Bicycle Commuting: The Start

I follow a number of individuals who bike to work (or just bike for recreation). I start with that statement because it becomes important later.

I have an extremely short commute to work every day. By “extremely short” I mean “not really worth mentioning”. When putting my commute into Google Maps, it ends up being 1.1 miles or 4 minutes by automobile (and truthfully, not that long).

Because of the short commute, I have had two choices for getting to work:

  1. Automobile
  2. Walking

Walking ends up being about 20 minutes to get there (and then another 20 minutes back) and driving takes gas, so there are downsides to each of them. I try to walk as often as possible for my own health and so that my car can continue to sit on the street and not eat up my money.

However, there is a third way I had not considered: the bicycle.

So I pulled out the used bicycle my father-in-law gave me and made sure that it worked and headed off to work one morning. That was Day 1.

Day 1

I decided to be an idiot and head to the hill in town that would have less traffic to try and see how far I could make up. Of course, it is the steeper of the two and takes me seven blocks out of the way, but I wanted less traffic.

I made it about 1/5 of the way up before the bike would not shift into a lower gear and went ahead and stopped for me. I then preceded to walk up the hill and then bike to campus. It took a few minutes less time to get there, but the hill killed me.

Overall, not a bad first attempt but … wow … I need to work on hills. Oh well, I’ll blame the clinically bad seat.

Day 2

Took Center Street Hill this day which meant a lot more traffic, but luckily if I leave between 7:20am and 7:40am the traffic is pretty light (even heavy traffic in New Ulm is still not heavy compared to any city of appreciable size), so I gave it a shot.

It all went well, even remembered to signal my turn on to Center Street, and then started to power up the hill. Was going great (made is 1/2 way up the hill) and then tried to shift into a lower gear to power up the rest of the hill and … my chain fell off.

So, half-way into Day 2 and … my first breakdown. Oh well. I walked the rest of the way up to work, took a couple of minutes to slip the chain back onto the gear and then biked around just a little bit to make sure everything was in working order before heading up to the office.

Overall? Not bad, but still some bugs to work out.

Thoughts

  • I need to figure out what I should be wearing to bike up to work. Right now I just go ahead and bring along the shirt I am going to wear and switch into it when I get to campus.
  • My bike needs some work. I have a seat cushion now as a temporary workaround, but my front rim is a little bent and I have an issue with shifting. Those need to get fixed.
  • I’m debating about trying out a fixed-speed bike. The one I am looking at is the Trek Earl, and the main thing is that I need to be able to  make it up the Center Street Hill with it. The bike looks really awesome, though.
  • I like biking a lot more than running.

That’s about it so far. I’ll hopefully have more to report on in the future.

8 Replies to “Bicycle Commuting: The Start”

  1. Bicycle commuting rocks! I cycle about 3 miles along the towpath by the canal (it’s a picturesque canal rather than an industrial one) to work, bloomin’ marvellous although I could do with some way to manage my coffee, maybe better shock absorbers! The only problem is getting stubborn cows out of the way.

    Oh, and get your damn wheel fixed man! And man up about the cushion!

    1. Sadly, no commute like that for me, but I’ll probably get out into the country for some longer bike rides sometime.

      I do need to get the wheel fixed, but right now I’m kind of starting with the small things (a free bike) to see if it will work well for me. So far, so good.

  2. Good to hear that you’re getting out on a bike, now on to the bike tech.

    I’m not sure that the Earl is the right bike for you at this point, mainly because of the gearing it comes with. Without getting too technical, my racing road bike has easier gearing for hills than the Earl comes with.

    I’d suggest something with gearing and that accepts full fenders. You can reduce the maintenance by going with something that has internal gearing (gears built in to the hub not exposed to the elements) but you loose some of the top and low end gearing available from a regularly set up bike. Internals have 3 – 5 speeds. From Trek there is the PDX and District that are similar in budget.

    Other brands to look at are Specialized, Giant, Cannondale, Felt…Probably anything in a proper bike shop (not department store) will be fine.

