Bike commuting for total beginners

Apparently it takes 6 weeks to form a habit. Well, I am 5 weeks into my bike commuting adventure so it’s pretty much a habit now, right?

First of all, I am not a biker. Yes I have a bike but it has been sitting unused in my house for the last 3ish years. It made a brief appearance last summer for some commuting but it was pretty much incompatible with marathon training. After being diagnosed with my stress response back in October I biked to work a couple of time but then winter happened. But now that spring has sprung I’m hoping to bike my butt to work at least twice a week.

My ride:

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I bought this bike a couple of years ago when I thought that I might want to start mountain biking. Well, it turns out that I much prefer being on two legs rather than two wheels when I am in the mountains. The bike itself is a pretty standard beginner mountain bike – although it has disc breaks which are totally awesome. The frame is pretty heavy (no carbon fiber here) and back in November my husband swapped out the bulky mountain bike tires for some smooth commuter tires. Honestly, I had no idea that (1) you could do this, and (2) that it would make such a huge difference. These new tires made the ride so much easier (big, bulky tires take more energy to travel along the road). He also put on a rear mud guard and we fitted it with some blinking front and rear lights.

Gear:

Besides the new lights and bike lock I added a couple of things to my wardrobe. The one major difference between running clothes and biking clothes is the need for wind-proofing. When I run, once I’m warm I know that I’m pretty much guaranteed to stay warm for the rest of my time outside. With biking you have to think about things like wind, speed and wind-speed. You can get pretty damn cold biking fast downhill on a cloudy day. This week I finally got to try out some wind-proof bike pants (amazing – and definitely worth buying) and am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new Pearl Izumi biking jacket. I also got a biking-specific commute bag. It fits perfectly, has plenty of space and some added reflective panels.

th PZI01389_509462 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.15.27 AM Now these additions are all pretty cool but I managed to bike in my running tights and jacket with a regular hiking day pack before I decided that I wanted to invest in some biking-specific clothing. You might notice that I don’t wear bike shoes and I don’t clip in. Mainly because that is terrifying and at heart I am a big scaredy-cat.

Traffic:

So how does a nervous rider come to terms with biking during rush hour? Easy: find the safest route and bike it. Luckily for me Salt Lake is a great biking city. There are a ton of recreational bikers on the roads for pretty much the whole year, so drivers are used to them. Most drivers – there are still those who get a little too close. FYI: you should give a biker 3 ft of clearance when you pass. Our mayor is also an avid biker so we have a ton of well marked bike lanes criss-crossing the city. For my commute I am mostly on quieter residential streets and bike lanes. The other trick is to take as much room as you need. If the edge of the road is not bike friendly don’t be afraid to take your space. With biking I feel that you have to be a little assertive. Your safety is the number one priority so don’t be afraid to take a longer route to get to your destination in one piece. I have a couple of intersections that are a little nervy – they involve crossing traffic for a left turn. If I don’t feel safe I’ll take a side road and double back to get across safely. But the main thing to do is just get out there and get used to being part of traffic. It does get easier.

Work:

I’m in an interesting position where my work attire is amazingly casual. I don’t have to look put together in any way. I throw a change of clothes in my bag (along with my lunch) and some makeup. My workplace has a shower (that is surprisingly nice) with lockers where I keep a towel plus shampoo/conditioner. I can have a quick shower and spend as much time on hair/make-up as I need to (usually 2 minutes max). We also have access to bike lockers inside the building for extra security. I still use a lock but it’s one less thing that I have to worry about.

Cardio:

Whenever I am injured my doctors always recommend low impact cardio. Swimming worked just fine in winter but once the weather gets nice I want to be outside. Biking gives me about 30 minutes in fresh air with just my thoughts, and lets me start the day chilled out and ready for whatever is waiting for me at the office. The ride itself is pretty tough. A little under 4 miles each way but all uphill in the morning. It feels like a pretty good workout but you can make it as hard as you want by switching up your gears.

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I’m not going to lie the first time I biked in I thought my heart was going to explode. I was in pretty good running shape but that didn’t seem to transfer over to biking especially when the steepest sections is right at my house. I was in my lowest possible gear for nearly the whole way in, and when I got off my bike my legs were incredibly wobbly. But like anything cardio-related it gets easier with time. I’m hoping that it will help with my running. My husband managed to complete his marathon training while biking to work everyday and he qualified for Boston. So then I should be able too?

Other points:

We are a little spoiled with weather in SLC. It’s a mountain desert so we don’t get a lot of precipitation making bike commuting a more pleasant experience. I’m not sure I could cope if I was still living in Ireland or Scotland. The other main bonus is that I’m no longer constrained by my bus time table. I can leave when I’m done! The bus is a great back-up because I still haven’t figured out how to change a flat. And our local buses all have devices on the front where you can load up your bike if you need it.

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I am signed up to take a bike maintenance class at REI next week so hopefully I can figure out what I’m doing then.

Any bikers out there?

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