Two Wheels - Six Strings

Random news and thoughts about various two-wheeled projects and music, especially my band, Skull Full Of Blues.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May One to May One Challenge

A year ago, today, I embarked upon what I considered at the time to be a challenge. Namely, I planned on riding my bike to work every day of May, in honor of National Bicycle Month. May passed by so quickly, and I enjoyed the everyday aspect of the commute so much that I decided to continue through June in honor of Colorado Bicycle Month. (We observe bicycle month in June, because May is still a potentially snowy month, as evidenced by our weather, today.)

At the end of June, I decided to bite the bullet and announce to everyone that I was going to continue my bicycle-only commute through May 1, 2008. A whole year, four seasons of riding a little over 17 miles round trip, sounded like an adventure to me. And, truth be told, I had figured out that bicycling on a daily basis was making me happier than I had been in years. Back when I worked in a bike shop, I rode my bike almost daily, whether I was commuting, mountain biking, recreational road riding, or just yukking it up with some urban street riding in the Denver Tech Center, at night. I really hadn't realized how unhappy I had become, over the past few years, until people started commenting on how I seemed more like the Jon Grinder they had met and come to know, back then.

I also outlined my plan to cut down on combustion engine-use in other areas of my life. My stated goal was to use, in the truck, motorcycle and scooter combined, no more than 90 gallons of gasoline for the 12 months. That equalled out to the equivalent of six tanks of gas in the truck. I made it through the year on five tanks, and ended up putting less than 1200 miles on the truck, 450 miles on the motorbike and probably 50 miles on the scooter.

Of course, many people I told of this plan couldn't comprehend riding every day. "What will you do when the weather's bad?" "What about traffic?" "Winter's coming up!" etc., were some of the concerns people expressed. Oddly, none of these expected "problems" with bike commuting proved to be much of a problem in real life.

It has been said before that there is no such thing as "bad weather". Weather is just weather, it has no intentions, either good or bad. Much like Karma, it is one's perceptions of, reactions to, and the effect upon oneself of weather that make it seem good or bad. Yes, being blown away by a tornado or struck by lightning is a bad experience, but the weather is neither good or bad. It just is. If you prepare for the effects of weather (take a rain jacket, dress appropriately, etc.), the weather is never a real problem.

At least, it was never a big problem for me. I spent a few of the dollars I was saving on gas, and got some decent winter base layer clothing. A trip to the Army Surplus store netted me some water-resistant BDUs, and a pair of neoprene shoe covers kept my feet warm and dry all through the winter. As winter progressed, I bought some SnowCat rimmed wheels and a pair of studded tires. Combined with my snow chains, I found that the road conditions never prevented me from riding (and enjoying it). The windy days affected me more than anything else. No matter how you dress, wind is wind.

I think the aspect of the ride that has most pleasantly surprised me was the traffic aspect of it. Fifteen years ago, when I was commuting through Parker, I was subjected on a daily basis to aggressive driving, shouts and having things thrown at me from passing cars. By contrast, I have had little to no trouble with automobilists, other than just general bad driving (passing me too closely to stop signs, the one kid who backed into me at Tennessee and Holly on my 100th day of commuting). Most people have either been very courteous or, even better, just acted like I was another vehicle on the road rather than an impediment of some sort.

This could partly be due to the route I ride. It is not by accident that I commute mostly on residential neighborhood streets. For the most part, I only deal with heavy traffic on streets I cross, with the exception being on Holly, crossing Cherry Creek, on my way home. And, it's probably also no coincidence that the only aggressively rude behavior I can think of on the part of a motorist was the crazy old coot on the Holly bridge, who blared his horn at me and screamed that I was in his way, even though i was in the through lane and he was in the "Right Turn Only" lane.

A funny thing happened about six months into the challenge. A few of the guys at work began to realize that not only was I was serious about this challenge, but there was a chance I was going to pull it off. I actually gained a little cheering section, and people began to ask how long I had to go rather than tell me I was crazy to try riding for a full year. As the end-date got close, I began to get the same question from everyone, "What are you going to do, once you've made the year?"

