Saturday, November 22, 2008


I haven't been able to commute at all for the last two days. I've had to attend meetings in the Twin Cities. It was bad enough not to get out for fresh air, but to have to drive through rush hour city traffic, I'm going through withdrawal.

I figured I'd at least be able to get out some today - it was a really beautiful day out - but had to cart the kids around to basketball practice, etc.

My bike is calling to me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

People look at me funny...

Yesterday morning on my morning commute, a real, honest to goodness snow squall started. There were big, heavy Grandma Moses snowflakes, and visibility dropped to about 200 yards (as I can attest to because an SUV almost clipped me).

What struck me, though, was the tremendous beauty of the moment. Had I not taken up bicycle commuting two months ago, I would have been driving to work in my car during that squall. I would have had the heat blasting and the windshield wipers going, straining to see out the frosted up windshield and cursing how slow I had to drive.

But yesterday, I was caught in the moment. Everything was quiet. There was little traffic, and what traffic there was seemed to pass by silently, muffled by the cotton candy snow settling on the roads. There was no wind, and the flakes seemed to float down in slow motion, sticking to whatever they landed on.

I wasn't cold, because I was prepared for the weather. But people who drove by craned their necks to look at the wierdo riding his bike in the snowstorm. Even the coffee shop owner raised his eyebrows when he asked if I was riding bike to work. I must have looked like a sight with my two mugs of java perched in my handlebar water bottle cages.

In a small town like ours, word gets around. I'm sure there are a few people talking by now. I was imagining a conversation between two locals..."saw Chip riding his bike in the snow yesterday."

"Yup, I heard he got a DUI and lost his license. Has to ride his bike everywhere now."

As I rode along, thinking about the locals, with the beautiful snow that God provided just for me on my morning ride, I smiled. They just don't get it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

About the bike...

I have both a road bike and a mountain bike, but when it came to deciding which to use for commuting, the mountain bike won easily for a couple of reasons:

1. The road bike doesn't do well on the gravel/mud section of my commute.

2. The road bike has clipless pedals on it, while my mountain bike has regular pedals with Power Grips (more on this later).

3. The mountain bike seemed more comfortable and easy use as an all-around commuting/errand bike.

My mountain bike is an old Trek 930 with a cro-moly frame and rock shox fork. I left the knobby tires on it. My commute is short enough that tire rolling resistance isn't really a big deal. Plus, I like the traction on the gravel portion of my ride.

The bike had no fenders when I decided to start using it for commuting. The front fender was a cheap addition ($10) and does a great job of reducing tire spray. I already had the back rack lying around, so adding that and the bag on back was a useful addition.

I expected the rack and bag to handle the tire spray from the back tire, but my first commute when the gravel road was muddy resulted in the roostertail mud stains up the butt and back anyway. I purchased two mud guards for $2 each to solve this problem. I put one just in front of the back tire, and mounted the other to the bike rack under the bag. Hopefully the extra few inches of protection will prevent roostertail in the future. I'll have to let you know after the next muddy commute.

I mentioned the pedals earlier. Because I am commuting in my work clothes, and try to use my bike for other short errands whenever I can, I needed to have pedals that could accomodate regular shoes.

I had put Power Grips on my mountain bike years ago, and they actually work really well for commuting.

I am starting to experience cold feet and ankles now that the weather is getting colder. At some point, I expect to have to start wearing boots or booties of some kind, and carry my work shoes in my bag.

Another issue which could have put the kybosh on this bike commuting thing for me was the inability to carry two mugs of coffee (one for me and one for a co-worker). I solved this by mounting two water bottle holders on the handlebar.

The headlight is nothing fancy ($16). It runs on 3 AAA batteries. The brightness is OK for my purposes. I primarily got it so I could be seen better, since I have street lights for most of my commute. I also have a red blinking taillight that makes me feel much better when riding on the two lane highway after dark.
Is it perfect? No. It's a work in progress. I plan to get some rear pannier bags so that I can carry more to and from work. This bike is pretty darn old, too. My local bike shop guy keeps it running, but he suggests that, after commuting on this through the winter, I consider a new bike in the spring. If I can make this bike commuting thing part of my lifestyle, then I think I may just do that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A little background...

OK, I've got it easy...sort of. I mean, my commute is pretty short compared to many bike commuters throughout the country. The most direct route from my house to my office is a shade over 2 miles...3 miles if I make the detour to the local coffee shop on my way to the office.

So, my typical commuting day is a three mile ride in the morning (hauling two mugs of hot coffee - one for me and one for a co-worker), a two mile ride home at noon for lunch, a two or three mile ride back to work after lunch (mileage dependent upon if I need an afternoon coffee fix), and the final two mile ride home after work. So, altogether, I get in somewhere between 9 and 10 miles a day.

I live in a small community with one traffic light. Part of my ride is on local, residential roads, part is on a new bike path that the town created a couple of years ago, about half a mile is on a state two-lane 55 mph highway, and about two hundred yards is on a gravel (or mud, depending on the weather) road.

I've been commuting on my bike for the last two months, and I have fallen in love with it. It's not just the gas I've saved, or even the weight I've lost since I started. What I've really fallen in love with is how it makes me feel. I arrive at work more alert, more motivated, more alive than I did when I drove everywhere. I find myself anticipating my ride home before lunchtime even arrives, and the ride home at the end of the day is extra special. I can unwind, get fresh air, clear my mind, and prepare to be the husband and Dad that my family deserves when I arrive home.

I should say, up front, that I did come into this new relationship with bike commuting with some conditions. The primary one was that I had to be able to wear my work clothes on my commute. My ride is short enough that I don't have to worry about working up a big sweat, so my only challenge is how to protect my work clothes when the weather is bad or the gravel road is more mud than gravel. I expect this to become more and more of an issue as we head into the cold Minnesota winter.

I am in the earliest stages of discovering how to make this bike commuting thing fit into my life. I intend to document what I learn through trial and error, and look forward to hearing what others have learned as well. This should be an adventure!