Getting Started - Commuting by Bicycle
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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Getting Started - Commuting by Bicycle

by Garner Woodall at 8:24 PM EST   comments
Categories: General, Commuting, Getting Started
 

Getting Started

Mentality:
It may seem strange to start here, but in order to enjoy the multitude of benefits, health or otherwise that commuting by bicycle offers, one has to be prepared and ready to commit to what I think is in many ways a lifestyle change. This isn’t as scary as it seems. It’s really more of a reality check. I have seen so many of my coworkers take up commuting by bicycle almost as if on a whim, only to abandon it after a short spell because they weren’t mentally prepared for. What happened to them? Some didn’t realize the physical challenge. Others were not prepared for the change in routine that comes with waking up in the morning and putting on Lycra rather than a wool suit and tie. Some were not prepared for the challenge of riding in traffic. Others simply had bad equipment that made their cycling experience less enjoyable. One or more of these factors can conspire to make even the most enthusiastic cycling commuter quit. I think the most important thing to remember when starting to commute by bicycle is that the transition from car commuter to bike commuter WILL NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT!

Sorry, No Instant Gratification - My own experience can offer some perspective on this. I have been a licensed bike racer for over 15 years, and regularly put in 200 or more miles a week before I began commuting by bicycle. Most of these miles were done on long weekend rides and the occasional evening or lunchtime group ride. When I started commuting by bicycle, I thought I would be a natural at it, and that it wouldn’t faze me at all. Boy was I wrong. By the time I got to the first Thursday of my first week of commuting, I was exhausted. By that Friday afternoon, I was so tired I crawled home at a snail’s pace. I shudder to think of it now, but I actually thought of bailing on the whole idea of commuting by bicycle! But I stuck with it and eventually I got to a point where my body was used to it. I lost ten pounds in two months, and interestingly had some of the strongest seasons of racing I had ever experienced.

I recently got to re-taste this little bit of humility when my job sent me out of the country for over two months. My destination was a country where I couldn’t exactly ride a bike anywhere, so I lost a lot of fitness and even put on a few very unwanted pounds. When I got home and restarted my regular bike commute, I was worn out. It was like starting from scratch again.

In both cases, it took a good three or four weeks before my body got used to getting on a bike every morning and every afternoon. The knowledge of this made getting back into commuting a lot easier for me when I returned to the United States. Knowing that eventually “the legs would come around” got me through some tough weeks of feeling sore, tired, and generally run down.

Recently, a coworker of mine who was not a cyclist and was not at all athletic decided to start commuting by bike. As with me, he had a hard few weeks of getting used to it, but he has slowly gotten into a grove and loves his commute. He’s losing weight and his health and wellbeing are much improved. One has to realize that it’ll take some time to get your stride, no matter what your background.

“Do. . .or do not. There is no try”- Yoda’s words are as good for a bike commuter as they are for Luke Skywalker. A mistake that I see would-be bicycle commuters make is to take a casual approach to commuting by bicycle. They try it on as one would test drive a car or try on a pair of jeans. They say,
“I’ll ride to work on Fridays, when it’s casual dress in the office.”
“I’ll only ride in to work when I don’t have meetings.”
“I’ll ride to work every other day.”
“I’ll ride in when I don’t have to pick up the kids.”
“I’ll ride in only when the boss is out of town.”
Here’s the deal: While of course riding some is better than nothing at all, if you only do it piecemeal, you are much less likely to get into a routine or a mentality where you will continue riding. When you reserve riding only for times when the moon is aligned with Jupiter and your Leo is in Uranus, then it is much more likely that you’ll start making concessions to your bike commute when new things come up (and new things always come up!). Once you allow one thing to stop you from riding in, it is very easy to allow something else to come in a thwart your riding plans. Before you know it, you have a domino effect of reasons not to ride, making it easy to forget the reasons you chose to ride in the first place.

Even worse, only riding every so often will make it that much harder for your body to get used to the physical effort of riding in every day. If every ride is hard and takes it too long to recover, you are much more likely to give up on the whole enterprise. Like Sisyphus with his boulder on the hill, you’ll be perpetually pursuing the fitness you need to commute effectively without actually achieving that fitness. Talk about frustrating! I have known too many people with great intentions and expensive bikes that are sitting in dust and cobwebs in their garage because they weren’t prepared to commit to riding to work.

Another more psychological effect is the routine. When my commuting routine is broken for whatever reason, I find getting my head back into the swing of the commute is tough. I forget to pack stuff that ordinarily I wouldn’t leave the house without. I have forgotten my cell phone, my building access badge, my keys. . .I have even forgotten to pack a pair of underwear in my bag, forcing me to go “commando” all day. How irritating!

Although this is something of a lifestyle choice, it isn’t as scary as it sounds. It is simply a matter of saying to yourself that you can and will do this, but it’s going to be hard to do, at least for a little while. Once you get into the groove, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t do this sooner!

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