A month of riding

Tomorrow, May 27th, marks four weeks with my new bike. Its a great relationship. I’ll hit 420 miles tomorrow. That makes just over 100 miles a week. I’d like to do more. Last week, in North Carolina, I was able to get about 40 miles every other day. I know I can hit 20+ miles a day here, but I’m not sure I can hit more than 30 miles/day just yet. I haven’t ditched my old hybrid, but I’ve left the child seat on it. Now, when I want to go riding with the kids, or take my 3 year old, I can just pull down the old bike and away we go. Last week I realized something I hadn’t understood before. Whereas driving drains energy from me and I get irritated by the amount of gas I use (however small), cycling feels empowering and, because I’m not irritated, I go more places. Like I said, its a great relationship.

Traveling with a bike (and a note on road riding with traffic)

This week, I’m in Chapel Hill, NC, working with some colleagues.  I flew down Sunday and, since I’ve been having so much fun riding back home, this time I brought my bike with me.

Since this is the first time I’ve ever tried to take a bike with me when I travel, I thought I’d sum up some of what I’ve learned:

  1. Amtrak.  Amtrak seems to welcome folding bikes but is spotty when it comes to full-size bikes.  Some trains are specially-equipped with bike racks to accommodate commuters.  But the train I took was not.  I had packed my bike in a hard case to protect it on the train.  These cases are not small.  Getting onto an Amtrak train is completely dependent upon the good graces of the conductor.  When the conductor saw me with my 3 foot by 4 foot case, he said “Looks a little oversized to me.”  But he let me on.  Later he asked me “What do you have in there?  A transmission?” and I told him it was a bike.  He rolled his eyes.  If your trip includes Amtrak, scope out the way before hand and be ready with a backup plan (I could call my wife if I needed to).
  2. Regional Rail.  These are the sorts of trains you’ll only find in the Northeast or around cities like Chicago.  They include commuter trains like New Jersey Transit or SEPTA.  I took the SEPTA from downtown Philly to the airport.  When I asked if I could leave the bike at one end of the train, they refused and made me take it to my seat.  I have seen people sit at the end of the train with their bikes on New Jersey Transit, though.  Be prepared to lug this thing with you everywhere.
  3. In the Air.  This is the one part of my trip I didn’t have a good alternative for, so I had to make sure it worked before I went.  USAIR will accept bikes but charges $80 (unless you have a folder that folds down really small).  I was only charged $25 because there was some confusion at the self-check kiosk and it treated my bike like extra baggage.  Southwest (my return flight) will charge you $50 to take a bike.  USAIR says they’ll take an un-boxed bike, but I really didn’t want to leave it in the hands of the baggage handlers like that.  For this trip, I rented a hard case.  I’ll probably be buying one in the near future.
  4. Taxi. A regular taxi cannot easily accomodate the bike case.  You’ll want to get a SUV or Minivan taxi.

Of course, bring along a tool set.  I deflated my tires because 120psi might do funny things at high altitude.  Next time I’ll pack a real pump instead of just the frame pump I have right now.

Finally, a note on the differences in traffic. I ride in traffic.  Lots of people are scared to do this.  Even many people who ride regularly are not comfortable riding in traffic.  And, to be sure, there are some frightening drivers out there.

In Lancaster County, though, there are plenty of biking Mennonites, so drivers know there are cyclists on the road.  They seem very accomodating and I haven’t had any problems.

Here in Chapel Hill, NC, a place filled to the brim with Liberal Eco-concious Hippie wanna-bes, when I travel just a little into the country, things get weird.  There are no shoulders to speak of on the road and drivers get a little cranky when they see me.  Most, of course, are great. But one or two this morning were noisily upset to see me in front of them.

For this, there is only one solution: more cyclists on the road.

5 Reasons to Ride a Bike to Work

Plus five excuses not to and why they might not matter as much as you think.

