About a year ago, I started biking to work. From our front door to my office is just around 9 miles, and there’s a path that allows me to take back roads with solid biking paths and sidewalks, meandering from our home, through golf courses, past canals and bays, and fancy neighborhoods, and end up at work. It takes around 35 minutes (a little faster with a tailwind, and a little slower with a headwind), but is a truly excellent way to start and end the workday.
When I started biking, I thought it would be a “once in a while” or “when the weather is nice” type of thing. However, just a short year later, we’re getting ready to list our second car for sale and happily transition to being a one car couple.
That really over-compresses what the year of biking has been like, and why we’re prepared to make it a permanent adjustment to our lifestyles. Here are some more thoughts on what it has been like.
Finding Bike Paths Is Now Second Nature
I don’t ride on main roads. Maybe if we had bike paths on them like the one picture to the right, I would. But the reality is that Florida has plenty of 6 or 8 lane roadways with posted speed limits of 55mph (which we all know means plenty of people are going 65mph), and I have no desire to share that roadway.
Instead, we take back roads and sidewalks and have yet to really find places that are within a reasonable biking distance (I consider this about 10 miles) that we can’t get to via these methods.The last year of finding new routes to familiar spots has been interesting, though.
Sometimes I look up a way to go on google maps (rather than trusting their biking directions, I go with the satellite view and look for sideways and smaller parallel streets), but other times we’ve just gone with intuition and felt our way to and from the local parks and found new routes that are great for biking. We never would have known these lovely tree lined routes existed were it not for just trying it out. Sometimes you just have to do it.
Weather Has Been Less Of A Factor Than Expected
When people first hear that I’ve been biking to work, they ask about the weather. Isn’t it too hot in Florida to bike? Isn’t it too rainy in the summertime? No and no. The weather is great – and by great I mean the imperfections of Florida weather (mild heat and humidity, along with strong summer storms) are nothing that can’t be worked around within reason.
- My coldest morning ride to work was in the low 40s. I am a wuss and for the first half mile or so that was COLD, but I actually layered too much (two pairs of running tights, 2 pair of socks, a long sleeve dry wick top, a sweatshirt hoodie, a rowing jacket, a scarf, and two pairs of stretchy gloves) and was sweating by the time I got to work.
- My hottest ride during the year was in the high 80s. This was obviously during the summer, but didn’t feel too hot even in long sleeves because I was moving and had a breeze.
- My windiest rides have had gusts of wind over 30mph. Head on, the ride is HARD. Coming perpendicular, I make sure I’m on the sidewalk since the gusts knock me around a bit from side to side. I have yet to have the benefit of a 30mph tail wind, but I eagerly await that day.
- Rain sucks. It does. But out of the last year I’ve really only been rained on less than 10 times (and only got soaked with rain 4 times) since I can watch the weather and leave when I have an opening when it looks like I’ll avoid the heaviest rain. Only one of those rains was on the way TO work. That sucked. It’s not fun showing up to an air conditioned office when you’re wet.
Gear Helps, As Does Having A Handy Husband
I’m still riding GoGo, my trusty nearly 10-year-old Jamis commuter with a metal removable bike basket, but we have added a little more gear since I started riding last year.
The first addition was a set of LED lights, red for the back, and a headlight for the front. These weren’t cheap (around $60 for the set at our local bike shop), but the LED is much more efficient on battery life than the old lights I’d had in the past. Hopefully that means we’ll save some money in the long run on batteries.
The second addition to the bike (though really it should have come earlier than it did), was a nice set of fenders for the bike. We got these SKS Longboard Bicycle Fenders and they have since made a world of difference on days when I manage to avoid the rain, but catch a bunch of puddles on the way home as the spray coming off the wheels used to soak my butt on those kinds of rides.
Mr PoP has also taken a lot of time learning how to tune up my bike, and has done a lot of tinkering as well as replacing my rear derailer to give me a smoother ride. Since the new year, he’s been tuning my bike up about once a month, which is around every 400 or so miles and that makes a world of difference.
You Must Follow The Laws of the Land
Lastly, I’ve learned that I can’t ever forget that I am a vehicle and need to abide by traffic laws (even if no other cyclists ever seem to).
How did I learn this? Well, about halfway through my year of biking, I glided through a stop sign and got pulled over by a motorcycle cop.
I could try and justify it, and when I tell locals which (minuscule) intersection it happened in, they laugh because cars regularly run the same stop sign as it’s so useless. But I won’t. Instead I am now the only cyclist that comes to a full and complete stop at every stop sign and sits and waits for red lights to turn green even when it’s raining and there’s no traffic around.
I don’t do this because I love the law. I do it because it’s a $300+ ticket (almost $400 by the time you include paying for traffic school to avoid points) if I get caught again. And that’s not a price I’m willing to pay.
So that’s been my year of bike commuting. One year down, and many more to go. Just around the corner, May is National Bike Month in the US. What’s stopping you from giving it a try?
Have you ever been a bike commuter? What would have to change in your life for you to give it a try?