Home > Guest Writer > You Didn’t Ride Your Bike *Today*, Did You?

You Didn’t Ride Your Bike *Today*, Did You?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Introducing guest contributor Joel R. Gaff Jr. with this testimonial to going car-less earlier this year. In the future, expect to see observations from Joel from life lived on two-wheels. In addition to being an athlete and Spanish teacher, he’s also a photographer.

You Didn’t Ride Your Bike *Today*, Did You?

by Joel R. Gaff Jr.

About to head home from work the other day, a coworker asks:

“So, you’re riding your bike today, huh?”

“Yep. That’s my way home.”

“Wow. You’re pretty hard-core”

Hard core? I don’t know about that. A little crazy? Maybe. Committed? I hope so.

Since I started work at a new place this fall (I’m a teacher), I’ve challenged myself to use my car as little as possible. That means that I ride my bike most of the time.

I was deeply inspired by local business consultant/resident Bill Palladino when he sold his perfectly functional car and committed to riding a bike and finding alternate means of daily transit. That’s bold. I haven’t reached the point of selling my car (which yes, runs just fine), but I’m trying to live my day-to-day life as if I didn’t have one. In fact, since the middle of June, I’ve only driven a handful of times.

It’s taken some planning, but after a few days of getting used to the routine it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve had to learn to dress for the ever-changing weather, learn to ride slower to stay under the sweat threshold, and expect trip-chaining a little more.  Considering that I spend at least eight hours at work every day, the extra time it takes for me to get ready to ride and actually ride is small. The rewards, however, are greater.

How many miles can you save in one season?

The Payoff

Since September I’ve “saved” 419 miles–almost equal to riding to Indianapolis, IN or half way to New York City. At the speed which I typically ride, that adds up to over 32 hours of driving eliminated, or, should I say:

  • 32 hours of free exercise
  • 32 hours of fresh air
  • 32 hours of opportunity chat with other self-propelled friends
  • 32 hours of knowing that I’m making a small difference.

I hope others will catch on.

Getting Started

I’m already a pretty active person. OK, that’s an understatement. I’m a runner, triathlete, and competitive cyclist, but using my bike as a mode of transportation has been a fun addition to my day.  Of course there are days I’d rather slip into my car, turn on the radio, and sip my coffee on the way to work, but once I gear up and hop on my bike those thoughts disappear.

The change in weather (read: snow) has presented some challenges over the last few weeks that I’m still adjusting to.  One of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced so far is that the secondary neighborhood streets are often not plowed when I roll out to work around 6:45-7:00 a.m. This means riding through them is often like riding through a giant sand pit.  I’m still figuring out the best way to deal with this. One thing is for sure, Iceman 2011 will be a piece of cake.

My hope is to continue using my bike as my primary form of transportation through the winter and beyond.  I’m still a little uncertain of how committed I’ll stay as the weather gets even worse, and the winter starts to wear me down, but considering the commitment I’ve made so far the future doesn’t look so bad.

My students at school are bewildered by the fact that I have continued to ride my bike to work as the weather has turned worse.  Lately they ask me on a daily basis, as they look out the window at the whipping wind and snow, “You didn’t ride your bike to school today did you?!” (Hopefully, they use the lanaguge they are studying, “¿No me digas que montastse la bicicleta hoy?” )

“Yep!” I say.

Then comes that priceless look on their faces as their gaze snaps from the snow globe-like scene outside toward me, seeming to say, “¡Estás loco!

Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, If they don’t remember anything that I have taught them in class, maybe they’ll remember that they had a crazy teacher in high school who rode his bike to school all year-long, and maybe they won’t think it’s so weird when they decide to give it a try themselves.

  1. JohnRobertWilliams
    December 15, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Joel, what a wonderful and positive post! Thank you for pointing out cycling is a CHOICE. Most people don’t even consider their choices, they just climb in their cars like robots and drive away. I gag at the thought of people who DRIVE to the gym! I ride all year around, as well. With two cars in the garage. If what I need to haul is larger that what will fit in my jumbo bike baskets plus messenger bag, then I drive…but its darn rare! My wife works in Africa. Africa moves on bikes. Cars are outnumbered by hundreds to one. But it is not safe for her to ride there after dark. She has a “trainer” she puts her bike on to ride, just to blow off steam. However, the locals saw her on it once, pedaling madly out on her back porch, going nowhere. They still have not stopped laughing about it! Imagine, having the “choice” and the calories to expend effort and not get anywhere! Utterly foreign to the locals, who walk their bikes up every hill to SAVE calories.

  2. Arianne
    December 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Joel, I am glad to see you are making this commitment. We need to dispel the thoughts that year round riding is ‘hard-core’ or ‘crazy’. Waiting 10 mins for the car to warm-up to drive two miles and go around in circles looking for parking is a little crazy… PS – you may want drive your car once in a while or it’ll have issues from sitting that you’ll have to pay to repair before you can sell it (speaking from experience).

  3. December 16, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Many of you know that for eight years I did not own a car, went everywhere by car. It is doable — no matter what the weather. As the Swedes (?) say, there is no bad weather for biking, only bad clothing. Yes, everyone thought I was crazy. A student at Northwestern Michigan College asked a colleague of mine (my best friend at the time) if he knew me. My friend says yes. The student asked “What’s wrong with him?” For a long-long time only inmates from the State Hospital (& I) were out and about on bikes & on foot. Everybody was sure I was one of them. When my British wife was biking in the snow, a truck driver leaned out the window and said “What the f… are you doing?” Once, a police car stopped me (in a blizzard), told me to get off the road. I waited until they were out of sight, got back on the bike.

    By the way, I agree: side roads are impassable in winter. They plow the main roads; I use the main roads — and yes, it is dangerous to ride among monsters. Only once (in eight years) did I slip in front of a car. Foolishly I tried to speed up, allow cars to get to where they wanted to go. I slipped, the car skidded into the back of my bike. I hopped up & comforted the car rider (who was scared that he had killed me). I comforted him! I had a grapefruit size bump on my rear end — suffered slight pain, no permanent damage. Cars must learn we have a right to be there. People must realize we are not nuts. Over the years hundreds of people have stopped me & told me that my example (being out there in all kinds of weather) made them vow to bike more. An example is worth a million words. Keep up the good work. Be safe!

  4. December 16, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Thanks for the comments and support, John, Arriane, and Henry. The last few days have been taxing, and it’s encouraging to hear positive feedback like this.

  5. Hans Voss
    December 16, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Right on Joel. It’s all about attitude and gear. Hopefully can spread that attitude. One more easy tip: less air pressure in the tires results in less slippage. Learned this the had way the other day!

  6. Arianne
    December 16, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Taxing? Haven’t you done an IronMan?🙂

  7. December 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Guilty. I may have done an Ironman, but that only lasted a few hours…It’s another type of commitment to keep going day after day.

  1. December 16, 2010 at 8:36 am

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