Finally Biking to Work

A couple of years ago, I wanted to try biking to work and made an initial trial with a hybrid cruiser bike that ended up consuming way too much time (about 2 hrs each way). I gave up on the idea, and then winter came and no one bikes to work during winter in Utah.

A few months ago, however, I went to Florida to help out one of my parents. During that trip, I came home with my dad’s bike, a Specialized City Globe 7.1, which he could no longer ride due to balance issues. Once again, I decided I would try biking to work.

This time, the trip was much shorter, as I planned and meticulously mapped the route beforehand. I only live about 16 miles away from work, but it’s hilly and windy where I live, and finding just the right bike route is challenging. I took three different routes to work last week, racking up about 75 miles in bike travel.

The first day, I rode directly from my house to work, following the bike path on the most direct route. There happened to be a 20-25 mph headwind that day, and it took me 1 hr 40 min just to get to work. I underestimated the wind factor. Even a 10 mph headwind can cripple your bike speed (whereas a tailwind can make you fly).  With the wind on my back, I flew home in 1 hr 10 min. Still, this was too time consuming, since I also needed to drop off one of my kids to school in the morning, and pick another one up from swimming in the afternoon.

The second day, I mounted my bike on a rack on the back of my car and parked at a nearby trailhead. (Despite the ample bike path on Redwood, the main street to my work, I disliked the smell of exhaust. I needed to find a better side path — hence the trail approach.) Parallel to Redwood is a beautiful trail called the Jordan Parkway Trail. It runs all the way up to Salt Lake City, with just a few breaks here and there.

Riding the trail was beautiful and scenic. No cars, no exhaust. Just a golden river reflecting the morning sun, cows chewing in nearby pastures, and birds fluttering in the trees. It was just about ideal — until the trail ran out. Apparently some new roads (the Mountain Corridor) cross-sected the trail, and there was no underpass or sideroute for the trail. It just ended abruptly. I had to wind around some labyrinthine residential roads until I made my way back up to Redwood and along to work.

The problem with the trail, even though paved, is that it follows the winding path of the Jordan River. It snakes around like spaghetti across the landscape, sometimes veering too far out of the way. You can only enter the trail at certain points too — so connecting to the trail and getting off the trail is only possible at about three points between my house and work.

Even with these challenges, at work I started to feel a tremendous sense of physical relief. I didn’t realize how numbing it is to sit in a sedentary position all day long. Add to this the sedentary position of driving, and that means for most of my weekday, I’m in a sitting position, just getting up occasionally to walk to a meeting or to get something from the refrigerator. Cycling to work allowed me to stretch my legs in the morning, so that going into the 8 hour sit, I didn’t feel so cramped. Then at the end of the day, stretching my legs again on the bicycle going home also provided tremendous relief.

I do get other forms of exercise, mainly basketball and an occasional run, but building in some exercise during the day greatly improved my physical well-being during the day. Still, I hadn’t quite found the ideal path, so I didn’t feel that I had the routine down perfectly yet.

The third day, I drove my car to a different starting point: the Jordan Narrows park. This park sits right next to a military base and is about 300 feet below Redwood. It’s also a connection point on the Jordan Parkway Trail. As I parked, I noticed that city workers had paved a new section of the trail, potentially connecting this trail with the missing breaks that forced me to ride along Redwood. I cruised down this new path with child-like glee for about half a mile before the trail also ended abruptly and a sign read, “Temporary end of trail.”

I cross over to a nearby bumpy dirt canal road and followed it through the rest of the way (about a mile) before connecting to some residential streets. I had to hop two canal fences (only one said “No Trespassing”), and I thought all the bumpy jostling on the bike might harm my laptop, which I stored inside a sleeve in one of my pannier bags on back, but either laptops are much tougher than I credit them, or the solid state drives are nearly indestructible.

Riding 30 miles on a bike made my butt sore, and, no surprise, I soon ordered some Pearl Izumi bike shorts with the built-in pads shortly thereafter (tip: in bike stores these cost $80; online they cost $35). The shorts arrived today, and just like one of the reviewers said, it feels like I’m walking around with a diaper under my shorts, but hopefully that diaper will provide enough seat padding to make things more comfortable.

I still haven’t found the ideal path to work, nor have I figured out how to pack in the extra hour it takes to get there and back. But I’m 100 percent sold on the idea of biking to work — even if I have to park my car somewhere and ride the rest of the way. Life in IT is far too sedentary and motionless to lead to any physical well-being or satisfaction. More than any other career, bookending the 8 hr sit-on-your-butt time with some cycling that gets your legs and heart pumping is simply awesome.

