Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bike Commuting Update Fall 2013

Look Ma, no hands !!
Although I haven’t mentioned it for quite some time, I’m still bike commuting one or two days each week.   Last year I tried to commute on Tuesdays and Thursdays and do intervals on the bike on my way to work.  This year I’m using spin classes for my intervals and using my commute as recovery.  Come December I’ll reclassify the commute as base miles, but for now, they are just easy miles.

After some thought I decided to make my commute more comfy and I’m riding a steel frame with a leather saddle and fat tires. Before you assume I am going all “Randonneur” on you; rest assured I am not.  Although I am often wearing wool, I haven’t felt the need to photograph my meals or buy food at gas stations so I am clearly keeping any randonneuring urges at bay.

My commute hits the sweet spot as far as distance at about seventeen miles (twenty-seven kilometers) each way.  The distance is enough to get dressed for and justifies bringing a bottle of water as well.  If it were much longer it would really take too much time compared to fossil fuel powered alternatives.

I am lit up like an ambulance with three powerful red lights flashing behind me and one red flasher pointing ahead along with a headlight that is so bright it warms the pavement.  I shamelessly subscribe to the lighting policy of, “Better to offend some and be seen by all.”  Riding in the dark with a dim tail light is tempting fate with an eventual outcome as predictable as playing the slots in Las Vegas.  

My teammate BigJohn has a bright orange helmet that can be seen in the peloton as easily as if he were wearing an orange traffic cone on his head.  For commuting I admired his visibility enough that I took a can of spray paint from my garage and turned my black helmet orange. 

I picked up some Planet Bike fenders that are wider and keep the water away from me.  I keep trying new things and refining my set up with no end in sight.

I have been on the same route now for more than two years. If you asked me what the worst section is on that route, I would point to one stretch of about 2k where I detour because of a bad combination of narrow shoulder and lots of traffic. 

We should all be careful what we wish for because that very section has been torn up for months with new water and sewer pipes going in and the entire road being replaced.  Why this isn’t being done in sections is beyond me, but the result is a long stretch of mess between my home and my office.

On my way in to work I am early enough that the construction guys haven’t arrived yet. The last few weeks I have been able to ride past the detour signs and through the construction mess on what is now gravel.  I can see that the new road will be wide and likely feature a healthy bike lane.

In the meantime, I can either detour like I am used to doing (and on my way home this remains my only option) or fight my way through the gravel which is often harder than I expect, especially with tired legs.   In the darkness before dawn the gravel does have a unique allure that draws me to ride it.  I find my shoulders rocking as I spin through the gravel with my tires wanting to wander.

My morning commute has been in the dark for some time now and my return journey in the evening will be in darkness when we move the clocks back in less than two weeks. We have had a run of thick fog that makes this ride an adventure and ensures I have my lights charged and flashing. The darkness and fog result in tunnel vision and forces a zen-like focus just to stay on route.

The cooler weather also necessitates more clothing, further slowing the journey. We had an unusually warm and long summer and I haven’t yet cycled through all of my long sleeve jerseys.  Booties and long gloves have been hiding in the back of my drawer waiting to be called to action.  I look at the gloves and winter clothing as if they are neglected friendships. I am excited to use them again. After a spring of road racing, a summer focused on big miles and a fall full of Cyclocross I am looking forward to the transition to some slower rides.

There was a recent article featuring Cyclocross racer Tim Johnson where he discussed how he felt the label of bike racer pigeon-holed him as he considered himself more a cyclist than a racer. I have a respect for bike commuters, road racers, mountain bikers, Cyclocross racers, summer cyclists, randonee riders and track cyclists.  Sometimes it is nice to ride a mile or more in someone else’s world.  It would be disappointing to have to choose only one aspect of cycling.

Back to the subject of commuting… 
I still marvel at the crap that ends up in the bike lane.  I chuckle at the stuff I see behind the signs that say, “FREE.”  It scares me when people pull out of their driveways with their car windows fogged up. It touches me when I see a man throwing a ball for his dog to chase in the park at five minutes past six in the morning.  I laugh out loud when I am riding through thick fog and I can see a TV in someone’s house with a weather man telling them it is foggy outside.

I still get anxious as I approach intersections and exercise my faith in my lights when cars come up on me from behind. I give dirty looks to people who don’t pick up their dogs poop and smile and greet pedestrians and runners when I can.  I try to memorize where the potholes are now that it is dark and I can’t see them and I rejoice when they get fixed.

I feel bad that I tend to neglect the drive train on my commuter bike and I hope if I ever run into Lennard Zinn, I’m riding a different bike.

It feels good to have the various aspects of the commute dialed in.  When you bike commute there are so many little things that have big consequences if forgotten that you really appreciate getting them right.  Things like my bike lock, keys to home, keys to the office, my phone, not to mention forgetting my glasses can all be game ending mistakes. 

When I get home the preparation for the next commute starts as I hang my gloves to dry. If my shoes are wet they go on the boot dryer.  Rain jacket and booties get hung to dry. I have two riders worth of clothing to wash.  A quick shower and a nice hot meal and life is good.

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