Tag Archives: commuting

I could just get a ride with someone who’s driving, but I don’t… I *like* commuting by bike!

Each May we have Bike To Work Day. That’s weird. A Bike To Work “Day.” As if it needs a special day because otherwise we’ll take it for granted, because otherwise the benefits of riding to work don’t matter? Like we wouldn’t care about our Moms if there wasn’t a “Mother’s” day?

Confession. I wasn’t always a bike commuter. But today, even if a “ride” is available, I’d rather ride. Why?

Is this the alternative to cycling to work? Not so far-fetched when you think about Google self-driving cars. What’s scary is that many think a push-button existence is part of their view of an ideal world.

Because when I ride to work, I arrive feeling like I’ve already started to engage the world. Riding city streets is “active” when you’re on a bike, not just because you’re pedaling and working your heart & muscles, but most-important, you’re working your brain. You’re scanning the street ahead to make sure the roadway’s safe; you’re keeping an eye out for cars entering from the side, you’re watching the stop lights before you get to them, trying to time your arrival so it will be green when you get to it.

If you’re lucky, you experience the unmistakable smell of bacon on the way in, and sometimes coffee. Easier to rationalize a stop for coffee (and even donuts) when you’re riding. No problem finding parking spaces either!

Even the ritual of removing your helmet and dealing with its effect on whatever hair is left on a 59-year-old head is strangely positive (maybe because there’s still something left to comb). All sorts of little details that let you know you’re alive, you’re on a journey even, and work is just one stop on that journey. Compare that to being entombed in a car, windows rolled up because you don’t want anything out of your control, radio on, it could be 40 degrees outside or 85 and it wouldn’t matter because you’ve got climate control, one more aspect of technology to insulate you from the world outside.

We were given muscles to work. Noses to smell. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. “Sensors” on our hands, feet & tail end to feel with. Cycling uses all of them! And when you stop for coffee (and/or donuts), you can engage your sense of taste as well. We were designed to experience, to create, to struggle even. If you don’t like that, take it up with the two who got us thrown out of the garden. And if you’re thinking about some future state of being, where your body is no longer flesh & blood & bone but rather a connection between your mind and “the grid”, just think about where you’ll be next time your Comcast ‘net connection goes down, or some virus kills your computer.

There’s something to be said for the reliability of a person riding a bike. You push down on the pedal, and it goes. You lean and the bike turns. You apply the brakes and it slows down. It never runs out of gas. You can buy a pretty fancy bike for the cost of a transmission repair (this I know personally) (twice). You don’t have to drive around downtown Palo Alto 20 minutes looking for a parking space. But most of all, you’re part of the experience. You’re not deliberately walled-off from the world. Even your vulnerability reminds you how great it feels to be alive. Look at the faces on the motorists; many appear to be deal already.

All this to explain why I rode to work today, even though Becky was driving anyway.  –Mike–

13:01 for the ride home. 2 seconds from credibility. I’m fighting the clock. But which one?

Does it matter if the radar speed sign says you're going 20 or just 19mph? Absolutely.
Does it matter if the radar speed sign says you’re going 20 or just 19mph? Absolutely.

I don’t have to ride hard on the way home; taking it easy, I could avoid breaking a sweat and eat dinner without having a shower first. I could do that. But I won’t. I could blame it on the new power meter, which tells me if I’m slacking off, but it wasn’t much different before (only difference being that, if I’m slow now, I have the power numbers to show I’m slacking, that it wasn’t just a “high gravity” day).

It’s a commute, not a race. Just 2.8 miles, with a 400ft climb at the end. But it comes after a long day at the shop, and when you really push, you’re not just pushing the pedals, you’re pushing a reset button. It may only be temporary, but while it lasts, the rest of the day goes away, you exist only in the here & now, whatever your legs can put to the pedals, whatever air you can get through your lungs. You hope you get green lights all the way, but part of you looks forward to being held up for just a few seconds, just long enough to catch your breath. But not too long, because your elapsed timer is running, whether you’re stopped for 2 minutes at a very long light (Jefferson & Alameda) or you’re climbing up Highland. It’s running when you leave the back door of the shop, stare down Franklin and wonder if you’ll hit the light right for the left turn onto Jefferson (a light that cannot be triggered by a bicycle, so you have to wait for a car on the other side. It’s running after you’ve crossed El Camino and wonder if you should be pouring on the gas all the way to the Hudson stoplight, at an unsustainable pace but gambling on the light turning red and giving you a chance to breathe.

It’s that darned Alameda light that can ruin everything. It’s stays red so long, and you can’t anticipate the cycle because it doesn’t have one… it follows just one law, which is to turn green for any cross traffic, and stay green (red in my direction) for as long as it takes to thoroughly frustrate me. Doesn’t matter. What comes before that light is all-out war on the clock. What comes after depends upon the light. If I’m stuck there for two minutes, there’s not that much point to killing myself up the hill… I’ll end up with a 14 or 15 minute time, right? I wish. I’m just not wired that way. Never give up, never surrender. There’s a strava segment for Highland, and if you’re rested up from the light, you might nail it.

Riding hard, pushing my limits, it must be in my DNA. I don’t think 13 minutes of hard effort makes any difference at all in the grand scheme of things… how fast I can ride up Kings, what I feel like 80 miles into a 113-mile Santa Cruz loop. But the alternative feels like giving in to that mortality thing, the idea that at some point I won’t have the choice but to ride more slowly, more measuredly, because if I push too hard I’ll blow up before I make it home and be riding ’round that final corner on Jefferson at 4mph instead of 8 or 9 or even 12.

I didn’t start out writing this with an idea that it would be about, or even include, anything having to do with mortality. However, the “racing against the clock” bit, complete with the occasional red light along the way, seems an accurate metaphor for life. When you’re 20, racing against the clock is fun, but you have no problem turning it down. When you’re almost 58, it’s serious business. :-)