Ok, I admit it. I’m pretty much a fair weather bike commuter. I started bike commuting last fall and rode until the Friday before “fall back”, the switch from daylight saving to standard time. In the fall, I enjoyed riding the 11 mile route in the cool temperatures, and found the early morning frost to be a beautiful addition to the ride. However, I just am not comfortable riding in the dark, nor on snow and ice. So once the time changed, the commuter was put away for the winter.
In May or June of 2009, the Bike Federation of Wisconsin did a lunch-n-learn event at my workplace on bike commuting. In addition to a great lecture, question and answer session, they provided each attendee with a packet of info – rules of the road, biking tips and a copy of the Milwaukee by Bike map. At the time, I was only flirting with the idea of taking up cycling. It wasn’t for another month or two that I started riding regularly. However, this was a map of Milwaukee County and I live in Waukesha county. Not relevant to me. Or so I thought. And so, this great bike map was filed away with the other maps in my collection. (I’m a bit of a map geek, like reading them believe it or not, part of my travel and trip planning obsession).
But, the seed was planted to bike commute.
That lunch-n-learn, plus the free helmets my employer gave to the attendees spurred me to finally start riding. First a quick spin around the neighborhood on a men’s mountain bike – which both wore me out and gave me one sore bottom, causing me to learn about women specific design both in saddles and bikes. Soon I was taking my trusty 25 year old Schwinn on longer and longer rides. Since then I’ve added a couple of bikes to my stable. First a road bike, now a hybrid, all-trail bike.
In a testament to how big a part of my life this new hobby/sport/pastime of biking has become, I’ve written several blog posts about biking. In fact I’d say biking may be the most frequent theme or at least mention of any topic (Remember, this blog *started* as a gardening blog. It was biking that took it down the current random path). Discovering the Glacial Drumlin trail, exploring new places around my neighborhood, suddenly realizing I did not live in a flat area, riding the Chicago lakefront trail, riding Milwaukee’s lakefront trail, my first organized ride, rented bikes and rode around California’s wine country, and my recent 1st try at mountain biking.
But still I did not bike commute.
Logistics, carrying clothes, laptop, etc. played a part in my hesitancy But mainly, I wasn’t commuting because I was afraid. Of traffic. That I wouldn’t be able to make it there and back. I should have looked at that bike map. After all, half of my commute is in Milwaukee county. And nearly 100% of the parts I was worried about traffic are in Milwaukee county. For those familiar with the area; I’m talking about from 124th to Hawley…basically crossing through ‘Tosa. North and Watertown Plank are heavily trafficked during commute times, and lane changes and position jockeying at stop lights along State St. scare me in my car – let alone riding.
However, luck would have it that in my search to find best trails to try out mountain biking for the first time, I discovered Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa had an easy MTB trail. This is only 3 or 4 miles from my office. So I threw my all trail bike into my car and decided to give the Hoyt trails a try over lunch.
And tested out riding from the office to Hoyt Park……which led me to discover the Oak Leaf Trail. After a couple of days doing that, and wanting to go a bit further over lunch, I threw the road bike into the car, and continued on the Oak Leaf. Riding past the halfway point to my house. Yes, following the trail versus taking the roads adds a bit over a mile to my ride, but almost completely covers the scary traffic part. And riding more than halfway home and back over lunch convinced me that I could make the 11.3 mile trip each way.
Finally, 15 months after thinking I should bike commute to work, I finally am doing it. And loving it – esp. this one section of the route. It’s beautiful with or without the frost. Love the asters, the solidago, can’t wait to see this small bit of wildflowers in other seasons.
Tho’ my FaceBook and Daily Mile friends are probably tired of hearing me complain about the ride home being harder, more uphill. Which it is. And god knows, I’m much more of the slow, steady and consistent effort ilk than the power up hills type. However, if I want to also take up mountain biking, that needs to change. Using the commute to work on standing to pedal up hills, mashing if necessary, using the downhill by Hansen Golf Course (and bumpy pavement) to practice a MTB descent, up off the saddle, slightly behind the seat, feathering the brakes. Maybe some day I’ll be doing hill intervals on Hillside Dr. on my way home, instead of bitching about it, all the while wishing I could find a flatter route through Elm Grove.
Unfortunately, the long shadows and low sun are reminding me that my bike commuting days will come to an end soon for this season. Not sure I’m up for riding in the dark. Definitely know this route is too hilly to chance in the snow and ice. But know that next year, making the bike commute a regular part of my week will improve my biking fitness, ability to handle hills while relieving stress, and bringing a bit of green into my lifestyle.