I’m Failing at Hybrid Commuting

There is a part of me that will suffer inconvenience for the sake of a noble endeavor. There is another part of me that will sacrifice a noble endeavor for the sake of efficiency. Still another part of me is concerned more with health and well-being and getting enough sleep. There is a balance somewhere, and I am constantly trying to achieve it.

I am a bicycling enthusiast, but I do not compete (except with myself, I suppose). I see the benefits of any human-powered vehicle, not only in terms of personal health but also of environmental and economic health. I have bicycled to work for several years, but not every day. In my adult life, I have never lived closer than nine miles to my job, so riding a bicycle to work requires a little more commitment and preparation than if I lived three or four miles away. My shortest bike commute was around nine miles, my longest was 18. I told myself that beyond 18 miles was just too far to commute regularly by bicycle, and still expect to do anything else with my time. I built up a reputation for being a die-hard bike commuter not only for the distance, but for riding alongside car traffic and in less than ideal weather. After commuting over 1000 miles in the spring and summer of 2009, I had lost all the weight I gained since I got married fourteen years earlier. I have since gained it back. Bike commuting combines the health benefit of a physical workout with the utility of getting me to work. As an added bonus, I save gasoline and spew fewer pollutants into the atmosphere. Whether or not I save money depends on your perspective- that is for a different essay.

My latest job is as far as 32 miles away by car, depending on the route. I can get there in 26 miles by bicycle. I have enough cycling skill to ride alongside cars on some of the busier roads I cannot avoid, but 26 miles one way is too far for me to ride on a regular basis. I have done it a few times, when I had no other obligations- but I must get up pretty early in the morning if I want to make my normal work start time (so I can leave work at a reasonable time, get home at a reasonable time, etc.). I can ride it in less than two hours, which is respectable if you consider I am laden with day clothes, my lunch, and the assortment of junk I carry to and from work each day. I do not own super-lightweight bicycles.

I still wanted to get bike riding in during the week, so I became a “hybrid” commuter. As luck would have it, my sister works within a half mile of the 26-mile route I had put together, at the halfway point between home and work. This left thirteen miles of mostly residential streets to ride. I could load up my bike and gear, drive part of the way, park the car, unload my bike and gear, assemble the gear on my bike, and cycle the rest. I made it work for a while. I discovered some pitfalls, such as parking the car only to realize I forgot something at home, or not being prepared to dry off at the end of a rainy commute back to the car. I have to get up and leave earlier than on a commute-by-car day, which puts a little stress on my morning routine. I still managed to ride two or three days on any given week. More or less.

As I write this, it is late January, 2016. The last time I commuted to work by bike was September 23rd. I was going along pretty good since Spring 2014, and even started a weight training regimen that I would do on non-biking days. I discovered I actually could do the ride into the winter months in temperatures below 10°F with the right clothing and accessories! Then I was sidelined by some mysterious virus last July that wiped out my immune system. I recovered after a week, but the doctor advised me to avoid strenuous activity for several weeks until I had returned to full health.

I stopped bike commuting and got used to the convenience. I started going to bed earlier in an attempt to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Things got busy at work, and I started going in earlier and leaving later. Driving a car the whole way to work made it easier.

Then I began thinking about why it was so easy to stop the hybrid commuting thing: 1) It stressed me out in the morning as I rushed through the morning routine, now packed into less time. 2) It stressed me out the night before making sure I prepared my day clothes and got to bed on time. 3) The weather stressed me out. I can ride in the rain, but it is unpleasant. A strong headwind is worse. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. I’m too tired. I’ve now psyched myself out of riding except in the most optimal conditions.

I just need to get back to doing it. Once I start riding regularly, I will wonder why I stopped- it’s not so hard. Don’t let the weather deter me. There is an old Scandinavian saying that goes something like, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” And accessory choices. Above all, ride for enjoyment, not out of duty. If I skip a good day to ride, so be it. There will be more good days.

Any day is a good day to ride a bike.