A Novice Cycles to Work

From recreational rides on a Huffy to a 20+ mile round trip commute in Indianapolis

It’s been a brutal winter here in Indiana.

The sub-zero temperatures that lasted for weeks have only served to increase my anticipation of a life change I’m pushing towards in 2014: Riding my bicycle to work.

Motivation: Identifying a Better Lifestyle

I’ve always hated commuting by vehicle, but it seemed to drain me more and more in the past year. I explored arriving and leaving work at many different times, but started to ask myself “Why am I planning my life around the possibility of driving my car someplace a little faster? Could there be a better way?”

A good friend recommended Jeff Speck’s fantastic book, Walkable City. If you don’t have time to read his book, at least take a few minutes to take in Speck’s TED Talk.

Why am I planning my life around the possibility of driving my car someplace a little faster? Could there be a better way?

Without a doubt, it was Speck’s book that first started me down the road of exploring the walkable lifestyle and ultimately making the decision to ride my bicycle to work. As I listened to Speck narrate the audio version of his book while driving down I-465 (the very type interstate Speck claims have ruined our cities — the irony), I became more and more frustrated with sitting in traffic on a daily basis. Speck’s book discusses the fact that “one study found that ‘a 23-minute commute had the same effect on happiness as a 19 percent reduction in income.’” This had to be exactly what I was beginning to feel more and more. It was draining.

One study found that “a 23-minute commute had the same effect on happiness as a 19 percent reduction in income.”

Two of my former co-workers from Courseload commuted by bicycle daily for most of the year, but I never stopped to think that I might be able to accomplish this as well. However, I’ll soon live just off one of the best assets of central Indiana, the Monon Trail. There’s little excuse now to not give it a shot. Plus, I’ll be doing my part to reduce congestion on Indianapolis roadways…


The Planning: Exploring the Possible

The planning began with scouting Google Maps for possible routes to and from work. While I’ll be moving in June, I don’t exactly live in the most bike friendly area of Indianapolis (Castleton & Keystone Mall area) at the moment. I’ve managed to cobble together a couple of pathways that will be more than manageable for a few months until I’m able to make to change to a more bike-friendly location.

The Bike: From $800 to $1500

A quick disclaimer: I’ve been blessed with a fantastic job just 2 years after college and a passion for saving from my parents and Dave Ramsey. These factors have given me the resources to splurge on better equipment. In reality, it’s a complete luxury purchase — you could easily make this transition with whatever bicycle you have lying around.

I completed a significant amount of research on a number of early Saturday mornings — browsing different bike shop and manufacturer websites, watching countless Youtube videos, and reading quite a few articles.

Yet the most helpful experience I had was while visiting Nebo Ridge Bicycles in Carmel. It’s a higher-end bike shop with an extremely knowledgeable staff. They spent more than an hour with me talking through different types of bikes/features, routes around town, and my goals/skills as cyclist. Without my visit here, I would’ve never made disc brakes a must have on my list or even given the Cyclocross style bike a second look. I’ll be shocked if I don’t purchase a bicycle from them someday, but I’m extremely thankful for their “heart of a teacher” attitude.

I’d decided upon a roughly $800 commuter specific bicycle or a Cyclocross style bike, which would start to touch the higher end of my budget around $1,500. I’d already make disc brakes a must-have for my purchase, but fenders and space for a rack was also necessary.

I visited a number of local bike shops and tried out a few bikes, but ultimately decided to pull the trigger on the Cannondale CADDX Disc 5 105. As a beginner, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to notice the difference between the various models and price ranges, but this bike felt like the right fit for where I’m at and where I hope to be with cycling. It’s incredibly light and versatile, even with my fenders and a rack/bags for the commute.

It will serve me well for commuting during the week, running short errands, and enjoying weekend rides.

With the help of the friendly folks from Bicycle Garage Indy, I decided upon the Cannondale CADDX Disc 5 105. It’s incredibly light and versatile, even with my fenders and a rack with bags.
I spent more time than I care to admit exploring different bicycle options on YouTube.

The Gear: Ensuring Comfort & Safety

Finding information about gear took a bit more digging to find out what I’d need. After much research, I decided to just target the initial temperatures that I would be riding in and learn from good/bad rides (iterating to better gear — another lesson I’m a software/product junkie), adjusting to build out the set of gear that I’d ultimately be happy with.

Having heard excellent comments about their selection, helpful staff, and larger selection of items, I decided to give REI a shot instead of buying my gear from the same shop where I purchased my bicycle. Additionally, all of their content on apparel, equipment, etc. was extremely helpful during my research process.

During my trip there about a week ago, I picked up: a pair of thermal gloves, a beanie, a couple of base layers, sleeved jerseys, and a wind/water-proof jacket/pants set. The only piece of gear that I passed on was shoes/covers, but I’ve already experienced “cold feet” on a few rides, so I’m working on a solution there.

The Execution: Just Getting Started

I knew from the beginning that the hardest part of all of this would be taking those first few rides and staying committed on cold mornings. I’ve knocked the first trips out of the way, but am still looking to tackle the cold morning ride.

The Saturday Practice Commute

Time and time again, experienced commuters recommended giving a couple of my routes a shot on weekends where I wouldn’t have the pressure of trying to arrive in time for an early meeting, etc.

I took an opportunity to explore a number of roads along my route, discovering shortcuts and solid alternatives both via bicycle and in my car on my way to and from work. On the first warm day after I purchased my bike, I rode from downtown Carmel to my place of work at 71st and Georgetown Road in northwest Indianapolis. Thanks to the Monon Trail and forward-thinking leadership in Indianapolis that has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes in the past few years, the ride was comfortable and safe.

The First Real Ride Home

Yesterday, a kind co-worker, who lives nearby, was gracious enough to drive me into work on the cold morning. Having dropped off my bicycle on Thursday, I was pumped all day for the ride home before the weekend. Hopping on the bicycle and riding in the bike lane past all of the standstill traffic on 71st Street was liberating. The beautiful day made for a fantastic ride.

I still struggle with navigating across lanes to make left turns, getting started after a stoplight, and any number of other “basic” cycling maneuvers, but those skills will come with practice. And while there are many great resources out there, I’ve personally found Bicycle Stack Exchange incredibly helpful.

I’m not sure if it will disappear with time, but for a novice cyclist like me, there’s such a fantastic feeling after completing yet another long ride.


I feel much better today than I have after previous long rides, so Monday and/or Tuesday looks hopeful, especially with a fantastic weather forecast. I’m looking forward to tackling my first morning ride into work.

And if you see me out there, please don’t hit me with your car.