    Some recommendations for commuting:

    1. Get fenders. I snap on a fender for my racing bike in solo rides in the rain. A wet ass sucks. Racks can be nice too.
    2. For longer rides get proper cycling shorts. If you don’t want to be seen in them then wear something over. You don’t want saddle sores (butt blisters) trust me.
    3. Get a good waterproof bag. I have a Chrome metropolis. If you don’t like the messenger style they make backpacks too. My old one is still in use with a friend and it’s 6 years old.
    4. Get a tune up on the old bike. It may still not work as nice as a new but it will work way better and that will make it more fun.

    As far as a shirt goes, I’d probably just bring a spare shirt like you are. It’s not long enough that a ‘technical’ shirt or jersey is worth it, IMO.

    If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask.

    1. Just the guy I was hoping to hear from!

      I will look into everything you say. The shorts are probably a good idea, and I will look into a waterproof pack for the rainy parts of the year (and maybe even Winter).

      Thanks for your recommendations.

  3. I completely agree with Curtis.

    If you want someone not so road-bikey, a bike with a good 3 or 7-speed Shimano Nexus or Sturmey-Archer hub would be perfect. The ones you’ll see overseas have full chain guards so nothing gets caught in the chain. You don’t really see that much over here, but for your commute, that’d probably be perfect.

    Fenders are also an awesome idea. My fixed-gear has full fenders and it’s what I’ve been using lately on my 9.5 mile commute to Apple. It’s great for those day-after-rain rides where there are little puddles and such on the ground, but the weather is still nice. Keeps the nice water stripe from appearing on your backside.

    If you’re ever riding before dawn or after dusk, make sure to have several good lights. For night rides, I’ve got 2 blinking headlights, 2 blinking taillights, spoke lights and a blinkie on my bag. Just want to make dang sure I’m as visible as possible.

    And Chrome makes some absolutely awesome bags. I’ve also got a Chrome Metropolis that’s 5+ years old. They’re not cheap, but it’s a good investment that’ll last a long time. If riding with a backpack doesn’t tickle your pickle, there’s always an option of getting a rear rack and some panniers. I will warn you though, depending on the load you’re putting in the panniers, it will make the bike handle differently, so just be prepared.

    As far as clothing and such, I know I’m going to be sweaty when I get to work, so I just make sure to take a shower before I leave, wear whatever is comfortable for the day (contrary to popular American belief, you don’t have to have lycra on to ride to work), then pack a small towel and a change of clothing just in case. When I get to work, cool off, dry off, and put my blue shirt on and I’m ready for the day.

    Another tip as far as being sweaty/stinky after a ride – for the past 7 years or so, I’ve only been using this Thai deodorant stick (http://www.deodorantstones.com/). I may sound like an infomercial, but I absolutely love it. It doesn’t stop you from sweating (which, to be honest, is a natural thing you body needs to do), but it does stop you from stinking. It’s amazing. I got my dad to start using it and my wife uses something similar. Also, it lasts for freaking ever. I’m pretty sure this is my 2nd one I’ve had in the last 7 years.

    But spread the word and show your co-workers how great it is to bike to work! I’ve recruited a couple of guys that live nearby and hopefully before the summer’s over, I’ll be able to help others catch the bug.

    Happy riding!
    -jason / toj

    1. Thanks Jason (and good to hear from you)!

      One thing I do need to look at is lights, but for now I only ride during the day and try and stare people down as much as possible so that they know that I am there.

      Those packs look great, and I already ride with a backpack, but a waterproof one would be great. I’ll need to talk with my wife to see if I can finagle a pack for Christmas or my birthday (even though I’d like to get a Nest first). Fenders might be the first thing I look into getting after a different bike (or an updated and tuned current one).

      Thanks again for the info, I’ll definitely look into the things you’ve talked about.

      1. Don’t get me started on the Nest! If we had central A/C, it’d already be on the wall.

        Also, another tip. If there’s (almost) anything you have questions about with cycling, check out http://sheldonbrown.com . Sheldon, who has since passed, has left this wonderful resource of all things bike. (c:

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