Committed to the Commute

Yesterday I decided to observe and celebrate the first day of spring by bike commuting for the first time in 2012.

For me, getting organised for “the commute” is a serious undertaking. It’s 30 km each way so a lot of clothing layers are required to be prepared for all the weather possibilities this time of year in Calgary, and my preferred route follows a combination of surface streets and bike paths, so proper lighting, reflective clothing and a bell are all musts. Additionally, I drive a work truck, so if I am going to ride to work, I first have to make sure my truck is there should I need it during the day.

I also need to make sure I have a sufficient amount of clean work clothes at the office to last me the week, or at least as many days as I plan on biking. It is too much to pack the clothes back and forth each day along with my lunch, especially without getting my clothes overly wrinkled. I regularly give presentations to large groups of Engineers and clients so I need to look at least quasi-respectable. To this end, I removed the shelves and quietly made some other modifications to a “book cabinet”
in my office. Note the chain lube sitting on top:

The Commuter's Office

The Secret Towel Rack

Back of Door - Layers of the Commute

Any week that I plan on commuting by bike, I pack everything I will need into my truck on Sunday night. I drive to work on Monday morning, unload everything into my office, and then park my truck in the shop until I next need it. I bike home at the end of the day, and continue biking back and forth until Friday afternoon, or until something comes up that requires me to drive home. This means that when I wake up each morning, regardless of the weather or how tired or lazy I am feeling, my vehicle is 30 km away, and I am Committed to the Commute. Case in point, this morning:

In anticipation of my first commute home from work yesterday, I brought my mountain bike to work, thinking it was the safest bet in the event of any new pathway detours or lingering ice or snow patches. It was to be my “scout” ride. I also attended to the weather forecast throughout the day. Although the temperatures looked fine, the winds were predicted to be gusting at 40 – 60 kph from the west, and my ride home is pretty much exactly to the west.

As it turned out, the forecast was not wrong. A 30 km ride with a few hills that usually takes me an hour and ten minutes took me a full hour and forty-three minutes.

The wind buffeted me head on and I found myself stuck in a mental rut, rotating through just three thoughts as I spun in granny’ish gears: 1. the local above-average windiness of the past couple of months has been a hot-button news topic as of late, so, no, I am not imagining it; 2. I can’t believe I brought my mountain bike – my heavy, full suspension mountain bike with big fat lugged tires that puts me in an upright perfectly wind-catching position – instead of my road bike; and 3. if I look over my shoulder and catch somebody wheel sucking while I struggle feebly against the wind I am going to violently clothesline them when they eventually pull out to pass me.

It took me a little longer than normal and I was pretty tired, but, as always, I made it home just fine and the second I stopped pedalling I returned to a pleasant and happy state, content to have tackled and completed another windy ride.

http://app.strava.com/runs/5513203/embed/8f9a6a6f5f31a12a1881ce421edba439aca63f67

Still wrapped in several layers of sweaty cycling clothes I inhaled some turkey loaf for dinner at a pace much quicker than that which I had cycled at, and then enjoyed a nice long hot shower.

Later that night, still perched atop my post-ride high, I climbed into bed with images of a right jolly ride to work the next day dancing in my head. Roughly six and half hours later, I was roused from my sleep feeling deep hatred for my stupid alarm clock and those images of the night before were replaced with the feelings, sights and sounds of a fuzzy, tired, dark, windy, and cold morning reality. Yuck. There is NO way I wanted to bike ANYWHERE. The night before mania had been replaced by the morning after depression. But like it or not, I was Committed to the Commute.

