Life on Two Wheels

Posted: September 1, 2011 in Health, Idle Nonsense

I’ve spent a great deal more time on my bicycle than in my car or on public transportation this year. The bike used to be mostly about training for participation in triathlons but has now become my preferred mode of transportation for trips under 12 miles or so, especially when it’s just me. A summary of some of the things I’ve learned seems appropriate.

The biggest surprise is that biking in winter is tolerable, perhaps even desirable. My lower threshold is about 25 deg. F. right now, but that might go lower. I had read enough at Bike Winter to understand that accommodations to the cold were effective, especially considering that once out and moving the body generates its own warmth, but I hadn’t built up the nerve to try it out until this year. As winter approaches, I will retest the experience and see how I hold up.

The second biggest surprise is that I really dislike riding in moisture, whether hot, moderate, or cold. When it’s dry out, the roadways are continuous hazards, with lots of traffic, debris, and unevenness. But when it’s wet out, it’s not the rain falling on me but the stuff kicked up by the bike that is so awful, depositing a layer of crud on just about everything. In addition, the road surface is obscured by standing water, which makes maneuvering even more difficult. I haven’t yet tried biking in the snow, but I can’t imagine it’s better than rain or its aftermath.

The third surprise is that now that I’ve been commuting on the bike more frequently, I no longer arrive at my destination (or at home) completely worn out. I’ve never been a terrific athlete in terms of speed or power, but I have good endurance, balance, and body control. When I first got earnest, a five-mile trip could easily destroy me. Now, I can take 15–20 mile round-trips in stride. It’s still a serious effort, but I gain energy by using energy. I do tend to arrive sweaty and unkempt, but if I need to be presentable, I work out changes of clothes and access to facilities in advance.

I’m a novice when it comes to bicycle mechanics and maintenance. (Just discovered recently that my new helmet had a visor stored in the main body, which I subsequently mounted on the front where it belongs.) I’ve had three blowouts (the last two days ago) and numerous slow leaks in the last year. Luckily, none were too serious an inconvenience. I also installed racks on my two primary bikes over the rear wheels, which allow me to transport a modest number of things with trunk bags or panniers without resorting to wearing a backpack. I haven’t attempted any serious grocery shopping using a bike, as space is limited and everything is jostled pretty strenuously.

Lastly, the feeling of freedom and wellbeing that I get riding the bike creates a positive feedback loop. I’m not using fossil fuels, I’m not really contributing to traffic density, and I’m not reliant on public transportation, which is increasingly sketchy in Chicago due to budget constraints and service cutbacks. Defensive, low-risk riding is always in the front of my head, since the likelihood of a crash is best understood in terms of when, not if. How many more years I’ll be able to commute this way is up for grabs. I’m already much longer in the tooth than most other riders I see out there. But while I can, I expect to remain committed to my life on two wheels.

  1. halsmith says:

    I use Slime inner-tubes on my mountain bike, which means no flat tires with little added weight.

    I am used to riding in the rain, as long as I am moving I don’t get chilled. The temperature at the elevation I live at in Costa Rica stays within 70-80 Fahrenheit, and it rains a lot. Rain is just part of life.

    I take comfort in knowing that it keeps the other Gringos away from my part of the country. They all crowd together in the drier part of the country.

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