When I set out early in the year to get more exercise cycling I wanted to establish a sustainable routine. I started commuting to work by bike at the end of January. My goals were to get more outside exercise, create a better morning habit for increased efficiency at work and perhaps gain some personal insight in the process. This is what I’ve learned so far.
First a bit about my ride. My commute is between 4 and 6 miles door to door depending on the route I take. I live in Chicago which provides some good options for urban bike commuters; my route consist of a decent mix of dedicated bike lanes with some more exciting crowded streets under the El downtown. After some time you get used to being in close proximity to the large vehicles on the road. I’m not quite as crazy as some of the bike messengers but I don’t mind taking some short cuts and lane splitting when appropriate. It mostly comes down to being very aware of your surroundings and using good old fashioned common sense. I’m fortunate to work in a building downtown has great locked bike storage and locker room. Aside from the preparation, my commute by bike takes no longer than it does by train, and is definitely quicker than sitting in car traffic. I use a good light purpose-built commuter bike that I tuned myself.
Traveling light and Efficiently
Start small. The best bike to begin commuting with it the bike you already have access to. If you are starting out, do not begin with a shopping spree at your local bike shop. The bike, bag and clothes you have are sufficient until you find out if you really like it. Don’t pack anything you don’t have to. I don’t carry my laptop most days. Modern cloud computing is a beautiful thing, VPN in from your personal laptop if possible. Pack your work clothes but leave your shoes at work. Plan ahead and be prepared. Riding is often about efficiency. Plan the route and check the weather, know what to expect. If I’m a little tired, I don’t take the longer route with more hills. If rain and low visibility are in the forecast, I take the safer route with more bike lanes and I wear more lights for increased visibility. If I do need to carry more things, I take the shortest route instead of my preferred route. Like most riders I coast through stops if possible, it creates a kind of rhythm.
In fact, life isn’t all that different. Don’t keep anything you don’t need. Don’t let your ‘stuff’ consume you. Use what the community shares with you, and make sure you contribute back to those in need. Find little life hacks to make the routine things quicker and easier for yourself. Don’t worry too much about the small details but some preparation will make everything better. Create your own purpose-built schedule to suit your goals and priorities. Healthy habits are easier when they become part of your normal routine; find your rhythm.
So where is the balance?
I have decided to take at least one day off each week. This is a deliberate guard against one of the biggest problems with any rigorous training program, burnout and injury. OK, so biking 10 miles a day isn’t exactly rigorous error-prone activity, but the possibility of burnout is always present. It would be so easy to to revert back to the simple routine of taking the train each morning. Excuses could range from bad wether to lack of sleep. Put simply, I don’t want to ride so much that I get sick of it and quit. Case in point, I spent nine months training for the Chicago Marathon a few years back. After I completed the marathon, I only ran twice in the following six months.
The way I ride
Safety first people. Always wear a helmet, period. Be visible on the road, always. Even if you ride very cautiously your biggest threat is to motorists who cannot see you. I still find it interesting to watch the riding styles of other cyclist on the road. Around here you see everything from the overdressed bike-share business guy lolly-gagging along on his first short ride of the season to the disaffected headphone wearing college kid zooming through intersections between oncoming traffic without so much as a double look. I tend to ride fast but conservative. When you get in the flow you want to keep moving and burn some calories; this is supposed to be exercise after all. I hate stopping at intersections but you always need to at least slow down and make absolutely certain you are in the clear. It all comes down to efficiency I guess, stopping at starting at every road in the city gets old and when you become familiar with the route, it is more exciting to push yourself to beat yesterday’s time. Regardless of how you ride you will eventually have some close calls due to drivers not paying attention. An even bigger problem that distracted drivers is distracted pedestrians. Yes, they have right of way over a bike but I cannot count the number of close calls I’ve had with pedestrians crossing the road because they don’t see any cars coming but fail to look for bikes, even when crossing bike lanes. I’m sure their text messages or tweets are too important to ignore. Regardless, my riding style is a balance between overly cautious safe riding and that of thrill-seeking speed demon. I’ve found that this same balance works for me in my personal and professional decisions too.
I push myself to take some risks and achieve new levels of success while at the same time remaining a conservative husband and father. I make decisions every day that affect my family. There must be a balance between my own ambitions and in providing for my family. I may take on a cool new maker project on the weekend but I will need to schedule time for helping around the house. I wont decide to go in on an business investment with too much risk when I know the kids opportunities could suffer as a result.
The personal balance I’ve found by spending more time outside, getting exercise at the start of the day and saving a little money on transportation costs has helped me focus on acutely on my daily tasks. I’ve come to appreciate the variety of weather. Consistently negotiating the different weather conditions is a great allegory for patience in the face of stressful or contentious situations in business. Greater use of my bikes (and satisfaction of working on these simple mechanical wonders) is decent hobby. Supporting my local bike shops (to fix what I screw up doing my own bike tuning) is a nice side effect. I get to be more engaged and aware of what is going on in the community by riding through it every day. I sleep better now and as a bonus I rely less on caffeine, which must be a good thing. Ride on!