Bravo Shelby!! I especially appreciate your comments regarding the “Culture War” in light of medias desparate attempt to inflame and create one this past season.
“There’s a war alright. But it’s a war we’re all in regardless of how we get around. It’s not cyclist vs motorists. It’s jerks versus everybody else.”

I guess the reality of the clueless jerk battle bodes too “Miss Manners”-like and would not have incited much debate or the catchy headlines to sell papers and airtime.

I hope to easily find your story in the Oregonian.

Genevieve
Genevieve
13 years ago

Good for you, Shelby. Keep up the good work, and have fun biking! Thanks for sharing your story with everyone.

K'Tesh
K'Tesh
13 years ago

Welcome to the bikelane! Have a fun and safe time!

Rubberside Down!

Marion
Marion
13 years ago

Thanks Shelby, as a fellow Mom.. I share your concerns about safety, especially when I have my children on the bike. However, the sheer joy of being able to get around the city so freely by bike so far has trumped my fear. I hope it stays that way.

El Biciclero
El Biciclero
13 years ago

Gotta get me wunna them helmet cams!! Congratulations on taking the plunge! Keep it up; success breeds confidence.

Nate
13 years ago

Loved this bit on “Cars vs. Bikes War:”

There’s a war alright. But it’s the war we’re all in, regardless of how we get around. It’s not cyclists vs. motorists. It’s jerks versus everybody else. Self-centered, clueless jerks who bike through stoplights, drive through stop signs, jog in four-person-wide formations on busy sidewalks and stroll into traffic without looking. I don’t think we can win this war, but I’m open to suggestions.

JayS.
JayS.
13 years ago

Congratulations!!! AS a Family bike commuter I also have reservations about trailers and many trailng bikes. Before you buy one check out other family options particularly proper tandems and xtracyles/long tail bikes.

Once again congratulations.

Ayleen
Ayleen
13 years ago

What I really love about this article is Wood’s declaration “It’s not cyclists versus motorists. It’s jerks versus everybody else.” Why can’t more people realize that? Thanks, Shelby, for saying what so many of us have been trying to find words to say for so long. You really hit the nail on the head there.

dgc
dgc
13 years ago

Way to go, Shelly! Pretty soon, you’ll be cuttin’ the swagger, saying, “Yeah, you just gotta show them jerks that you own the road just as much as they think they do!” (Not that cyclists necessarily always use bad grammar, but, sometimes, the effect is helpful in communication, doncha know?)

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

Before we write off trailers as death wagons let’s talk to some of us who have used them for ten years- covered 8,000 plus touring miles across the continent twice and use a trailer every day for the transport of a two year old. Obey laws, pedal defensively just as you should on any day, put a helmet on the little one, a flag on trailer, some lights, some reflective material… you are all set, I am not saying other ways of transporting kids by bike are better ore worse – I’m jut defending the safety of the trailer – instead of comments like death wagon – offer up soem stats on deaths and injuries to children when in trailers – can’t find em? I’ve searched high and low and can’t find a rash of injuries or deaths from use of trailers.

As to trailabikes – use a burley piccolo – the way it attaches to the rack makes it part of your bike – the adams trailers rattle you and the kid about and have too much play – burley’s are the way to go.

No matter how you tranport your kids by bike it’s your judgement and riding that makes the difference. And the rules you share with your kids.

It’s a very safe and fun way to get about as a family. My two cents. Metal Cwoboy

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

Shelby, given your starting/end point, consider the Vancouver/Williams corridor shot. And I second taking a look at the B’way Bridge. And the West side of the Esplanade doesn’t have those bumpy noisy separators that you find on the East side floating sidewalk.

Any way you go, though, it beats the cage any day, eh?

amanda
amanda
13 years ago

Great article and video — I’m proud of Shelby! And she’s totally right, it is an “us versus jerks” issue.

