Friday, May 21, 2010

The Bike Commute: Mission Accomplished!

Feelings of deep pride and a little thigh soreness from a currently car-less-by-choice suburban greenmom

I'm sitting here at my office desk (shh! Don't tell them I'm blogging at work!), with my bicycle parked outside the door: I biked to work today, finally. Like a month after I said I was going to start...but I did it. And, absolutely by accident, I did it during Bike To Work Week 2010. Who knew? I'll take it as kismet. Don't it figure this is the one week I don't read what my fellow Boothers have written until, like today...

But if I had, I'd've taken a lot of good encouragement from Envirambo's Tuesday post--because she's absolutely right, about so many things. Especially the being-in-shape part--if I can do this, anyone can. And the speed part too--it was delightful to discover how much distance I was covering in not much time.

The delays in actually getting moving on this commute endeavor weren't really my fault, although there were a couple of days I should have given it a shot and didn't due to exhaustion or schedules or other factors...April and May around Chicago tend to be really rainy. Biking in the rain is something I don't want to try until I'm really comfortable on the vehicle, if ever. Too slippery. And I didn't want to do this for the first time (or, realistically, any time) on a day when I have to be in early, or when something awful would happen if I got a flat and was 15 minutes late, or anything like that.'s been quite a journey since that first post of about a month ago when I resolved to take on this challenge, lots farther than the six-odd miles between my workplace and my home.

First there was the bike repair. This was a bicycle I bought about 15 years ago, for $149.99, from Venture. (Remember Venture? A big-box that went out of business more than a decade ago?) The reason I know this is that we discovered the price tag still on the front of the bike. It was, as I recall, the most expensive bike they sold at the time, manufactured by Huffy, but it was still pretty cheap. In those fifteen years I think I rode it maybe 2 or 3 times. When I started riding it again, it was sort of slow and creaky for a while but eventually sort of settled in and was basically okay--except that the brakes squeaked horribly. So we called the local bike shop to ask what they could do for us. For about $110 we got a complete tune-up and new brakes, which gave me a knee-jerk response of "holy crap, I only paid $150 for the bike!" but which I know was a good idea anyway. And the guy from the bike shop, after laughing at the price tag, said that it was a much better bike than I'd be able to get at a big box nowadays; 15 years ago they were apparently making things a little better than they do now, even the cheaper stuff. Anyway, now it rides smoothly and cleanly and shifts gears without shimmying around. And stops without squealing. (Lesson learned: It's worth it to pay someone to fix your bike, unless you're really handy and can do things from youtube videos...) (Now if I'd had one of Erin's cool Mommybikes, which obviously cost a lot more, somehow that $200 wouldn't have stung so much...psychology is a strange thing, isn't it?)

The route turns out to be not bad--I was able to use Google Maps' beta bike routes to find a good route (and was able to suggest to them that the way they took me wasn't the best or easiest way, via their comments page, and they actually emailed me back to acknowledge that I was right and they'd be changing their page in the future to reflect my suggestion, which is way cool!), and all but maybe half a mile of the total six-ish mile ride is actually really delightful quiet streets. Unfortunately that half mile remaining utterly sucks--I have to get over a major expressway, and the sidewalks are skinny and in poor repair, and the road is filled with cars since it's the only one that gets you over that expressway for a mile or two in either direction. And you can just feel the cell-phone-talking mommies in their minivans' exasperated huff as they swoop by you, incensed that you on your bike should slow them down even slightly. If they even notice you, chatting on their cell phones while driving with one hand. I have a new deep-seated crabbiness about bike-unfriendly towns; it's just so unnecessary that any stretch of road be this hostile to anything other than a motor's not yet a deal-breaker, but it's pretty bad.

I didn't train as much as I meant to. Again, the weather got in the way--it's been really wet around here during the week and a half since my bike came back from the shop. And I was honestly nervous about today. But a weird thing happened: apparently the training and riding around I did do the few times I've been out were enough to wake up my muscle memory of how the whole biking thing works, even though there was still some awkwardness in those rides. And my comfort and coordination level have skyrocketed in the last week or so during which I haven't touched it, as though I'd been on the thing every day. I can signal now; my balance is sure enough that I can remove a hand from the handlebar without wobbling. Last time I rode, I couldn't. I feel more solid and grounded on the bike, by far, than I did before, even without any actual practice in between. Says a lot about what the brain can do when we don't know it's doing it, and how much connection the brain and the body have with each other.

The hair thing could be a problem. Serious helmet-head when I got to work, and there wasn't much I could do about it. But that's a small thing.

So, I did it!

I plan to continue the pattern through the summer--in the next couple of weeks it'll still be hard, with the kids finishing school and the schedule going haywire, but once they are in summer camp it'll be a piece of cake. In fact, maybe I can get us all to camp on bikes and then I can just continue on to work from there? That might take a little more work, because there are some sidewalk-less streets between home and camp, and I don't think I'm ready for my little-uns to be out there with the big bad cars...but if I can make this a three-times-a-week thing, that'll be huge.

How about y'all? Anyone else take this up as a regular thing and have any good stories to tell, or good hints to give?
--Jenn the Greenmom


Chile said...

Glad you dove in and did it, despite the challenges. Your story about the cost of repairing a cheap bike is one my sweetie told many times back when he did bike repair in a shop. Should you ever choose to replace your bike, check out his guest post on how to buy a used bike. Good advice from a certified bike mechanic.

Keep pedaling!

ehmeelu said...

It's great to hear how enthused you are now that you have tried biking to work! I hope your post encourages many more people to try it.

Sense of Home said...

Two years ago I biked to work most of the summer. Last year my bike started throwing the chain off and I had to quit biking to work. This year we put the bike on the curb during clean-up week and it was snatched up with-in 15 minutes. We plan to buy both of us bikes with-in the next couple of weeks and then I will be biking to work again. I can hardly wait! That 2 1/2 mile ride was so refreshing and gave me the exercise I need. It also forces you to slow down and notice what is around you. I have a Prius, but biking is still better for the environment.

Daisy said...

Good for you! I claim back troubles that prevent me from riding the bike to work (school). I'm hoping to walk more this summer, or get my sore back in shape so I can bike to the farmers' market again.

Rosa said...

This is so awesome! I'm glad you sucked it up and paid for the tuneup, too - a well-tuned bike makes every ride better.

I don't bike to work anymore, because I work from home now, and I've even mostly given up biking the kid to daycare because he wants to ride his own bike (and is slow enough that means I walk alongside).

I will say that every spring there's a week or two when biking seems like the biggest pain in the ass each morning - I can't find my helmet, I forget my lock, a tire gets flat repeatedly until I change the tube, etc. But once the routine is set up (and all the gear is found and tuned up) it's exactly as much work as my winter commuting routine. It's just the transition that's hard.


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