At the beginning of August, I took a trip home to see my parents. Three quarters of the way there, something happened to my car and it started overheating. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I stopped off at the gas station and topped off the coolant.
After leaving the car at home for two consecutive weeks and not being able to fix it, I finally diagnosed the problem: it was a blown head gasket! Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always had problems with my Lexus, but this drove me over the top after hearing that it would cost $2,500 to fix it. It was then that I decided that I wouldn’t buy another car, but instead I would purchase a bike and get back in shape.
Buying a bike was something that I’ve toyed with for a while, but never had the motivation to do. The first week I was back in Columbia without a car, I walked three miles to work and decided that I would never do it again. After that I began my search for some new wheels.
I consulted friends on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to see what they liked. For a while I was considering purchasing a Trek Soho, a fixed speed Gary Fisher bike that would be good for getting around the city. A guy from my local bike store (LBS) convinced me that if I were going to buy a bike, I was better off going with a commuter/hybrid bike, something that’s a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. Mountain bikes are too heavy for the city and I’m to heavy for a straight road bike so I finally settled on the Trek 7.1 FX pictured below.
When I first started telling friends and family what I was going to do, I got a lot of resistance. I heard lots of people say “You can’t do that” “You won’t last long/you’ll give up after a while” “What will you do when it gets cold?” “What if you need to go out of town?” and I would calmly reassure people that I in fact wasn’t going crazy and that I was excited about riding to work everyday. Besides, it’s only six miles round trip, how hard could it be?
Two months later: What have I learned?
Two months in to this experiment and I’m still going strong! I am very happy to report that I love biking to work on a daily basis and even have fun riding in the rain!
When I was commuting by car to work, it would take me about 10-12 minutes by car to get to my office. When I first started riding, I took things very slowly and didn’t push myself but my times have drastically improved since then. It now takes me about 17 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes to get home in the afternoon. On the week of September 20th one afternoon I had to race a storm home in time so that I could make it to my house before things got crazy! I made it home just in time for the bottom to open up.
Riding in the (light) rain isn’t that bad. It stings when it hits your skin if you’re going more than 25 mph like I was, but other than that, it’s pretty refreshing riding in the rain. Just be sure to pack your clothes in a waterproof bag or put them in a grocery bag and stuff them in your backpack and you’ll be fine. If it’s raining really hard like it was the morning of 9/23, I’ll just call the office and tell them I’m working from home until the rain stops.
Bike facts from Trek go by bike: > > > * Just three hours of bicycling per week can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%. > > * If you bike four miles round trip each day instead of driving, you will save about 66 gallons of fuel per year. > > * That same daily trip will burn 36,000 calories in a year; the equivalent of over 10 pounds of fat. > > * 40% of all trips are within two miles of the home. > > * You can park 14 bikes in the same space you can park one car. > > * The U.S. could save 462 million gallons of gasoline a year by increasing cycling from 1% to 1.5% of all trips. >
Yes, there are still days when I’ll ask someone for a ride, but I try to limit that to extreme circumstances. I’ll never ask someone if I’m just too tired; I always suck it up and ride anyway. I have asked friends for rides before I bought my lights and lock but now that I have those, I feel comfortable riding anywhere. I’ll also ask a friend for a ride if we’re all going somewhere more than 8 miles out of town, like to the movie theaters in Sandhills or on Harbison.
Not everything has been absolutely perfect. Since I’m a big guy, I do put more weight on my frame and wheels. I’ve magically broken two spokes in the months since I bought my bike but I blame those on rough riding, like going through potholes. I do also have to deal with the fact that I don’t have a full shower at work and have to resort to other options, but I’ve managed to tame that beast rather well.
Here’s what I know about riding in the city so far:
If you’re going to ride, be safe. Never assume a driver knows what your doing.
Don’t ride too close to parked cars. You never know when someone will open a door in your path. It’s called getting “doored” and it sucks when it happens.
Buy a helmet, lights and a bike lock. I know it doesn’t seem cool, but it will save you a lot grief in the long run.
Don’t be afraid of using the higher granny gears on your bike. They’re there for a reason.
It’s not a race; enjoy your ride every time your on your bike.
Anyone can do it, including me. I might not look like Lance Armstrong, but I will.
Columbia isn’t the bike friendliest city ever, but it’s better than New York and San Francisco.
Pedestrians are always distracted. Don’t assume they can hear or see you, especially when they’re glued to their phone.
The benefits of a bicycle:
The image above sums it up pretty well. I’ll add the following points:
I look forward to getting out on my bike and riding without a destination.
It feels great zipping through stopped traffic right when the light turns green!
Driving a car at any speed above 45 mph feels like you’re piloting a rocketship!!
People for the most part are pretty nice about passing and not honking or gesturing.
There’s a large community of daily commuters throughout the US with some very helpful websites.
Riding a bike has allowed me to slow down and enjoy life more. No more life in the fast lane.
What to look forward to:
Fall will be starting soon and that means it will be getting cold. That means it’s time to think about layering up when riding to work and also figuring out bus routes if it snows this winter so I can continue to get around. At some point I would like to add some upgrades to my bike.
I’m also looking forward to living in a city that’s more bike friendly. Columbia has very few physical bike lanes in the city. I won’t point fingers at who should be responsible for building those, but I do think there’s an opportunity to do something about it soon.
While on my trip out west, I was surprised by how bike friendly Portland, Seattle and San Francisco were. Some people call them a bikers heaven so it would be nice go back and visit them when I actually have time to rent something and spend the day riding around.
If you’re curious about bike riding or are looking for someone to go with you, let me know and I’ll help you out as much as possible. We can ride around town and look for the safest route for you to ride to work.