Monday, October 06, 2008

Commuter struggles

Date: Oct. 4 and 5
Mileage: 38.2 and 43.4
October mileage: 134.1

I’ve jumped back into full-time bike commuting this week after a bit of a hiatus. I bike commuted nearly every day and everywhere for two months this summer. Then Geoff came back to town in July and tempted me with home-cooked meals during my short dinner breaks. I did half-and-half for a while, riding my bike to work and then home on my break, then driving the second leg. Eventually, I fell completely off the wagon, and didn’t get back on when Geoff left again. I felt so guilty about it, but being a car commuter is just so ... easy.

Well, this week, I’m back on the full-time bike commute by necessity. Here’s the part where I have to admit to an embarrassing personality flaw to explain my situation: I am, for whatever deep-set psychological reason, nearly incapable of dealing with bureaucracy. This means that any time I have to deal with anything that involves letters or forms - registering to vote, filing my taxes, paying my insurance, renewing my car registration - I put it off until the very last possible second, and sometimes beyond that. This often results in completely avoidable fees and consequences. I call these consequences “Jill Tax.” My latest mistake was waiting until Sept. 24 to send in my car registration renewal check. Then, on Oct. 1, my tags expired, so I’m banned from driving my car until the new ones come in the mail.

Predictably, the reintroduction to bike commuting has been a little bumpy. I’ve had to rush around. I’ve been late to work. I’ve forgotten crucial things like my headlamp and a clean set of socks. I’ve been completely stymied by the whole grocery shopping thing. I broke the rear rack on my road bike last month, so right now I can only carry what I can fit in a backpack. Since I haven't yet made a trip specifically for grocery shopping only, I can only carry what I can stuff in my Camelback beside all of my work clothing, lights and lock. I find myself buying small amounts of the same lightweight stuff I eat while riding. Today for dinner I ate almonds, yogurt, an apple and a Hershey Bar.

For me, there’s a lot about bike commuting not to like. I don’t like the extra planning involved in packing up an second set of clothing and a brown-bag dinner. I don’t like returning early from my more fun bike rides to make time for the commute. I don’t like taking sponge baths and blow-drying my rain-soaked hair in the office bathroom. I don’t like spending my dinner break at the office. I don’t like leaving work at 11 p.m. knowing I still have a six-mile ride home in the cold rain. I don’t like being wet three times a day. In fact, the only part about my bike commute that I do like is when I'm out there, riding my bike.

That should be enough, but it wasn’t to help me push through my first hiatus, despite the fact I had established a comfortable habit during my first go-around as a bike commuter. It may not be enough to push me past the temptation when my car registration stickers finally do come in the mail. I have to say, I am really craving a gallon of milk and a 24-pack of Diet Pepsi.

A cyclist who doesn’t like bike commuting is like a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables. They believe it’s the good and right thing to do. They recognize that they may not always be able to afford to eat meat. But deep down, when no one is watching, they still fantasize about devouring an entire bucket of chicken. Or, in my case, driving my car.

If I cave in before my tags come and get a ticket, I will completely deserve it. But I have to admit, the thought of driving is so tempting. Someday, and probably someday soon, my 1996 Geo Prism with 155,000 miles on the engine is going to die. When it does, I’m not planning to replace it. So I better start liking vegetables, and fast.


  1. Don't worry. My '97 Geo Prism has 193,000 on it and all I've had to do is change the tires and the oil. I know the Alaskan winter is much more brutal than it is here in Wisconsin, but you should be able to get a few more miles out of the bad boy. However, that thought of being able to commute by bike is certainly an attractive one.

  2. Don't worry, it's easier when you don't have another option. Of course, it helps that my hour on the bike would be slower in a car! Got to love city traffic

  3. Makes me glad to work from home (although there are times I wish I had a commute so that I could have an excuse to get some miles in).
    For the groceries--I'd suggest getting a BOB trailer and then putting a big tupaware container in it (I forget the right size--it might be 16 gallon--but there's one that fits perfectly.)

  4. Um, have you considered replacing your bike rack? Or even attaching trailer hitch so you can drag a trailer to get your weekend groceries?

    Though I'll admit I have it easier -- a 2mm buzz cut is dry as soon as I shake my head once. :-)


  5. Hearing about your every person kind of challenges makes your endurance feats seem even more real and amazing. Knowing you have the same kind of obsticals as everyone else inspires me to walk past my own challenges and get out there and ride more.

  6. Hey, I completely know the feeling. After a little crash a week and a half ago, I've been off the bike and commuting by car. It's.. weird.. to drive a car regularly again. The totally opposite thing happens when you have been bike commuting for some time - you get in the car and go "well, this is flipping strange.." as you drive to work. I've got another week off while I await the arrival of parts, and I'm starting to get pretty antsy. Part of me is close to tempting fate and riding my MTB with the ridiculously cracked rear wheel.

    It's, well, a sickness.

    If I didn't need a car for work errands, well, I don't think I'd even own one. We have three right now by some odd circumstance (minivan for wife/kids, Terrorist Taurus for me to keep at work for work requirements, and the Pickup Of Immense Fail That Will Not Sell) and I'd just be tickled if that number was 1.. or even 0. One day.. maybe.. one day..


  8. Getting back into the commuting mind frame definitely sucks. On my end, I don't actually own a car so bike commuting is definitely the best option for me. I've had to get used to it fast!


  9. I had to cock my head to the side and scratch my head for a minute, but then I realized that you must live in a place where the police actually have the time and energy to worry about such things as expired vehicle registrations! I think my inspection sticker expired last May, so thanks for the reminder! Down here in NOLA, if you don't cut off a police car while running a red light and simultaneously giving the officer a finger, you're not likely to get the attention of the authorities.

