If you're like me, and you like to ride your bike to places, then you probably have some sort of device on your bike that lets you track miles, speed, time, and so forth. A lot of these bike computers are focused on tracking data for training rides- heart rate, cadence, power, etc.- so when my old Cateye Velo 2 died after 20 years of service, I was very eager to replace it. Plus, Cateye is very much supportive of Bike Commuters... they even run the website www.worldcommute.com which tracks commuting miles.
I don't rant very often, and most people who know me would say I'm a very laid-back guy (some people say if I were any more laid back, I wouldn't have a pulse). But sometimes, my cynical side thinks bad things about expensive bikes, and snobbish cyclists... and I have to take a long, hard look at what I really enjoy about riding a bike.
I like real casual group rides, the kind where they might stop for donuts and coffee. I'm not interested in Snagging a Strava KOM. I like hanging with my buds, getting lost and finding new trails and roads. I'm the guy who shows up to group rides in baggy shorts and a 35 year old Raleigh, and proceeds to ride whenever, wherever. My jersey pockets aren't stuffed with Blok Shots, probably just bananas, PB&J and some trail mix in my panniers.
I'll admit it, I'm tempted to over-think cycling, and so are a lot of other people. But at the end of the day, I don't need a bunch of stuff to enjoy cycling. That's part of why I started riding to work. I didn't want to just ride as a hobby. I wanted it to be a normal part of my life, like breathing, or eating. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and a change in my life.
And I think, overall, I've accomplished that. I'll admit it, my bikes are heavy, mostly cheap, and cobbled together from spare parts. Even if I were concerned about weight, I couldn't spend serious coin on a bicycle. And I'm here to tell you you don't have to. I've been around long enough to know what you ride isn't as important as how much you ride. And even that pales in comparison to how much you love to ride. I will always have respect for someone who puts down big miles, especially if they do it on a cheap/heavy bike. Bonus points if you built the bike yourself. Don't think that you have to have to lay out a lot of money to have a decent commuter bike. Usually, you can use what you have already, and just add to it as you go.
This is how I got started, with a cheap bike.
Okay, I'll admit it... every time I hear stories about bike commuters in the city, it fills me with pangs of jealousy, and some days I'll even descend into a mild (non-medical-grade) depression about the non-attainability of city commuting in the country.
The truth is, commuting in rural areas is a completely different affair than city commuting. It requires different equipment, different tactics, and a different mindset. Now, I haven't been commuting for decades, but as a native resident of one of the more culturally backwards areas on Earth, I've been witness to more than my share of rural miles. And as jealous as I am of the city, I think commuting in the country has its own appeal.
For those of you who brave the back roads and highways, I salute you. You can safely tune back into your routine of picking beer bottle glass from your tires, charging your headlight batteries, wiping roadkill off your downtube, and taking a stout swig of whatever it is that gives you the courage to ride the next day.
Those of you readers who live in the city* and commute there, I've decided to give you a brief glimpse into the life of a rural commuter. This is strictly anecdotal, but please remember, this is as accurate as I could make it without scaring the kids.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Got up at 5:00 and packed the bike with a day’s change of clothes, lunch, and ate breakfast.
5:50 I jump on the bike and head down my street. I’m wearing reflective ankle bands, a reflective vest, and my bike has reflective tape on the frame, as does my helmet with mirror. I have a 4-watt led headlight in front, a solid and a blinking tail light, the big ones powered by a special front wheel I built using a generator in the hub, never needs changing batteries.
I decide to ride to work through Nicholls State, crossing Bayou Lafourche at the Audubon street bridge. All is quiet, no traffic, making good time. I haven’t been pushing myself hard today because I was trying a new higher handle bar setup, and wanted to see if it was more comfortable.
There’s a short stretch where the shoulder runs out just as you get to Rosedown off of 308. Up to there, you get 20 miles of a huge shoulder, which isn’t bad, until you pass Reienzi and the shoulder narrows down to nothing, essentially forcing bike traffic and pedestrians into 45MPH 2-lane traffic. This is called a “pinch point” and it is very dangerous, so I either go into the lane early to force people to slow down, or I am forced to wait.
Today there is little traffic so I go into the lane, causing a car to have to slow a little to get around me, only for 50 feet or so. I then ride up Rue Loudon to cross Canal street at a “safe” intersection, traffic signal, etc. I wait till the light turns green for me (yes, bikes can trigger most light sensors) and when it changes, I stand and take off across the intersection.