In the video she talks about not yet turning in to an angry biker ready to hurl her bike at a car which cuts her off. I think sometimes when I’m out bike commuting, these little dangers — pedestrians who don’t look, strollers that take the whole sidewalk, bikers being careless, cars cutting close or speeding up behind you — these dangers can feel personal because I’m hanging out there. That’s when I start to get mad. However, 99% of the time, it is general cluelessness and is not *personal.* I try to remind myself of that so that I can enjoy my ride which is mostly, almost all the time, very enjoyable.

Donald
Donald
13 years ago

Doh, I see that the upgrade deleted my name and addy. Glad to see even MC got caught, too.

Shelby, the ‘Couver/Williams suggestion is from me…

Jessica Roberts
Jessica Roberts
13 years ago

I read this today and I was so proud of her. It’s rare that people will tackle something they’re genuinely scared of, and rarer still for them to tell the world that they changed their mind. I really hope lots and lots of could-be bicyclists read this article this morning.

(My favorite part was, “important meeting at the black-and-yellow spandex factory, apparently.” I laughed out loud.)

Good job, Shelby, and may your bike journeys continue to be smooth sailing.

AZ
AZ
13 years ago

Deathwagons?

Strange I always referred to the baby seats that sit right behind you as “baby death traps”. A Burley is a full roll cage with a five point harness system and independent from any spills you may have.

metal cowboy
13 years ago

I went off on my trailer and trailabike rant and forgot to mention, great article Shelby. Goes a long way in helping people who have considered commuting to perhaps actually make the ride.

Pete
Pete
13 years ago

Great job Shelby! And kudos for people posting positive feedback here. I was appalled by the venomous direction some of the comments took on Jonathan’s original story.

Glad you took the risk and worked through your fears. You gonna wear that helmet-cam bungie jumping next? 😉

Lenny Anderson
Lenny Anderson
13 years ago

With the new bike route thru the Rose Quarter, Williams/Vancouver will be much more direct to the Esplanade. Interstate works to B-way Bridge, but to the RQ is too narrow at spots with semis for company.
Did I see Shelby going north on 1st off the Hawthorne Bridge? Better to go up to 3rd; use the crosswalk if the lane change to go left looks tough.
Some days I am fearless, others I will get off my bike and walk. So far, so good, but always I remember…better to be safe than legal in Portland.

janis
janis
13 years ago

Fantastic Shelby! I am so proud of you for continuing to ride.

Personally, I like riding up the Mississippi Hill over riding Vancouver/Williams. I don’t like playing leapfrog with the buses nor the cyclists that have to pass within inches of you without a warning. It is MUCH nicer on Interstate and Mississippi.

Keep it up and enjoy the winter riding! Cheers, Janis

Marion
Marion
13 years ago

Janis, the Interstate hill is a bit scary for family cycling.. more on this next week from my perspective. I hope you chime in 🙂

wsbob
wsbob
13 years ago

Shelby’s doing o.k. . I was surprised and delighted to read her story in the O today. I hope she increases the times per week she rides fro 1-2 to 2-3 or 3-4.

Aaron
Aaron
13 years ago

Dead on! As others have said, it’s not bikes v. cars, it is jerks v. everyone else.

P.S. we all fall in to both categories sometimes :).

Aaron
Aaron
13 years ago

Probably a bad use of words. Right on! Would be a better choice.

janis
janis
13 years ago

Marion,

Hopefully our bike lane will be up there soon. Plus, I think she is taking her daughter from NE to NoPo (Rosa Parks Way). The Interstate/Mississippi route is her work commute.

It is interesting that you think Interstate is scary…Vancouver/Williams are uncomfortable for me to ride during commute times – as I said before between the buses and other cyclists – it is chaotic. I ride it sometimes just to remember why I don’t usually ride that route.

Cheers, Janis

matt picio
13 years ago

Congrats, Shelby, and hang in there. The “jerk” war may not be “winnable” in the sense of eliminating the jerk contingent completely, but there’s so many good people out there who are helpful, conscientious and friendly to make up for the jerks.

beth h
13 years ago

Bravo! Keep at it. It’s really the nicest way to get from place to place.

