Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bike to Work Month: Why I started

Since the month of May is Bike to Work Month, and since I bike to work every single day, Erin asked me to write a few blog posts about my experience. I plan to write on several topics, including:

  • Gear
  • Safety
  • Health
  • The environment 
  • Finances
But I'll start this off by telling you how I started. So here goes!

Why I Started

So I started commuting to work via bicycle almost exactly a year ago. No, it wasn't directly in response to B2WM, I actually had several motivations for biking to work. All listed above. Thoughts of committing to this mode of transportation were already fermenting in my mind for several months. Erin and I had even talked about it on several occasions.

Since I know my wife so well, I knew she thought I was nuts. 

Why would I do such a thing? It's hot in Florida (We were in Southwest Florida for most of these discussions. News flash: it's as hot there as it is in Southeast Florida.) Also, we didn't have a reliable bicycle. And we lived pretty far from my job. And it was dangerous. And...

Lesson Learned: If you listen to all the reasons why you shouldn't do something, you'll never do anything. 

I Got A New Job

I snagged a sweet gig at Florida International University on the faculty as librarian. It is a completely different lifestyle from that of a public librarian. That change of occupation was just the occasion I needed to push me to make a change in my transportation. In other words: New job, new me. 

I made the decision to buy a bike and ride to work. It made an immediate impact in my routine. We were blessed to be able to stay with my parents while we looked for a home. They live about 3 miles from the university. However, this one decision affects:
  1. Where we choose to live
  2. When I get up in the morning
  3. When I have to leave the house
  4. When I need to leave work to come home (before rush hour)
  5. What I wear to work
  6. What I eat for lunch (I can't really go out without a ride)

Developing A New Ethos

As a result of this decision, I now have a new element to my work ethos. That is, my decisions at work are directly affected by my decision to bike to work. This should not be surprising or radical. My work ethos used to be driven (pun, get it?) by my decision to commute by automobile to work. People who take public transportation are affected similarly by their commute as well. 

It was frustrating to drive to work. As always, some days were worse than others. But a typical day included some shouting and trouble with others on the road. Likewise, cycling to work can be frustrating too. More situations can involve life-or-death decisions. I have yelled at idiots on occasion. But there's something about getting to your destination using your own muscle power that helps with stress management. 

It's also a conversation starter at work. When people hear that you bike to work they have tons of questions about your experiences. At this point, I can't imagine what colleagues would ask about my Kia... 

So it starts

So I began biking to work. I had a free month parking pass, so I biked about 70% of the time and drove the rest of the time. This helped me ease into the routine. 

I borrowed my brother's old mountain bike while I decided which bicycle to purchase. It was a rusty, rough ride, but it got me from A to B and back again, so I made the best of it. I didn't know much about bike maintenance then, I probably could have fixed it up a bit...

May is a tough time to start biking to work in South Florida. It's hot already. Then comes June and summer. Heat. Humidity. Afternoon thunderstorms. If you can bike to work in summer, you can do it all year long. 

So I did. 

A Few Tips

Beginner Tip #1: Take it easy

So you're interested in cycling to work, eh? Slow down! Don't buy anything yet. Don't sell the car. Don't dive in prematurely. I did a lot of research before starting. I read a lot. I carefully planned my steps. 

Beginner Tip #2: Talk it out

I have a friend who is a competitive cyclist (he cycled at Penn State). So I talked to his dad about my plans. (Remember, the boy trains while the father finances and observes.) He gave me a lot of useful, valuable advice mingled with tons of encouragement. Find someone knowledgeable who will both advise you and encourage you. They will help a lot. Especially when you see them 3 months later and they ask if you're still cycling to work. 

Beginner Tip #3: Try it first 

Try your best to invest as little as possible at first. Use an old bike or borrow one for the first month. Wear an old backpack. The only thing I recommend buying outright is a new helmet. Then you can reward yourself with a new bike after sticking to it for a month. By the time the new gear novelty wears, cycling will become part of the routine. Remember also that used equipment will likely perform worse than new stuff. So if you can do it with borrowed stuff, things will only get easier with new toys. 

Beginner Tip #4: Take extra care

Assume the drivers don't see you. Assume the pedestrians don't see you. In fact, assume they didn't even think to look your way. (That is a paraphrase from that time I found myself on the hood of someone's car.) Remember that you are very vulnerable on that bicycle and behave accordingly. 

Beginner Tip #5: Read more stuff

I'll write a few more articles for StorybookErin this month explaining different aspects of biking to work. There are many benefits to enjoy along with a few pitfalls to manage. Read up and ask me questions on Twitter: @cjmnz8


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