Loving the Commute: Edition #5
We’re back with another segment in our “Loving the Commute” series by my man, Aaron Madrid. Commuting by bike is such a great segment of the cycling industry and we’re so happy with the response we’ve been getting from all of you so far in editions 1 through 4. I’m pleased to announce that both Aaron and the Loving the Commute series are now a regular part of our website. Welcome to Aaron as an official teammate of Loving the Bike.
Planning for the Smart Commute
by Aaron Madrid
Planning ahead can be one of the best solutions to the most problems with commuting by bike. Planning your leave time, how to carry all your gear, and which route to take, are things that a commuter will find they constantly think about. It seems arbitrary, until you head out 5 minutes later than you should have and discover that this is the same time everyone in your city turns down your road, or you feel that first few drops of rain and remember only too late that your trendy looking messenger bag isn’t waterproof. Commuting can be intimidating, but smart planning can be the difference between an easy, enjoyable ride, and the end of your bike commuting career.
I split my planning into several phases, depending on a variety of factors which I will cover now.
Phase 1: The Right Route
I live in a fairly densely populated area, on a busy street. There is a bus stop just a few houses down from mine. (One lesson I learned quickly riding through town…stay away from busses.) The bus runs every half an hour. I can take a 10 mile route through the country and up a few steep hills and face less traffic, or I can travel through downtown, then through a major college campus, then out a busy highway for 6 miles. If I wake up early enough, I will take the 10 mile route, though more often than not… I do not wake up early enough. That means sharing the roads with a large variety of motorists as they travel into downtown and onto campus for work. Once on campus, I can either stick to the main roads and get honked at by people running late to work, or take a few back roads and risk getting hit by sleepy students. I usually choose this part of the route on the fly depending on current traffic. Most of the time I take the back roads to climb a couple of my favorite steep hills. Thinking about all of this ahead of time allows me to know that it takes 13 minutes to get from my house to the top of that favorite hill and normally only another 5-10 to make it the rest of the way to work. If I take the route that results in my being honked at repeatedly, I can shave 3-5 minutes from my total time thanks to shorter hills. My path of choice is more often than not, directly proportionate to the amount of coffee I have had prior to getting on the bike.
Phase 2: The Right Time
That’s right; you have a choice over when you leave your house. I know it seems shocking to think that you might be able to leave for work at a time which would put you at your desk before the exact time when you are supposed to be there. Its ok, I promise you won’t get a write-up. I determined that leaving at 7:30am will put me at a stoplight on the route of all the busses leaving their depot for their daily routes at precisely the same time as them. Leaving at 7:40am put’s me passing a high school as they are unloading their busses halfway through my route. Leaving my house at 7:50am results in lots and lots of honking as 4-wheelers speed to work to try to beat the clock for their 8:00am jobs and avoid the lashings they will surely take. If I leave work at 7:55am to 8:00am, the roads are virtually empty. It is truly amazing how traffic that I know was there just 10 minutes ago, has seemingly vanished. Take a guess when I leave for work?
Phase 3: Gear for your Gear
There comes a time in a commuters’ life when you stop and say, “How am I going to get all this stuff, from here, to there…on my bike?” In fact, it’s a question that has some of the most power for stopping your commute in its tracks if you aren’t prepared. For the first time in my life, I lay out my next day’s gear, before I go to bed. No, I am not concerned that my jersey match my shoes, I am however, concerned that I don’t have to sit in my desk in my cycling clothes all day. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to bringing your gear with you, the backpack/messenger bag, and the pannier. On a “full bag” day I might bring a change of shoes, lunch, a laptop and associated wires, pants, and probably a shirt or two. All that stuff gets heavy, and bulky in a backpack, especially when you are using a Hydrapak Jolla which carries a “camel-bak” style water bottle in it as well. I love my Jolla, but that much gear is a little much. A full bag day calls for panniers. Many bikes come with attachments to help secure a rack to the rear of your bike. Then you just need to acquire some “saddle bags”, or “panniers”. You can find panniers that are trendier and brightly colored, or as nice as your Uncle Sam’s briefcase. Either way, panniers are the way to go when you start to get more than 10 pounds or so in a backpack. While the Jolla and similar bags do a great job of keeping the water out, they don’t hold all that gear well, and they get heavy. Try climbing hills with straps cutting into your shoulders. In addition to the obvious, adding extra weight on your back tends to make your back sweat more, even if you don’t normally get too much of a sweat worked up on your ride in. If it’s just your iPad and a change of clothes, the Jolla is the way to go. Not only does it securely hold everything, it also holds plenty of water in an isolated compartment that ensures no accidents happen, and you don’t get dehydrated on those hot summer mornings and evenings.
You see the point, it’s all about planning. If you are about to give up your car for the commute, before you do take a couple of days to notice the traffic patterns at different times during your commute. The night before your ride, think about what you have to bring with you, maybe even pack your bags prior to going to bed. In addition to being properly prepared, it also gives you the opportunity to roll out of bed and onto the bike with fewer steps in between.
Be safe, stop at the stop signs, and have fun! See you on the roads.