Welcome to Bikeland.

Drewid
Drewid
13 years ago

It is good to see a reporter from the Oregonian get experience behind the handlebars. I liked your video very much. Commuting gets easier as time goes on. I have been “swimming with the sharks” (riding in city traffic) for 40 years without any real mishap to speak of, and have been commuting across the Sellwood bridge roadway for years. The first time riding across such a bike hostile bridge was a rush. I get honked at only about 10% of the crossings (I ride to the right so most vehicles can pass me). Get a nice rain cape and carry it with you; no need to fear the rain. With fenders and lights you will be set up for anything, except ice. But you can always get a set of studded tires..

Peter
13 years ago

cool video! got an outlaw driver, too.

Kt
Kt
13 years ago

Shelby, thank you for your candid comments; I enjoyed your article and the video as posted above is really good.

I’ve been sayin’ it and sayin’ it… it’s not about transportation mode, it’s about behavior. It IS us vs the jerks out there. Cars vs bikes is a more catchy phrase, though, so the media uses it. 🙂

I’m enjoying your changing perceptions… I think you’d find that a trailer is a better choice than a seat, as it doesn’t mess with your center of gravity as much as a seat does, and it’s easier to get on and off the bike when you’ve got a trailer. My brother schleps his kids around, bike-wise, in a trailer sometimes, he says it’s a great workout! 🙂

Keep riding… it gets easier the more you do it!

Shelby
13 years ago

Thanks for the links and commentary to my bike column/video, Jonathan.

And thanks to everybody else for reading the column, and for the encouragement and tips — about ten people (at bikeportland.org and in emails) have told me to take Williams/Vancouver instead of Interstate. I’m going to give it a shot, but I’ve actually been pretty happy with my Mississippi/Interstate route, despite the hill and trucks.

Plus, I’ve got immense trust in Janis McDonald, who showed up to ride with me on my first ride to work — the morning after her favorite/usual bike was stolen. I’m inclined to believe her when she says Mississippi/Interstate is a smoother ride for chaos-averse cyclists. But I’ll check out Vancouver for myself.

And Coaster: We got a dedicated bike room at The O a few months back, after everybody’s bikes started stacking up around the newsroom.

Y’all can be a tough crowd at BikePortland…so thanks again for the good words.

See you out there.

joe
joe
13 years ago

this crowd is only tough when people who do not ride and do not know what they are talking about act as if they know what biking in portland is like.

once they ride a few times, the bikeportland herd welcomes them and then floods the comments with route/gear/lifestyle recommendations.

everybody on a bike – the more the merrier.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

I haven’t had a chance to see the video but I’m always impressed at how nice drivers are when I’m riding with my daughter in the trailer. Sometimes it makes mee consider riding with it all the time.

Zaphod
Zaphod
13 years ago

Quote of the year, I want it on a billboard,
“It’s not cyclists versus motorists. It’s jerks versus everybody else.”

Nicely put Shelby & congratulations on facing your fears.

Robert T.
Robert T.
13 years ago

Congratulations on starting bike commuting!

Now, a piece of advice. At one point, your video shows you riding in a bike lane that skims right next to the parked cars. Portland may have put the bike lane there, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Any one of those doors could pop open at any time. It’s a common cause of really serious bike crashes. If your daughter’s on your bike, you could both be killed.

If a bike lane is in the “door zone” you should not ride in the bike lane. Ride, like, five feet from the cars. It’s your life and your daughter’s, no matter what the bike lane designer thinks.

Safety First
Safety First
13 years ago

Yikes, don’t ride so close to parked cars. Very dangerous. Many bike lanes here are too close to parked cars and hence too dangerous to use. Ride just outside of the bike lane and use the left stripe as a guide. And don’t overtake on the right, bike lane stripe or not. Safer to line up in the traffic queue at intersections.