A few days ago, as I was reading one of the many bike forums, I read one of the forum members’ signature. It read, “Work is just the 8 hours between bike rides.” The phrase stuck with me, as I have recently become quite familiar with such sentiment. As I am prone to do from time to time, I recently embarked on one of my “challenges”, wherein I try something I have always wanted to try for an extended period – something that usually would seem off-putting to my peers, but will be beneficial for me in the long run. In this case, I decided to try commuting to work by bicycle. I have thought many times about bike commuting as a means to give me more time in the saddle, as well as improving my overall fitness. In fact, I did it quite successfully last year at Tyndall during ABM school, and again when I was working at my guard unit in Gulfport. However, bike commuting here at home is a completely different animal entirely. My squadron at Tyndall was only 4 miles from home, and my unit in Gulfport was less than a mile from where I was staying. Both places, being costal areas are also very flat. Here at home, the safest route from my home in Kokomo to my office in Columbia is 15 miles, complete with steep rolling hils in some places. The logistical challenges alone of such an endeavor would be off-putting to most, myself included… until recently. In the last few weeks, I have decided to give bike commuting a serious go. What follows shall be my experience bike commuting along with the pitfalls and lessons learned.
Never to be one who looks before he leaps, I decided to take on my new challenge full-force. I took my car to work on a Sunday after church, with my bike strapped to the back. I left the car along with the clothes I was wearing at work, donned my cycling kit, and embarked on my first journey home. The rest of the week proved to be something of a false start. Weather thwarted my rides several days. My 2005 Fuji Roubaix Pro, though fast, smooth, and nimble, has a frame geometry that is great for racing and exercise, but uncomfortable for commuting with a backpack. Additionally, the clipless pedals make negotiating traffic a daunting task. To compound matters, my fitness has wanned a bit over the last few months, making the hills between Kokomo and Foxworth absolutely grueling. To top it all off, the 1:10 commute time means I have to hit the ground running at 5:00 AM if I want to make it to work at 7:00 (breakfast, shower, clothes and all…). The next week, suffice to say, I wasn’t really digging the prospect of continuing my experiment. Yet, I didn’t let that stop me.
If you read any article about bike commuting tips, many suggest driving half way, so as to ease your way into riding to work. Following that advice, I decided to leave my work car at work, and drive my personal car from home each morning to my church in Foxworth, cutting out about 6 miles, and all of the really bad hills. There are still hills on my commute, but now, I’m not totally burned out with nine miles left to go. In addition to shortening my distance, I decided to use my vintage 1981 Concord Freedom Selecta 12 road bike as my commuter. Recently outfitted with a Brooks leather saddle, it is an absolute pleasure to ride. The Concord fits me a little better, and has a more relaxed frame geometry. It also seems to handle climbs better than the Fuji. With those adjustments, I am now entering my third week of bike commuting, with no plans to quit.
Lessons Learned – Logistics
I you plan to bike commute there are a few things you will want to consider. First, you’ll want a solid plan for clothing. Unless you own some cycling-specific casual clothes, you probably don’t want to tackle any great distances on the bike in your work clothes. Proper cycling kit is the way to go (jersey, padded shorts). I’ve found that it’s best to leave some jeans and casual shoes at work. This makes for less bulk in your backpack since all you have to bring along is a shirt, socks, and underwear. Second, many fear that they’ll be sweaty and smelly after the ride. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take a shower before you ride, and apply deodorant. When you get to work, you can use some baby wipes (which you will have left at work) to freshen up, applying more deodorant if needed. Also, wait until you cool off before changing – this is a trick I’ve used often on days when I’ve worked out at lunch. You won’t be smelly. Last, always have a backup plan. I have my work car at work, so if I need to drive, I can ( I realize not everyone has access to multiple cars, but have a ride from a friend/family member lined up just in case).
Lessons Learned – Gear
For your bike-commuting adventure to be a success, you’ll need the proper equipment. A good, well maintained, functional bike is a must. The bike should not make yo miserable. Make sure the saddle is the right type for you and your bike – a big cushy saddle is not always the best option. If you plan to ride during hours of darkness, you absolutely need lights. I use a headlight that can light up the road in the pitch pitch black wee hours of the morning, and has a flashing mode that can be seen by motorists when the sun starts to come up. I also have two flashing red tail lights – one on the back of my bike and one on the back of my helmet. These tail lights are so bright that if you make the mistake of looking at one when you turn it on, it will blind you (not literally). Between these lights, I’ve found that motorists can obviously see me since they give me such a wide berth that they nearly run off the other side of the road sometimes. You may also want fenders for your bike, or at the very least an ass-saver to keep water off of your…, well, you know.. Additionally, a good backpack is a must.
Apart from the health benefits and gas savings, cycling to work is very rewarding. I get to experience the sights and sounds of my town in a way that I otherwise would never notice. I get to speak to people along the way. It wakes me up like coffee simply can’t. Overall, so far, I’d say my latest challenge is a success. Now, if people would put their freakin’ dogs away…