Monday, June 02, 2008

sustainable living: Ride Your Bike to Work Week, June 2-6

So this is the first edition of "sustainable living" that involves me trying something new and writing about it on the same day, without the benefit of at least 6 months or so of hindsight. One of the most important things we can do to save money and cut down on our carbon footprint at the same time is to cut the amount of driving we do, and the most obvious drive to cut (and in all likelihood the one that will save you the most cash and carbon) is the daily round trip to work. There are several good alternatives, including carpooling, public transportation, and good ol' pavement pounding, but none of these sound like a good fit for me. I don't live far from work, but it's just far enough away from work that walking would take a deep cut out of my morning, and yet if I wanted to take the bus, I would have to ride downtown and then hop a second bus to take me mostly back the way I came before turning toward campus.

Then I considered that a couple of my coworkers ride their bikes to work. That also would save me money and emissions (at least, after the initial trip across town to Target and $200 investment), and it would provide health benefits to boot. Even better, I discovered that it would only take me 5 or 10 more minutes to get to work on a bike than in my car, because the bike can cut across parts of campus that I currently have to drive around. Sure, I could get sweaty on the way, but I have my own office; I can close the door, change, and throw on some deodorant, or even go to the bathroom to wash my face. Meanwhile, I get a refreshing bike ride in the morning that (one hopes) would leave me more alert when I get to work. What's not to like?

I picked up a cheap bike at Target on Saturday, along with a helmet, air pump, spare tube, lock and chain, and back LED blinking light. There are other things I want as well, like a water bottle holder, front headlamp, and saddlebags for grocery trips, but I figure I'll wait and see how this works out before I go spending even more money to accessorize (the trip was already topping $250). Now for what it's worth, I've heard people on bicyclist forums talk about how you shouldn't waste your money on a cheap bike, but these are diehard types who inevitably insist on these forums that someone just starting out go spend $600 on a bicycle.

Read my lips, bike Nazis:


So I get up this morning about an hour before my usual time, partly because I want to make sure I have time to get everything ready while in my bleary morning haze, partly because I didn't know how long the ride would take, and partly because I was nervous, and I wake up early when I'm nervous. I fill a backpack with a change of clothes for the gym after work and the bike lock (I forgot the spare tube), shove the helmet onto my gargantual cranium and strap it to both of my chins, pull the bike out of the garage, and clumsily wind my way through the alley and onto the street. At first it's going pretty well, though I can't get my bike to switch to 3rd gear (not sure what's going on there), when I get almost a mile down the road and my chain slips off the sprockets as I'm switching gears.

My first minor heart attack of the morning.

Luckily, I manage to get the chain back on without too much trouble and get started again. I'm actually enjoying this: the cool wind, the view (northern Indiana really is lovely in the summertime, and part of my trip runs along a river), the hills. The hills. And the pretty steep hill. Surprisingly steep hill. The where the hell did this come from? hill. And Oh sweet Christ, how steep is this motherf**ker?! Everything looks kind of blue. And I'm seeing spots.

My second minor heart attack.

Eventually I did reach the summit, and over the next couple of minutes my face returned to a normal color and I regained my vision of the full color spectrum. Before I knew it, I was at the library and chaining my bike up.

Total time: 25 minutes. Normal driving time (including walk from car to office door): 15-20 minutes. Not bad.


grimsaburger said...

I assure you, the surprisingly steep hill will get shorter pretty quickly. You want a real challenge, try to run up that m-f-er. Biking up it takes a minute, but the agony of chugging up it on foot goes on for eons.

Pay no attention to the bike Nazis. I bought my bike on eBay from a discount bike dealer for a little over $300, and though the handlebars creak and occasionally the gears do that annoying clackety clackety thing, it's been pure awesome for a year now.

The Daily Exorcist said...

Melinda's right. That topographic atrocity you bested today will look like a molehill soon enough. Last spring I took up biking in earnest and there was a hill by the Y I go to that kicked my ass early and often. Dread is the only word. After a little while, though, it got easier. Two months in and I forgot all about it. One tip on gear changes (especially cheap gear changes): it's much easier to upshift when you're going downhill and vice versa. Took me awhile to master that, but it's definitely good to remember.

el ranchero said...

The possibility of the hill becoming less significant has been a major factor in me continuing to do this. And it's very good to know about that gear change trick; mine are most certainly cheap. In fact, I'm not sure how smooth gear shifting on a bike is supposed to be, but I've got a feeling mine should be doing better. I may have to take the bike to the shop to get them looked at when I get more cash.

grimsaburger said...

This may be a stupid suggestion, but I wasn't really clear on the whole shifting thing when I got my bike. Stop pedaling for a moment when you shift. Even going up the hill. It only takes a second, and makes the leap from one sprocket to the next smoother, and anything to avoid the monumentally demoralizing gear slippage while going uphill is a good thing.

Of course, sometimes, you simply can't find a smooth gear, and for that I have no suggestion except maybe buy an expensive bike.

When I upgrade one day in the distant future, I'm thinking I'm going to look for a 3-speed, tops. I really only use two out of the supposed 21 speeds available to me now, and those are the highest two.

el ranchero said...

Actually that's not a stupid suggestion, because I didn't know to do that. I'll see if it goes better that way.

And I'm with you on the number of gears. I actually was kind of disappointed to find out that adult bikes have that extra complication. Mine's an 18 speed and I'm experimenting with lots of gears, but I can already kind of tell that I'll generally just use the top 2 or 3.