Biking with Bob

On Thursday at 1 p.m. , I’ll be hosting a live chat with some bicycling fans and the Minneapolis Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program Coordinator. It’s National Bike Month. CNN is hosting videos with lots of bicyclists riding to work this week because it’s also National Bike-to-Work week and National Bike-to-Work Day on Friday. A swell idea, I guess.

Here’s the thing: I don’t do Spandex. I usually don’t even do shorts, and I’m not that much of a bike fan. The most undesirable people I’ve ever met were the bicyclists — in Spandex and shorts — racing down the mountains and across the Golden Gate bridge, shouting “move” to my wife and I who made the apparent mistake of not being them.

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I like to think they’re not really the biking community, but I have a small frame of reference. A few colleagues I like very much bike to work. They also wear Spandex. Me? I’m one of the few people who still follows the company edict against sandals in the workplace.

I got roasted last year by a biker blog. I can’t remember why but I think it was for something I said on the Current about bikers who ride in the road when there’s a perfectly empty bike path. The biking community does not have a great sense of humor, though I suspect the same people who got upset then think Wanda Sykes is a stitch now.

I have this mountain bike, which my wife won at a school raffle a few years ago. I inherited it when I bought her a new bike for her birthday. I suspect if it could talk, it would spill its gears about the mean things the cool bikes say about it.

I like riding a bike around the neighborhood just fine. But I’m 55. I’m out of shape, and I abhor the thought of showing up to work sweaty. I don’t ride in the road to make a point. I don’t think it makes much sense to buy a several-thousand-dollar bike to save a few hundred dollars worth of gasoline. Last year I rode my bike from Woodbury to the South St. Paul airport each weekend. But saving $4 in gasoline cost me $5 in Gatorade.

Where other people look cool riding a bike, I look like a guy whose car is in the shop.

I’m bored by the biker vs. motorist debate, which hasn’t moved in any direction in years, and on occasion sounds like a “rights” debate, little different from the gun control debate, which also bores me these days. Bike. Don’t bike. Own a gun. Don’t own a gun. Choice is good.

But if I’m going to host this chat, I might as well try to figure out why so many bicyclists are so keen on other people riding bikes to work, too. So on Wednesday morning I’ll ride in from Woodbury (mostly downhill) and we’ll see how it goes.

The first thing I need to figure out is how I’m supposed to lug a laptop and all my other blog-related equipment from home. And what about a change of clothes? I’ll have to bring some extra money because there’s no way for me to carry the lunch I usually bring from home. This simplicity stuff is complicated and costly.

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If you’re a regular bicyclist, you probably have some tips and stories about the joy of your ride. Go ahead and share them below.

  • http://www.schons.net David

    Ah. Kinda ironic that the weather ain’t so great in MN for Bike to Work Week. I’ll at least bike to work on Friday, though, if not some other days this week.

  • Annie

    While your truthful, fairly accurate description may very well sum up a portion of the bicyclists, it’s just like anything…a few bad eggs spoil the reputation for the rest of us! Kudos to you for going through the “hassle” of planning ahead and figuring out how to conquer your Wednesday bike commute! Maybe with practice, and a purchase of a roomy commute bag, you’ll be back to packing your lunch.

    If you’re really lucky you’ll find a hidden shower tucked away in some obscure bathroom. That way there’ll be no obvious give away that you biked to work, until coworkers walk past your cubicle and see your sweaty cloths draped over the office furniture air-drying

    It’s a great way to start and end the work day, and for some reason you feel that much cooler cuz you left the lazy a*s car at home.

  • Jon

    at least once a year I would make an attempt to bike into work, it was ~18 miles one way. for a while I was shooting for once a week…

    I didn’t have an wearing kahki’s while bike (though a pant strap is important) I did want to change my shirt when I got into work though… mostly becaue my laptop won’t fit in any bag I can mount on to the bike, and I sweat up a storm carrying a backpack while biking. I kinda sponged off in the bathroom before starting work most of those days.

    I wear biking shoes, so when I was biking into the office regularly, I left my dress shoes at work, and just changed into them when I got there.