  1. High Gas Prices. This one is a gimme. And don’t forget, gas prices are expected to double. Gas at $3.70 is getting people closer into the city to stop using their cars for their commute. When it reaches $7 or $8, people farther out will see a bike as an attractive way to cut costs.
  2. Exercise. It is unfortunate, but as our lives become more automated — more time shuffling paper and toggling bits — we become lazier and more sedentary. Humans aren’t designed to sit on their butts all day. They should be out hunting something or working in a field. For those of us who are stuck behind a desk, riding a bike to the desk gives you some exercise every day. The further you live from work, the more exercise you get!
  3. Endorphins and a Sense of Accomplishment. Exercise produces endorphins and endorphins make you feel good. I’ve been riding like a madman the past few days and I’ve rarely felt better. It doesn’t hurt that I’m averaging 35 or so miles a day. Looking back, despite whatever else is going on in my life (and, really, my life ain’t that bad), I feel like I’ve really accomplished something most people don’t even try.
  4. Discovering Your Neighborhood. It is amazing the things you notice when you slow down. And lets admit it, for most people cycling is going to be slower than driving to work. But it comes with the benefit of finding new and interesting things along the way. Things that you miss completely when you’re going 45+mph. Even if it is only the silly sayings on the bumper of a parked car.
  5. Sleep. When you start exercising more, you sleep better. More and better sleep is always helpful. If you have insomnia and you aren’t biking to work, now is the time to start!

Now I can already hear objections, so I think I’ll start with some and my responses.

  1. It’s Too Far! How far is too far? I admit I would be hard pressed to make a 20 mile one-way commute every day. But I’m beginning to see that it is possible. If you live in the Northeast US, and you work a sizable distance from where you live, you can probably make part of the trip on a train. But consider how much time you spend behind the wheel. An ABC news poll said “For car commuters, it’s an average of 100 minutes”. 100 minutes! This morning, I rode to my church (12 miles). Driving usually takes 25 minutes — when everything is going smoothly. Biking took about 40 minutes.
  2. I hate riding in traffic. It can be scary the first few times. But once you get out there and ride, you will probably see that most motorists respect you and give you a wide berth. I’m usually to the right of the white line, but drivers here still give me half a lane or more when they pass me. Now, I have run into some nasty drivers, but in all my years of riding, I can think of only two or three incidents where there was any real danger from the driver. Most people are decent and will make room for you and your bike.
  3. High Gas Prices? I’m Rich! Even if you are rich, most of us could stand to get more exercise.
  4. But I already go to the Gym! And let me guess… you drive there, right? How far is it? Why not bike to the gym? Or save your gym fees and bike some more. Just keep in mind that if you’re getting a good upper-body workout, that ain’t gonna happen on a bike.
  5. I’ll end up Sweaty at Work. Yes, you might. And it probably won’t matter. Or you might find a way to make it work. Just keep in mind that plenty of people bike to work and they aren’t all pariahs.

Back in the Saddle

In the past 48 hours, I’ve put 75 miles on my bike. I’m hoping for another 30 tomorrow. If I keep this up, I can do 200 a week, easily. I told that it took me 30 years to ride a bike and one of the kids asked what that meant. “Oh, he just means it took him that long to ride using common sense.” Hrm… Not sure I would put it that way… But I’ve been told plenty of times I have no common sense, so maybe there is something to that. In any case, today, for the first time in a while, I wiped out. I took my bike over a guardrail. That sounds more dangerous than it was. I was fiddling with my water bottle and going around a curve. I try to stay as far from the center of the road as possible — usually I’m to the right of the white line. On this particular stretch, the road travels through a bit of woods on the side of a hill and, yep, there is a guardrail. So, with my water bottle fiddling and riding close to the guardrail, I brushed up against it and, after a bit of a struggle to maintain control, went over the guardrail. With my feet in the clips, the bike came with me. And, of course, the water bottle rolled into the road where oncoming traffic hit it and gave it a nice leak.

Bike sales are up?

