Some people have been checking in with me over the many weeks that have past since I began commuting to work by bicycle. Usually with questions such as, “are you still biking in to work?” almost as if they are expecting me to have stopped. There can be some subtle tones of sympathy as well, like I’m missing out on the privilege of driving in a nice warm car with surround sound and heated leather seats. Maybe some nice cup holders for my coffee. Maybe a hands-free spekerphone to attend that conference call on the way to the office. Maybe a sunroof to let in some fresh air!
Those all sound like nice things, I will admit. Though, I’m not a huge fan of talking to anyone while I drive. Call me an old lady, if you wish, but the road is full of crazies and I’ve got to keep my eyes and ears peeled for all of them. And more importantly, I will gladly give up all that luxury in exchange for the cash I didn’t spend and the option to avoid the crazies in their rolling steel boxes. Yes, I know cars and bikes are on roads together. Read on.
For those of you with sympathy for me, or if you may be wondering if the bike life might be right for you, or if you simply want to know how I can avoid the temptation of that cozy warm rolling box each morning, here is the story of my daily routine.
Before bed each night, I put a clean shirt, shorts, socks and underwear into my backpack. I usually leave a good pair of shoes at the office just so there is one less thing to forget. I have special bike shoes with clips (though they are called “clip-less”, don’t ask me why) to hold my feet to the pedals. These are very useful on any sort of ride and we’ll talk more about that later. It’s because I put these on that I might forget my work shoes (Eventually I’ll buy another pair of work shoes with all the cash I’m saving and just leave them at the office all the time).
There is no need to shower in the morning. I’ll do that when I arrive at work. First thing, I put on my bike shorts (yes, the snuggly ones), a shirt, socks, and a pair of shorts with pockets. The pockets are handy for holding my phone and wallet. The wallet would probably be safer in my backpack, but I feel more comfortable with it in my pocket. My phone will function as my walkman when I’m ready to go, so it also needs to be accessible.
If the kids are awake, I will help them get ready. However, it’s usually better for all of use if I get out of the house before they wake up. All of our routines will be delayed if there are too many distractions and we don’t want the kids to be late for school.
After heading downstairs, I have a quick snack that will tide me over until I get to the office where I usually eat a larger breakfast. I like to arrive at the office early so I can be home a bit earlier in the day to make up for the time with the kids I may have missed in the morning, so I want to get out of the house as quickly as possible.
To this point, aside from the shower and bike shorts, our routines (yours and mine) may sound quite similar. Here is where things may start to feel strange.
I do a quick “door check” of the weather by stepping outside the house in my shorts and t-shirt. Weather apps and thermometers don’t work nearly as well. During the fall (as it is now) there can be some pretty wild swings in the morning temperature. The result is that I will add some combinations of the following to what I am wearing: Hat (under my helmet), gloves (big wintery ones), running pants (the wind proof kind), and maybe even ski goggles (mostly because they are fun to wear). I lace up my “clipless” bike shoes I mentioned earlier and head out the door. These shoes are not the awkward road bike kind, but nice “sneakers” intended for mountain biking that I can wear all day long, if needed. Also, I don’t really “lace them up”. I lied. I never untie them, so I really just jam my feet in them.
Outside, there is a car in the driveway but I don’t see it any more. It doesn’t register in my mind. My routine takes me out the door and around the side of the house where our shed sits in the back corner of the yard. My bike is hanging overhead, the seat hooked over a “2 by 6” that forms part of the roof structure. I lift it down to the floor, roll it out into the yard and park it against the wall where I do a quick maintenance check.
Before driving away in a car, you should do a cursory inspection. Perhaps just of the tire pressure. Maybe even the lights, if you’re feeling ambitious. Hey, does the steering work? Our cars work so well, we don’t expect them to break, ever. And when they do, we get angry because, “it’s never happened before!” And because we will probably be late.
I do a quick inspection of the bike every morning. Nothing too detailed.
- Air in the tires? Too much? Too little?
- Chain spins OK? Is it clean? Is it lubed up nicely?
- Did one of the kids loosen a wheel while I was sleeping?
- How about the lights? Are the batteries still good?
- Brakes! Holy crap, how did I almost forget the brakes!
When everything checks out, I turn on the lights mounted on the front and back of the bike. White on the front and red on the back, just like a car. Except these blink all the time, much like a motorcycle’s might. I need people to see me and I don’t care how ridiculous I look. In fact, the more ridiculous I look, the better. Put down the phone and look at me. Now look back at the road and make sure you’re not about to make me part of it. Thanks.
Preflight check complete. Time to saddle up.
My feet feel at home clipped into my pedals and I set off down the hill away from my house. At the end of the street, there is a ‘T’ intersection and the cars are backed up waiting for the light to turn green. If I’m lucky, the school bus is sitting there with it’s STOP sign out holding back traffic in both directions (I’m assuming for the kids AND me).
After crossing over between the waiting cars or in front of the chivalrous school bus, I head away from the main road toward our local gun range. It’s only about a half mile away. Behind it there are several dirt roads used to access a cell tower and construction entrances to various housing complexes. It’s quiet on the trial despite the proximity to so many weapons (they don’t usually shoot in the morning, I don’t know why). The ground is covered mostly with the kind of rocks you’d see around railroad tracks, so it’s a bit bumpy. Someone has sprayed orange paint on the sharper of the rocks embedded in the ground, another mystery.
At the end of this trail I make a right hand turn then a quick left into a residential street that ends in a cul de sac. Some folks are out walking their dog and we wave and say, “hi”. There is a house about half way in on the left that has a treehouse I am jealous of. In the woods to the right of the street, I can see small groups of deer wandering about. I ring my bell and they look up. We blow each other kisses.
This cul de sac, or “circle” as my child self would call it, doesn’t pose a problem for a bike. On the north side of this circle there is a small trail that rises sharply into the woods and onto another fire-road which runs behind some new construction. The outlet of the trail is on the south side of another “circle” in a different neighborhood. The residents of the houses near there are starting to get used to me popping out of the woods and onto the street. They don’t crap in their pajamas quite as often.
Here is a larger neighborhood of interconnected dead-end streets where many more folks are our for their morning walk or dog-walk or power-walk. We wave and say, “hi” as before. There is one left-hand-turn with trees blocking my view around the corners and I need to slow a little to check for local residents heading out to work.
I could ride another trail through more woods and avoid these street as well, but my only option from here takes me right through the middle of an active gun range, and I’m not quite that stupid. There’s also some barbed wire I’d have to contend with.
However, at the end of a nice long downhill, the street changes to dirt. There is a left hand turn to the main road, just before the direct section that most cars leaving the neighborhood will take. The dirt section, that I take, has eroded into a super fantastic jump. I haven’t crashed on it yet, but that’s only because I’m not trying hard enough.
I’m not lying to you, there is another gun range. However, this one is called the “old rifle range” and is now simply a nature trail. The remnants of what I think were back stops are still here. The confusing part is that one of them is “down range” from the other. Doesn’t seem very safe. Maybe that’s why they closed it.
I absolutely love this trail. It is narrow and full of fallen trees and rolling hills (more like bumps). If I’m careful and watch ahead for dog walkers, I can carry a lot of speed through the winding narrow dirt and over the big rolling jumps. Unfortunately, it comes to an end all too soon and I’m back to “regular” roads.
Soon, I’m at the office parking lot. And despite going close to 20 MPH in the parking lot, there are some folks in their cars that insist on driving past me at 30MPH, in a PARKING lot. I’m not sure why, so I tell myself it must be from the stress of all the driving they just did.
I’m looking forward to day’s end when I can do it all again the other way.