I would also add that in just one week, I listened to all of Ender’s Game while biking. I only put one earbud in my ear — the one farthest from the cars. I can still hear motorists plenty well. Combining some good fiction with exercise makes for a perfect start and end to the day. I finished Ender’s Game and am now listening to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, which I absolutely love.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, DITA, and more. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog. Email

19 thoughts on “Finally Biking to Work

  1. DiSc

    Ah, spring has come.

    I am planning to bike to work too, but I am at an advantage there: the Netherlands, where I live, is a country made for bikes. To get to work I have to cross two nature parks, and bike paths are everywhere.

    Biking saves money, improves my health, my mood, and probably saves time as well, since I am not very happy with public transport.

    Which is also the part relevant to technical communicators here: a more complex system (the railway) is not necessarily better. When it fails, it fails spectacularly. A bike is slow, but it mostly gets you there.

    I will be starting to bike to work at the end of the month – *without* listening to audio-books. Two hours a day in the off-line world is a feature, not a bug: it makes me cope better with information overload.

    DiSc

    Reply
    1. Tom Johnson

      DiSc, I am so jealous of your Netherlands location. I wish it were the same in the U.S., but sadly, the ratio of bikes to cars is something like 1:1000. No doubt more bike lanes and bike-friendly paths would encourage more bikers.

      I thought it was cold and snowy in the Netherlands. I am probably totally wrong, though.

      Reply
  2. Craig

    You are so lucky. I drive 20 miles of badly clogged back roads to get to work. Not very wide roads not made for biking.

    Reply
  3. Brandon

    If you want to listen to music/books-on-tape while riding your bike (and you use an iTouch or iPhone), there is an app called “Awareness!” that filters in noise so you can still hear what’s going on around you.

    Just FYI. I use that app when I jogging, so I can hear cars coming.

    Reply
  4. Swapnil

    Tom,
    Love reading your blogs.
    I love in Melbourne, Australia and are probably blessed to have really awesome bicycle trails through most of the suburbs.

    As a matter of fact, bikes outsold cars in Australia last 3 years! Go figure.

    I myself love riding to work due to 2 reasons:
    a. Cheap (almost free)
    b. I feel extremely liberated, not having to depend on anyone to get to work.

    Cheers,
    Swapnil

    Reply
    1. Tom Johnson

      I am jealous of your Australia location. Some day I’m going to move there (though apparently the cost of living in Sydney is something like 47% more than in Utah). I feel liberated riding to work, even though I have to park somewhat nearby. I can’t ride any more than 11 miles in or it takes too long. Eventually I’ll build up enough speed to ride the full 16 from my house, but not yet.

      Reply
  5. Thomas Kohn

    Hey Tom,
    It’s super to hear that you’re bike-commuting for the better part of the year. (Let “better part of” mean what you will.) Since my work is at home now, I guess that every bike ride is a bike-commute for me. But when my workplace was some 9 miles distant by car, I took a 12-mile bike-commute most days. To my mind, the 45-minute bike-commute served not only a purpose of getting to work but also a great alternative to spending time in the gym. To boot, the ride was a quiet time that I could use to prepare my work day and, in the evening, to wind down from the stresses of work.

    Your description of trying 3 different routes is typical. It takes real use to find a route that works well, whether the considerations are time, traffic, or terrain.

    In that part of the year where the workday was barely shorter than the time of daylight, I used the technique of driving to work early on Monday morning, with my bike in my van, so I could then bike home and bike to work the next day. So each trip to or from work took part in a paired alternation: drive-bike on Monday, then bike-drive, drive-bike, bike-drive, and drive-drive on Friday. Maybe that could work for you, too, to allow for your longer commute by bike.

    Best wishes!
    Tom

    Reply
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  8. freeze head

    I observed three incidents today of bike riders totally ignoring the law and in fact, one of them just about got nailed by a County Transit Bus. Look, I don’t have anything against riders personally, but you folks just don’t mix with commute traffic, nor do bike registrations pay to build and maintain our roads. I say save it for the bike trails on Sunday afternoon.

    Reply
    1. Tom Johnson

      Just because a few bikers ride reckless, does it mean all bikes should be banned from roads? If a few cars drive reckless, would the same argument apply?

      Reply
      1. Craig

        From what I can see, bike riders usually snake their way through traffic any way they can, pedaling furiously, ignoring all the usual traffic laws, including lights and stop signs.

        Reply

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