There seems to be a number of stories about bike sales going up. Apparently this AP story from Maryland spurred a local story that has accounts from local bicycle shops about increased (or not) sales. Though reports from shop owners are conflicting, it looks like people in the city (represented by Cycle Circle — the guy who sold me my bike — and Bike Line), most of whom naturally have a shorter commute, are starting to pick up bikes. People out in my area (the article mentions two stores in the neighboring town of Ephrata) aren’t quite as ready to start bike commuting. I mentioned that my daughter’s godfather was looking at folding bikes. This week he told he got one and is putting 40 miles a week on it at each end of the train commute. I expect this sort of trend to continue as gas prices edge their way up over the next few years. (In other news, I put 45 miles on my bike yesterday with travel from here to there and back again. If I found a way to do that every day, I could hit 200 miles a week easy.)

Fight Terrorism! Ride a Bike! (and save money, too)

Four years ago, during the last presidential election, I was working like a busy bee on the Clark Campaign in Little Rock, AR.  It was there that I met dcm — a relationship that took me around the world to Rwanda this year.  He gave me a bike sticker: Fight Terror! Ride a Bike!

Four years later, gas prices have doubled or so and, at almost $4/gallon, we’re beginning to think of new ways to avoid using oil.

Last year, before gas prices became really uncomfortable, I bought an old beater of a VW Jetta from Eric.  Still, gas mileage on it is almost twice as good as that of our minivan.  (And I’m sure if I ever get the hang of shifting properly, it’ll be even better.)  It has become our go-to car when we don’t need to take everyone with us.

And, still, there are times when we can avoid using any gas at all.  Today, for instance, I had my semi-annual dentist appointment to get my teeth clean.  The dentist is eight miles away.  What to do … what to do …

Ride a bike, of course!

This past weekend, I upgraded to a road-bike.  The inexpensive Redline Conquest.  With some slick tires to replace the knobby ones it comes with (because I’m not into cyclocross) and clips to replace the clipless pedals (I may be a bike dork, but I ain’t changing my shoes to ride a bike), I felt like I was flying down the road compared with the effort-to-speed ratio on my older city bike.

So, I biked to the dentist.  Sixteen miles round-trip.  About half a gallon of gas.  Almost two bucks saved.

I’ll make this bike pay for itself yet.

if I didn’t use oil to heat my home, I’d wish oil prices went up faster so I could ammortize the bike that much quicker.

(My daughter’s God father is starting to take the train to Harrisburg and looking at folding bikes.  At $140 for a month of rides on the train vs a 45 minute commute and four gallons of gas, the car really does begin to look less attractive.)

Habitual Riding

On Monday, Eric asked me why I thought I would need to use a consistent route to get back to 20 miles today. Today I went out at 6:30 in the morning to ride for an hour and half over that 20 mile ride that I used to do and I thought of the answer. Like the Mennonite man that passed me by, it is easier to compete against yourself if you are covering the same ground every day. You can push yourself to go a little faster and get done a little quicker. If you have a Heart Rate Monitor (which I plan on getting), you know that today’s readings are comparable to yesterday’s readings. Also, less thought is involved in the process. Fewer decisions (“Turn this way?” “Turn back now?”) mean I have time (like the woman Nathan ran into) to pray. I try to use the Jesus Prayer. It works something like this: (Inhale)Lord Jesus (Exhale)have mercy (Inhale)on me (Exhale)a sinner. Of course, you can tell by the fact that I was thinking about Eric’s question and coming up with answers for it that I am easily distracted from prayer.


Yesterday’s ride was just something to get a little work done while the kids played at the park. I started to leave by myself, but, suddenly, the whole family was going. So I escorted the kids down to the park. Alexis followed behind with Lily and when she got there, I took off. Last year when I was riding 20 miles a day (which I’m trying to get back to doing), I stuck with a consistent route. I probably need to do that again, but I’ve enjoyed seeing the different parts of the country side.

Mennonite Man

Today’s ride started on the rail trail when I deposited and the kids at the top of the hill and then drove to the bottom to leave the car for them there. I met them on the way up. From there, I rode 30 miles back home. I had to stretch it some by zig-zagging across the turnpike a few times. On the last couple of miles, a mennonite man overtook me on his bike. I kept up with him and when we hit a light, I said “Thanks! I need someone to keep pace!” “Men can’t let go of a challenge, eh?” “See, I have an excuse. I just rode 30 miles. That, and I’m old and fat.” “Keep up the riding and you’ll be thin!” Thanks, random mennonite man.