Friday, May 2, 2014

Back to my Roots: The Legend of Tree Trunks

Last Friday marked the 1000th mile of pedaling my oversized backside down the road on a chunk of aluminum ~4 days/week (dependent on tolerance for mass quantities of pollen intake).  I thought about crafting a clever title claiming I traded my V8 90s Lexus luxury machine for a bike, but that's a bit of a stretch since a couple of Volvos came and went between selling the Lexus and buying my "new" bike (which was more of a Craigslist impulse buy since I had a perfectly functional mountain bike) so I stuck with the nickname I had when I was a kid.

I've been a 2-wheel junkie since before kindergarten, amassing large quantities of BMX trophies and ribbons primarily due to being the only privateer in my class (hence my Chinet number plate in the picture to the right).  I think on one occasion I was leading a race until my jeans got caught in my chain causing a spectacular wipeout shortly before the finish line, an event which prompted my dad's Cuban Redneck engineered ace bandage pants retention solution (revB of the duct tape solution which was found to lead to numbness of the foot).  The 1985 Mongoose Expert Pro (which hangs on the wall of my garage to this day) that I got for Christmas when i was 5 became my primary mode of transportation until I bought my first car (which I also still have, although it's too big to hang on the wall).

I dabbled in mountain biking through college, but even after moving to the land of Lance Armstrong wannabees I'd never had an interest in the asphalt form of cycling.  I also couldn't fathom why someone would choose to ride a bike to work when they had a perfectly good air conditioned car that would get them there in half the time without all the sweating.  All this, combined with the fact that my end of day stress relief revolved around RPMs and the occasional tire smoke led me to never consider commuting on a 2 wheeled vehicle.  I'd even written of those with motors after a few close calls with heat stroke and  near death experiences involving soccer moms and school buses, although I'd jump at the chance to own my dad's one-owner '75 Norton Commando 850 (which I fit on a little better now)...

There were always tons of bikes on the rack at work but I never paid much attention until a buddy of mine (who of course got teased relentlessly by our group of gearhead friends) started bike commuting.  Over time, life had gotten busier and I found myself having less and less time to get exercise in. Our area had also grown quite a bit and my 10mi commute started becoming more stop and less go contributing to added fuel cost and frustration. Once I realized I could save $60/month by biking to work, the pieces came together and the wheels really started turning.

Biking 11 miles on hilly roads is no small feat, and although I was in better shape than years past from a few months of Insanity workouts, I decided to take a staged approach beginning with a mixture of biking and riding the train.  The commute required a 3mi ride through our neighborhood to the MetroRail station (bringing flashbacks of near death experiences involving school buses and soccer moms from my motorcycle days) and ~2mi from the dropoff point to work separated by a much needed 20min train ride for leg recovery.  The downside was that the total trip took almost an hour and cost almost as much as I was spending in gas.  Departure times are also separated by 50mins (thanks to a lack of rail use due to a terribly thought out system) leading to a few mad dashes from meetings that ran late and close calls with not making it home in time for dinner, which is of course the most important end goal of any commute!

Once I tired of the schedule challenges of train riding, I started researching a route all the way to work.  Even with Austin being a very bike-oriented city, finding routes in the burbs was a bit challenging. Fortunately, there are quite a few local bike shops with resources and the interwebs are full of information and maps, something I'm sure is true of most urban areas.  For me, figuring out the route was probably the most critical piece of the bike commuting equation and made the difference between my commute being energizing stress relief and a fear inducing white knuckle ride.  Once I'd picked my route (the details of which including speed limits will not be disclosed to protect the innocent) I studied traffic patterns at different times of day and looked for areas that may be tough to navigate and found solutions around those concerns.  

Once I was confident I had the route down and the endurance to make it all the way, I set off on my first trip over the holidays in December when traffic (and my schedule) was a little lighter so I could take my time and enjoy the ride.  The first few trips were full of adjustments and breaks (as well as light-headed mornings at work while my body adjusted) with an average speed of ~13mph and a travel time of a little over an hour, about double what it took in a car.  This was a little disheartening but I decided to take the advice of Sergeant Smith and channel my inner Cru Jones to "remember the lumber yard and go balls out," advice that when paired with playing John Farnham's Break the Ice over and over in my head proved to be very helpful.

Over the course of the past 4 months I've saved quite a bit on gas (which I of course offset with my new bike and accessories) and have dropped 15lbs (probably could have lost more if it weren't for beer and mexican food), somewhat due to calorie burning but also diet changes to include more energy producing good fats and proteins to avoid bonks.  I've also been able to increase my average speed to ~17mph (unless the stinkin wind is blowing in my face) and my commute time is running 35-40 minutes which is only 5-10 more than I spend in the car on the days I drive, with the added benefit of whizzing by all the suckers sitting in traffic in the bike lane.  I've survived sub 20 and mid 90s temperatures but time will tell whether I can hang when temps eclipse 100 here in a couple months...

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