    Food is important, when biking to work I find I’m always hungrier then normal… I tried to bring food from home, but I always still felt hungry, solution, find some one to go out to lunch with to the all you can eat chinnesse place. That way I felt full, I was carb loaded, though I was hungry again 2 hours later…

    In the cae of bicycle v. motorist… the clear winner is RESPECT. you respect a bicyclist when your in a car, you’ll get the same back, you buzz past them at 70 mph in a 45, they will clip your mirror when you catch that stop sign where they zip past on the shoulder…

    Lastly, if your really that out of shape, and refuse to wear spandex, and thing you look bad on a bicycle, get a comfortable seat, on a cruiser type bike that looks like it is something your grandfather would have riden…. and weighs more then a tank… you’ll be slow and unweildly, people will assume you don’t know what your doing when your on the road, and give you a wide burth because of it, and you can sit up right, and not bend in your back (which is probably why you looked silly in the firs place.)

  • http://healthygopher.blogspot.com Elizabeth T

    I started biking part/most of the way to U of M after moving into Mpls. Admittedly, it’s not that long, and I’m not heading into an office. A grad student in my department isn’t really expected to be spiffy for class. My only serious issue in the Summer is having a pair of closed-toed shoes kept in my lab so that I can wear whatever I want on my feet en route to campus.

    lugging stuff around: probably not feasible on such short notice, but I found that the right kind of bag is critical. My ordinary soft-side-nylon briefcase with a shoulder strap was really uncomfortable & I just couldn’t keep my balance on my bike with it loaded with my laptop & text/note books.

    I bought a bag with a wide strap designed to be worn over the shoulder so that the mass is hanging straight down the middle of my back. While it’s advertised as a ‘messenger bag’, I’ve seen other things with that name which didn’t appear to be as well designed (like, for example, the one offered by MPR during the pledge drive).

  • Steve

    I bike to work year around and I don’t do spandex either. I do ride in the road, though. I try to find a balance between asserting myself and being polite and it seems to have worked so far.

    Like anything there can be some upfront costs when you first start. If you want to commute by bike on a regular basis a rear rack and set of panniers is a good investment for hauling your change of clothes, lunch, and whatever else you need. In cooler months I don’t get very sweaty so I just carry everything in a shoulder bag.

  • Martin

    Ride safe and keep the rubber side down. Enjoy what Mother Nature presents you for your ride.

  • Natalie

    When it’s nice weather, I bike with my husband and our 2 children to work & pre-school. Our route takes us from our home in North Minneapolis to downtown Minneapolis & the U.

    I have found the most useful accessories to be baskets, a loud but pleasant bell, fenders, and skirt guards (or chain guards for you long pants-wearers).

    I wear the same clothes I’m going to wear at work. We ride at a mellow pace mostly on side streets. I lug my laptop around, too, and feel like the laptop compartment padding in my briefcase is adequately protective. I usually put the briefcase in one basket and my lunch & son’s backpack in the other.

    Having relayed those tips, I will say that I think it’s silly to try to guilt people into riding their bikes. People shouldn’t do it because they’re trying to be virtuous. They should be able to do it for the same reason that most people get in a car now: because it’s a rational choice given the circumstances. We need to make structural changes so that it makes sense for more people to accomplish their daily routines under their own power.

  • David

    I ride to work every day and work in an office where everyone is expected to be in a shirt and tie. It’s really not that big a deal except when it’s really humid. (It helps that I work an early schedule and arrive before 7am most days, and that my commute is fairly short.) I fold up my clothes for the day, put them in the pannier, and ride in wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Simply changing my clothes resolves most sweatiness — no shower needed (though deodorant is a good idea).

    Personally, I can’t see riding from Woodbury to downtown St Paul on a daily basis. That’s too far unless you are a really dedicated bicyclist.

    The other thing about riding every day is that I know how much money I am saving on parking and gas, and so I don’t scrimp on taking care of the bike. I don’t feel a need to have a thousand dollar bike – I have a decades old 10-speed – but I am happy to spend the occasional 15 bucks for a flat tire change or an adjustment to the derailleur, or the occasional higher amount for a bigger fix. It’s a lot less than car repairs.

  • kathryn

    Bob-

    Biking to work is not only good for you (great health benefits) but great for the environment (less dependence on oil and less pollution). That’s why so many people are biking to work.

  • bob

    First, there is no way to look cool on a bike, unless you get one of those kid-oriented chopper-style bikes. Then you’d need a leather jacket, biker boots, tattoos, etc.

