Cycling Sense

Bicycle Commuting Is Basic Problem Solving

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Shortly after writing about why I don’t ride in winter, I saw a Goshen Commons blog about Tim Drescher by Duane Stoltzfus. Drescher is the student data systems coordinator for Goshen Community Schools, who commutes to work year round:  It’s a wonderful story that serves as a necessary antidote to my blog in which I gave several reasons for not riding my bike in winter: primarily that I don’t want to risk falling and breaking a hip, since at my age that’s a real possibility.

What I take away from Duane’s account of Drescher’s commute in all conditions is that frequently making the decision to commute is a question of mind over matter: we can overcome obstacles to commuting (and there are several) if we really want to overcome those obstacles.

Drescher’s experience in that regard reminded me of my own experience when I took a job in Elkhart and started thinking about commuting from Goshen to Elkhart. I could think of half a dozen reasons it wouldn’t work, but I was determined to try. What it came down to was a process of solving one logistical problem after another until I had really no excuse not to ride. Quoting Drescher, “It’s a change of mindset,” to begin commuting.

Here are some of the obstacles I faced and how I overcame them.

Obstacle:  How would I carry work-related papers and my large Franklin Planner on my bike?

Answer: I got waterproof panniers for the back bicycle rack that would hold papers. Then I got a Palm personal digital assistant that was a fraction of the size and weight of the Franklin Planner and performed the same functions, holding my contacts, calendar and notes. A later version did email, too. A backpack can also work, but I find that they make my back hot and raise the center of gravity higher than what I like. I prefer to put the weight of what I’m carrying on the bike.

Obstacle: How could I carry a change of clothes for work, a change that wouldn’t look like I’d slept in it after a 13-mile commute?

Answer: At first, I rolled up my pants and shirt and carried my dress shoes in the pannier. Later I took a change of clothes to the office one day a week so I didn’t have to carry them at all. One day a week was usually rainy or I had some errand to do that required a car, so I made that my clothes restocking day.

Obstacle: How could I find the time for a 70-minute commute?

Answer: That turned out to be easy since my commute became my fitness riding time, and I had more time in the evening, when I used to ride, to do other things at home. I also learned to go to bed earlier and get up earlier.

Obstacle: How could I clean up in an office with no shower?

Answer:  I learned to wash up at the bathroom sink and use a product like Rocket Show, a spray that does a marvelous job of cleaning:

Obstacle:  I don’t know a good route to work.

Answer: I drove possible routes in a car until I found one that gave me comfort.

Obstacle: I don’t like to ride in the rain.

Answer: I drove to work on days when there was a 50 percent chance of rain and restocked my clothing supply at work. I also always carried rain gear so that if an unexpected shower came up, I was prepared.

Obstacle: What if I have a mechanical breakdown on the way to work and I need to be there on time?

Answer: I always carried a cell phone and had prearranged with someone to pick me up if I had a major breakdown.

Obstacle: I don’t like riding in the snow, ice or fog.

Answer: If the weather or road conditions made riding too dangerous, I didn’t ride. No one was keeping score of how many days a week I commuted.

Obstacle: I don’t know what to wear.

Answer:  Experimentation is the key. It didn’t take long for me to discover, for example, that the best outfit to keep my core warm in cold weather was a long-sleeved jersey and a vest.

So in my mind, commuting by bicycle is basic problem solving.  It also helped to read books and articles about commuting to see how others did it. Without fail, the commuters in these articles had more serious problems with weather, traffic or terrain than I did, so in the end I had no excuse not to try bicycle commuting. It was one of the best decisions of my working life.




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