  10. My registration expired September first. I got around to renewing it around mid September. When I got my safety and emissions I just drove over to the DMV and got my sticker through the drive-thru.

    Can you do it online? They give you a two week temp that you put in your window until you receive the sticker in the mail.

    Anyway, good luck with liking "vegetables"...ha ha. If exercise was my "vegetables" I have been trying to like them for years!

    I think I have actually met vegetarians who don't like many vegetables and just eat potato and corn chips!

  11. You need a velomobile more than anyone I know. Preferably with an assist of some sort, electric of small IC.

    1)You would still get to ride.
    2)You wouldn't be exposed to the elements, so:
    A)You wouldn't get wet
    B)You wouldn't have to wear bike clothes, hence no packing of clothes.
    C)You wouldn't have to refix your hair.
    D)You could ride to lunch without worry.

    3)You could carry all your groceries in one trip.

    4)You could get rid of the car and it's bureaucracy(and expenses)

    And if you choose wisely, you could tour in it with those same benifits.


  12. Oh, it's too bad you don't live in Portland, we could totally commiserate! You have more experience than I, though -- but I'm a bike commuter more by necessity than by choice, and I often don't enjoy it, even though it's the right thing.

  13. Wald front basket is the way to go. The big one of course. Fits the 24pk, gallon o' milk, and the veggies too. When not grocery getting, put your bag with all your to and fro goodies in it and get it off your back.

  14. Jill: Hi my name is Jill and I'm a gas-aholic.
    Tom, along with most other bike commuters: Hi Jill!

    Yeah a gallon of gas sounds so good sometimes.

  15. Honestly, I would drive around illegaly before riding a bike to work. That makes me cry.

  16. Hmmm. We don't look too likely to embrace change when external circumstances force them on us, do we? Did anyone notice the world's banking system is starting to resemble a Salvador Dali clock? The new regime might well demand two wheels good, four wheels bad and then you'll all be outlaws, never mind the sticker!

  17. Jill, I can totally relate....About two weeks ago I went on my annual guy's golf trip and then keeping up with a couple of high school kids and activities suddenly turned me from riding to work everyday to back in the car. Frosty 30 deg mornings added to my excuse list and I seem to have lost my commuting ways. If I can get back into preparing for the morning ride the evening before things should get back going again although basketball practice will be starting the first week of Nov. and I'll just have to see how that goes. Maybe it will just start snowing this year and that will be that.

  18. I have eaten more than one bucket of chicken while drving my car- and that is a fact missy!

  19. It all depends on what you are use to. I spent the weekend mountain biking in the Chuska Mountains with some Navajo kids and adults. We got soaked and stuck up to our yin-yangs in mud. All they had on were cotton clothes and sneakers.

    The mud was so heavy that you could not even pick up either wheel to lift it out of the ruts.

    No one complained. We just worked together and made sure the kids did not get hypothermic until the Navajo Rangers could get us out.

    Hopefully as an encouragement to you I will tell you that I choose to get up at 4:30 am to make my bike commute everyday. It is 14.5 miles to work in the morning, and 16.5 miles home in the afternoon.

    The extra two miles on the rebound is because a couple of the intersections on the shorter route are so dangerous during rush hour that I ride the extra miles to avoid them. I've lost track of how many near catastrophes I have had on that route in the afternoon.

    However, like yourself, I just enjoy the ride. If it is cold, then it is cold, and if it is hot, then it is hot. If it is wet, then it is wet.

    Be safe and keep smiling. Ride on.

  20. Wow. I expected to be berated more than this. All of you cycle commuters are much too understanding about my gas addiction. ;-)

    It's not really the bicycle commuting that I don't enjoy, it's the bureaucracy of bicycle commuting - all of the prep and planning that goes into it. I know from past experience that this becomes habit after a while, but that doesn't mean I suddenly start to love it. That's fine though. I don't have to love everything I do. I still think bicycle commuting is a beneficial habit. Plus, I have to admit, it is fun when I'm out there. Rain, snow, wind, whatever. I think I've already indicated that weather and road conditions are rarely a factor for me when it comes to riding a bicycle.

    Once I do finally go car free, I do intend to get a real commuter-type bike with a bob trailer. (Not really interested at this point in an Xtracycle. I want something I wouldn't mind riding on the road as a training bike, and I'm committed to only owning three bicycles.) Although, I have to admit, that velomobile sounds awesome.

  21. You shouldn't count the Xtracycle/longtail out. At first I didn't figure I'd ride it that much, but now it's my commuter/tourer/car replacement. It's mind blowing how much you can carry and how well it handles even when loaded heavy. I've already sold my Bob, working on selling my cars, and I'm thinking about selling my rack and panniers.

    It won't keep you dry though, at least not yet. Working on that.

    I think my three bikes are going to be:
    Longtail commuter/tourer/car replacement(eventually faired from the elements)
    Pugsley snowbike/29er(you just need another wheelset and maybe a suspension fork, then it's pretty much the same as the Monkey)
    Badger cross bike/road bike


  22. As of two days ago, I would have thought you were nuts for wanting to drive your car to work. But yesterday it was raining/snowing/misting/windy and I forgot my rain pants and fender.

    I showed up late for work with my soggy chamois (that felt like a wet diaper) and dripping hair only to find out that had to be in a meeting in about five minutes.

    Then on the way home yesterday I was reveling in my ability to layer feeling toasty warm and happy to be out in the fresh air when I almost got hit by a car turning right into a major intersection downtown.

    While most of my days commuting by bike are good, I now understand that there are bad days too.

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