Within the space of about 2 seconds, I get hit by a car, I end up laying in a twisted heap on the side of the road, my bike was thrown into the middle of the intersection. My left leg is pointing in the wrong direction. Time to stop and rethink life.
I’ve pretty much been out of the loop for a while. I’ve got a good excuse, however: last week, while riding my bike to work, I got hit by a car. The impact shattered my left femur in pieces, and I had to be transported to a trauma specialty hospital in N.O. because of the damage.
I just got home yesterday from the hospital after they rebuilt my leg. Things are different… it seriously winds me to walk on a walker around the room. Going to the bathroom is a major ordeal that takes planning. Just getting dressed could take half the morning if you include medicines, changing bandages, etc. and nothing is really simple.
And yet, I see things more clearly now. I could easily have died being hit like that. I’ve always had a lot to be thankful for, and now, I’ve got even more.
Still hurts like crazy, though… but at least I’m alive.
Well, some of you know I’m somewhat of a bike nut. Some of you may even know that I’m a little on the crazy side. That’s why, when I discovered the “sport” of Randonneuring, and I saw how crazy the people are, I had to get in on some of that action.
Randonneuring, or “rando” for short, is basically slower paced long-distance cycling. The official rules have options for 200K, 300K, 400K, 600K, and 1200K rides, all basically without support, and without stopping for any real length of time. You’re basically riding around the clock, and the 1200K rides are known to stretch into 3+ days.
I figured I would hook up with the New Orleans chapter of RUSA and see what the fuss was about. Now, to most people, I’m a pretty accomplished rider. I log about 3000 miles a year commuting, and I’ve done several 75-mile-a-day charity rides. I don’t think twice about knocking out 50 miles. How hard could it be to do 125 miles, right?
A few weeks ago, I finished my second Multiple Scleroses 150 mile tour. A good friend of mine came down with Multiple Scleroses last year, and so I rode a custom chopper bicycle for the tour in 2009. It was a blast, but the bike was really slow, and I only made it 115 miles before tornado warnings stopped us.
This year, I decided to use a “faster” bike. Unfortunately, the fastest bike I had was a Schwinn hardtail which I use to commute. Of course, I couldn't just ride a road bike like everybody else there. Oh no, I had to do something different. Why not ride the commuter, and pack my bags too? And hey, why not a Hawaiian shirt. They’re cool. So that’s what I did.
There were more than 1200 riders, and they raised more than $500,000 in donations for the National Multiple Scleroses Society. I had a great ride, and finished both days strong (though not fast).
Here’s a shot of the commuter with the new Nishiki frame, which I happily rescued from the trash. I expect many more thousands of miles from this bike.
So I finally decided instead of riding 14 miles every morning, and then driving to work, I’d just ride the 8 miles to work instead.
You’re probably thinking “That’s a no-brainer!” but it’s more complicated than that. On my normal morning ride, there’s no traffic lights, very little traffic, and only one stop sign. To get to work is a shorter distance, but requires navigating a dozen stop signs, busier streets, and at least two traffic lights and a bridge. Also, I will have to carry myself (and my stuff) back home in the heat at 5:00, which I don’t have to deal with on morning-only rides. I also have to figure out how to carry a change of clothes, any food I need, my laptop, and anything else (including lights and a battery) on the bike, while on my regular rides I don’t need any of that stuff.
Don’t forget that buying a bike and everything you need for a commute costs money! It’s healthier to get exercise, yes, but it’s still not free. With recreational cycling, if you get a flat, you don’t have to ride. If something breaks, you can wait to fix it. If it’s too rainy, too dark, or too whatever, you don’t have to ride. With commuting, you pretty much need to ride every day, unless you have a car on standby at all times. I do happen to have a car, so this is less of an issue for me.
So is it worth it? It depends on how dedicated you are to it. Believe it or not, you will save more money by riding when it’s convenient, because you will not need things like lights, fenders, panniers, or specialized clothing. You won’t get as fit, though, if you don’t ride on a regular basis.
So whether or not you will get benefits from cycling to work depends on what kind of retuns you’re looking for. So far, I’ve lost close to 20 pounds just cycling and eating right. Commuting will actually increase my mileage compared to my normal 13.5 mile morning jaunts, up to 16.5 miles total a day. Not a huge difference, but it eliminates the extra time I spent riding in the morning… I can actually get up and leave laterthan I normally would if I had ridden and then drove to work.
Time will tell how things go long-term, but for how good I feel riding my bike, I’m going to stick with it.