    If your interest is to be stylin’, bikes are contraindicated, as is spandex. Spandexed people scrunched over the handlebars of expensive bikes look like dorks in spandex on expensive bikes. And people with spandex that’s color-coordinated to their helmets, well…

    There is no such thing as a comfortable hunched-over-the-handlebars style of bike, and this is especially true for people in the 50+ age bracket. There are some pretty decent cruiser-type bikes these days that aren’t overly heavy, and that’s what I’d recommend for tripping to work. Also, a rack and bungee cords/cargo cords are essential — you can carry your laptop, lunch, sponge, etc. with no worries.

    I’d also recommend a seat that is designed for the human body.

    Nobody has mentioned safety equipment! You can’t be too visible, so load up with as many bike lights and pennants as you can. Get a handlebar-mounted mirror for the left handlebar. And skip the panniers; they interfere too much with the handling of a bike, especially in emergency situations. Also in regard to safety, hunched-over bikes are problematic, because it’s harder to scan or even look over your shoulder.

    While biking in general can be healthy, it is obviously a much more dangerous way to get to work in a metro area than are other forms of transportation. There’s an element of elevated risk-taking/irrationality to riding on a regular basis in heavy traffic environments — unless you’re lucky enough to live on a route that has a dedicated bike lane or path all the way in both directions.

    Good luck!

  • Noelle

    I don’t consider myself an advanced cyclist by any means, but I biked to work a few days a week last summer when I lived closer to downtown Minneapolis (~8 miles), and I also work in an office where the dress code is somewhere between business and business casual. I don’t have a laptop for work, so I just needed to transport lunch and my work clothes. I found a fairly compact bag for my rear rack that could carry a change of clothes, my breakfast and lunch, wallet, cell phone, and my morning coffee. I started leaving my high heels in my cube to change into when I got to work.

    My bike is a ‘performance hybrid’ style bike – one that has a frame similar to a mountain bike, but with road bike components like slim road tires and a rigid fork to cut down on weight a bit. That frame style gives you a bit more upright position and also makes it easier to keep an eye out on what’s going on around you. I personally think it’s one of the best types of bikes out there for an all-around city commuter. When I got to work, I would give myself a Wet Ones sponge bath in the women’s restroom and change into my work clothes, apply makeup, etc.

    I completely agree with Bob that visibility is a major safety consideration that bikers need to make. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when I see bikers going about at night without any sort of lights or very few reflectors. Mutual respect between bikers and car drivers is important as well. I was lucky enough to ride mostly on dedicated bike paths to work, but when biking on the street bikers need to follow traffic laws (stop signs, turn signals, etc.) for their own safety, and to let drivers know what they’re doing.

    I’m now about 12 miles from work and live right on a bus route, so it’s hard for me to justify the long, sweaty ride when I can cut my prep time in half and still take public transportation. However, I do miss those gorgeous, misty morning rides and hearing loons on Cedar Lake on my way to work.

  • bsimon

    Bob writes

    “I like riding a bike around the neighborhood just fine. But I’m 55.”

    My dad rode a double century last weekend, 100 miles on Saturday, and a return trip on Sunday. Still went to swim practice on Monday morning. He’s 71.

    I think it was for his 50th birthday that a bunch of friends chipped in to buy him a bike. He didn’t get into it seriously for a couple years, until he met his wife, in his mid 50s. Probably about Bob’s age, come to think of it.

  • bsimon

    “If you’re a regular bicyclist, you probably have some tips and stories about the joy of your ride. Go ahead and share them below.”

    I don’t get to ride as much to work as I would like. What I have found is that I am far more energized at work when I bike. It is a much better transition between work and non-work than getting in the car & dealing with traffic.

    Regarding gear and/or hauling things to & from work, most commuter cyclists go through an extended (perhaps even perpetual) period of trial and error. If you’re not biking every day, one possiblity is to haul things like clothes in your car, in order to reduce the load on you and your bike. For things that have to travel with you on a daily basis (i.e. laptop), a backpack can serve the purpose. Hipsters use the ‘messenger’ bags. If bicycle commuting is something you think you might do more frequently, consider investing in a rack for your bike and panniers/rack bags that mount to the bike rather than to you.

    Most importantly, if biking to work is unappealing, don’t force it on yourself, or let others guilt you into it. Its not for everyone.