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.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.