Seven things I’ve learned about biking to work


When we moved to the city I tried commuting by car, bus, and train. They’re all OK — driving is quick, you can read on the bus, and the train laughs at weather and traffic. But the best option, if you’re not fussy about ironed shirts, is biking. After two years of it, here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Your ride depends on your reason. I’ve had flats, falls, snow, and scrapes with cars. (Twice, both my fault. I’m a slow learner.) Once, the headwind was so strong I got passed by a runner. (He smirked.) But none of that matters if you have the right goal. If you’re trying to set a land speed record, you’ll chafe at not having a better bike. If you prize tidiness, you’ll grieve over rolling your clothes into a backpack. If you dislike weather, you’ll only ride half the year. My goal is staying healthy, so every challenge is my friend. Especially the wind.

2. Your weight goes down as your health goes up. If you set a hearty pace, your clothes will get baggy. I lost thirty pounds my first year. However, I didn’t lose thirty more pounds my second year. That’s because the harder you work, the more you eat.

3. Your routine is your friend. Biking seems ridiculous. You get up, put on your bike clothes, pack your work clothes, ride to work, stow your bike, shower, put on your work clothes, work all day, change into your bike clothes, pack your work clothes, fetch your bike, ride home, unpack your work clothes, and hang your bike clothes on a door knob to dry (biking = sweating). Plus, what you wear depends on the weather, so you’re always checking Dark Sky. Every ten degrees means a different setup. So does rain. And don’t forget toiletries for your workplace shower, time to get cleaned up when you arrive and to change when you leave. This sounds crazy, right? Not once you find a routine. It actually takes less time than daily exercise plus commuting. By doing the same things the same way every day you get fast and don’t have to think. Without a routine you’ll show up at work one day without your computer. Or your clothes.

4. It’s all good. Runners will veer in front of you without looking. Cars will crowd you. Pedestrians won’t get out of your way. Faster bikes will rocket by from behind and startle you. Shake it off. People are mostly oblivious, not malicious. If you get upset, it will spoil your ride.

5. Share your workout with your mind. When I’m deeply invested in something I can pray or solve problems while I ride. Mostly, however, I’m just rehashing the day. What good is that? Better to include your mind in your workout. Listen to books! While my heart and legs are pumping, I’m learning about Einstein, Genghis Kahn, Daniel Burnham, Elon Musk, the Lockheed Skunkworks, and more. When I get where I’m going, I wonder how I got there so fast.

6. Courtesy might surprise you. Good manners should be second nature, right? When in doubt, defer the right of way. Pass without crowding. Go easy around pets, kids, age, and love. But adrenaline and neighborliness don’t always ride together. One day I sped past an older man. He shouted at me. I shook my head to signal my annoyance and kept going. Two weeks later I came up behind him again and thought, here it comes. Suddenly, some guy on a racing bike blasted past both of us. Sure enough, the old man shouted after him. Instead of shaking his head as I’d done, the racing guy slammed on his brakes and shouted back. It was colorful (mostly blue). It’s never fun to see someone shouting at an old man, so I caught up with him then slowed to ride next to him. The racing guy looked at me, then, his oaths apparently spent, took off. I kept pace with the older man and said, “You seem to feel strongly about people passing you. Why is that?” For the next three miles he told me his story of being knocked over by a reckless biker on a frigid January night. He went sprawling, broke his elbow, and passed out. By the time someone stopped, he was nearly frozen. It took him eight months to recover, and now he thinks bikers should ride more courteously. Which makes good sense, right? When we reached my exit, I was wiser and he was calmer. We said goodbye to each other and parted as friends.

7. Entropy applies to bikes. Things wear out. Whether you’re replacing a tube or cassettes, sprockets, chain, and crankset, these are natural expenses incurred by use. Since my bike is 28 years old, I’ve replaced all these items this year. At first it made me wince. Then my wonderful wife reminded me that, before we moved to the city, I was filling the gas tank every three days. That’s like buying four new bikes a year. Which gives me an idea . . .