With no way out, I got out of bed, dressed extremely warm, and pedaled off into the dark morning air. My sour mood quickly melted away. Save some frozen fingers and toes, the ride in was enjoyable and quick at just over an hour. And with a quick trip to Mountain Equipment Co-op at lunch today (hi Lincoln) to pick up some Gore-Tex boot liners and a pair of split finger cold weather gloves, it should be at least a little easier to Commit to the Commute tomorrow morning.

http://app.strava.com/runs/5513202/embed/15681ea2d168bec7a408e9b017cf4aee1e5695e2

How to Dry Your Cycling Shorts in a Pinch

I travel a fair bit for work, and I try as best I can to get some exercise when I am on the road. Sometimes this leaves me with the predicament of how to properly clean – or at the very least air out – my wet, sweaty, and let’s face it…….utterly, totally, EPICALLY disgusting three-day-old gym clothes. But then I came up with one heck of a solution. It requires your hotel room to have a certain accessory, but it is otherwise very quick, very straightforward, and almost automatic. Scroll down and enjoy:

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scroll down further…..

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further……

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almost there….

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ta-da!

How to Dry Your Cycling Shorts in a Pinch

Lessons Learned, Part 3: It’s Not Worth It

Sadly there are few bike commuters or cyclists that don’t have a story – or worse, stories – about run-ins with motorists. Unfortunately, I have a few. The one I’m about to share is pretty tame, relatively speaking, but you asked for it (based on the results from my poll found here), so here it is.

Years ago, I was riding down a residential street in Edmonton on my way home from a day at college. As I approached a T-junction, I noted a pickup truck approaching from a side street. I was in the thru-lane and the driver was approaching from the branch of the tee. He had a stop sign and I didn’t. I had the clear right-of-way, but still I slowed, seeking eye contact to make sure the driver saw me, lest he run or roll through the stop sign (in my experience, this is something that BOTH drivers and cyclists do often, and yet they both use it liberally when complaining about each other). Our eyes met, and he was slowing, so I continued on my path.

He had almost come to a stop, but just as I was about to cross in front of his truck, he punched the gas and lurched forward. I braced for the impact (eyes/muscles/breath/sphincters all fully clenched, I’m sure), but fortunately, it did not come.

The driver had stopped the truck about a foot away from me and was looking straight at me with a satisfied and bemused smirk on his face. He was obviously pleased with the result of his little game of “scare and intimidate the biker”. Mission accomplished.

As I passed he started to pull out and turn in the direction I had come from. Enraged by the clear intention of his actions, I flipped him the middle finger, and shouted some choice and nasty words in his direction.

I should have known better, because as one might expect from a driver who had already exhibited such ridiculous behavior, he made a three-point turn and started to drive after me. I assumed it was not to apologise.

Scared, I pedaled as fast as I could and took the next turn because an adjacent park was the only escape route I could see. He followed around the turn and was coming quickly, so I hopped the curb and bolted across the field. Lucky for me, he was not sufficiently angry (or crazy) to jump the curb and chase me down.

I continued pedaling as hard as I could all the way home, looking back over my shoulder often.

That’s it. That’s the story. There was no physical confrontation, no contact or injury, and no property damage. But in my humble opinion, what happened is more than enough. This story has resonated with me for years, as much as the time that I was actually hit by a vehicle while riding my bike.

I cannot speak for how the driver in this story feels about his decisions, but to this day I regret reacting the way I did and giving him not only the finger, but also the excuse he no doubt wanted, to escalate his actions. Things could have gone very differently, and in almost every scenario I can now think of, it would have only been me that got hurt. I really should have known better. He was clearly a massive jerk, but I could not control that. For the sake of my safety, I should have controlled what I could, which was my reaction to an unnecessary but real provocation.

So this will be the third of my lessons learned series. As a cyclist, I don’t pick battles I can’t win. For me, this means any encounter where I am up against a big heavy vehicle with an unpredictable driver. I wear my helmet (I wasn’t wearing one the time I got hit by the other vehicle), I bike extremely defensively, and when necessary, I bite my tongue. I would absolutely take a license number and call it in – if I could do so safely – but what matters most is pedalling home safely to my family. I vow that will always be enough for me.

If the driver seems ready to listen, and I know the pertinent rights and rules of all users of the road involved, then by all means, I will educate that driver. Equally important, if I am wrong, I will admit it, offer a legitimate apology, and then better educate myself. But where there is nothing but trouble to be had, I will just keep on pedalling in the safest direction possible.