Well, that was a harder question to answer than you might think. I knew what I wasn't going to do. I wasn't going to start driving again. The year of exclusively riding the bike to work, and using it for most of my grocery store, laundromat, etc. errands had taught me one basic lesson: I don't have to drive.

Driving is a luxury, not a necessity, most of the time. In fact, if I didn't share the house with my dog, Jack, I might just sell my truck and give up driving, altogether. The only problem with doing that, with Jack around, is that I can't take him on the light rail and riding all the way to Parker so that he can have his play-dates with Ruby would be a challenge I'm not sure I'm up to. Plus, emergency trips to the vet at midnight (none so far, thank goodness, but you never know) would be impossible. However, if I could find a motorcycle with a sidecar...

So, after a lot of thought, I came up with my next bike challenge. Rather than just extend the "no car-commutes" rule for another year, I am going to shoot for 500 work days in a row (this year totalled up to 211 days and 3646 miles). I'll also continue on the 90 gallons of gas per year mode, as well.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you who have shown support, whether through daily interaction or comments here on the blog, throughout this past year. The thought of not letting you down has gotten me through more than one rough (windy) patch over the past few months.



At 6:23 PM , Anonymous red light green light said...

This is such a wonderful post... Congrats man!
I lost count last year, but know that I'm nowhere near the days and miles you've logged. However, I still could never imagine NOT doing my morning/aft commute by bike. I look forward to all of the little things that people in cars miss every morning...And I always make it into the coffee shop before the motorists do!
Great job man, great post to!

At 6:24 PM , Anonymous R L G L said...

I meant too!

(Spelling challenged)

At 7:07 PM , Blogger Apertome said...

Way to go, Jon! Congratulations on meeting your goal -- and also for trying to take it further, rather than going back to the way things were before, now that it's "over."

At 7:53 PM , Blogger Brad said...

I was never worried you would not make it a year. Never even crossed my mind you wouldn't. You said, "I'm going to ride my bike to work for a year." and is was done. The hardest part was the decision, and once you made was just like riding a bike.

I am just bummed that my "job" doesn't require a commute.

well done!(doing)

At 9:48 PM , Blogger Karl E said...

You don't know me, but I've been reading your blog for about eight months. I'm a big fan! People here in Michigan talk about the biking "season". You've proved the fallacy of that thinking. I cherish the days I can ride my bike, let alone use it as my main mode of transport, such is my life with wife and young kids. You have provided a high bar for which to shoot. I come away inspired to continue shooting for my goals to work in as many commuting days on my bike, to ride my bike as much as possible and to recognize the privileges and choices we have available to us. Believe me, you are a bona fide hero in my book.

At 5:03 AM , Blogger frankenbiker said...

Congrats on 1 Yr. nearly car free.Liberating isn't it?I too bike commute although I put a few more miles on the car.This Yr. I am shooting for under 2000 in the car and over 2000 on the bike.As for Karl E's comment about riding season,we always say here in Ohio we have an 11 mo. riding season,August is much too damn hot!!! LOL

At 10:27 AM , Blogger Brendan said...

Hey Jon --

Congratulations! What a great year for you. Lots of fun, zero emissions, etc., etc.

At 6:35 PM , Blogger Will Handsfield said...

Hey Man,

Congratulations on your accomplishment. Its individual decisions and actions like yours that give me hope for the future of this country.

At 10:50 PM , Blogger Phatatude said...

Dude, you are the man... I am so envious... You have done it , and you arent even looking back. Thats totally cool. Im glad I know you and you are an inspiration for me when I think the weather could be an excuse. You spoke of your mental health advantages (changes), but whats your physical health changes? (might be a stoopid question, I just want you to get it all out there for people to appreciate)...

Way to go ! and keep us updated on your next challenge...

At 8:46 AM , Blogger Joshua Barker said...

I think the coolest part about your post - is that you found that riding actually made you a happier person. Been reading your blog for awhile now - good stuff. Congrats!

At 9:56 AM , Blogger katina said...



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