Recently, the search terms "cycling morning" brought someone to the blog.
Those search terms linked to some autobiographical reflections of mine from 2011 about the psychological, communal and spiritual benefits I've experienced being a bike commuter:
Ten years ago Aidan was born. Brenden was three at the time. We only had one car and we lived four miles from ACU.
I was struggling about what to do about getting to work. On the one hand, if I took the car to work Jana would be homebound for the day with a baby and toddler. Not a good recipe for her emotional and social well-being. But on the other hand, if Jana took me to work to keep the car she, the baby and the toddler would have to get up, load into the car and get me to school before my eight o'clock classes. And that was a losing idea as well. Sleep is precious for a new mother. I wanted Jana to sleep in.
So how to get to work?
Well, there was a bus stop at the end of my street so I began to experiment with that. It was okay but I had to make a transfer and the timing wasn't reliable. To make sure I made the transfer and guarantee that I'd make it to class on time I had to get out on the corner an hour earlier. But I'm not a morning person so I didn't relish standing on the corner every day at 5:30 in the morning.
So, how to get to work?
Eventually, I hit on the idea of bike commuting. My mom was visiting at the time (I've discovered that new babies are a draw for grandparents) and she was perennially worried about my lack of exercise. So she spotted the opportunity to buy me a nice mountain bike.
I started with a backpack on my back to carry my stuff but quickly had to come up with a different solution. I didn't like the weight on my back, particularly if I was carrying a lot of books. Plus, the backpack made my back hot and sweaty. Remember, I live in Texas.
So I went back to the bike shop and got a rack and a pannier. That worked great and I've been using a rack and pannier ever since.
I was a bike commuter.
Soon, the speed bug hit me. This happens a lot to new bikers. You start surfing websites, getting a subscription to Bicycling magazine, waiting all year for the Tour de France. You start wanting to go fast.
But I wasn't ready to get a road bike. I was, after all, carrying a lot of stuff back and forth. So I traded my Specialized mountain bike for a Trek hybrid. (A hybrid has the setup of a mountain bike but has the wheels of a road bike.) Obsessed with speed, I switched the treaded 35mm wheels of the hybrid for thinner 25mm slick wheels for a road bike. I added a speedometer and odometer. I added clips for the pedals. I got the bike as close as I could to a road bike but kept the rack and pannier to carry my stuff. I maximized my speed.
The trouble was that while I was going faster I started having clothing problems. I wasn't into spandex or anything, but on my bike I couldn't comfortably ride to work in long pants, dress shoes or a suit coat. So I biked to work in shorts during warm months and windsuits in cold months. Either way, I was coming to school in very casual attire. For the most part I got away with this, but it was an object of discussion on campus. My teaching in shorts and a t-shirt was a bit scandalous to some.
I tried, from time to time, particularly if I had an important meeting that day, to bring a change of clothing. On these days, beyond the books and papers I carried, I had to pack dress shoes, socks, slacks, belt, undershirt, and dress shirt. This was a real hassle, but I didn't have to do it everyday.
But then I became Chair of the Psychology Department. And in that role I had something "formal" happening just about everyday. Meeting with faculty. Meeting with Administration. Visiting with prospective students and their families.
All this meant that I had to pack a nice change of clothing every single day. It was getting to be a pain.
But as luck would have it my infatuation with speed was waning around this same time. I was wanting to go slower. To look up from the road to enjoy the morning air, the sky, and the sunrise.
So I switched bikes again. I got an Electra Amsterdam. It's a European-style city bike perfect for what I was needing. For example, it has a fully enclosed bike chain so I can wear long pants. It has also got a coat tail protector for the back wheel, fenders, and even a mud flap for the front tire. And it has a rack. And a light. And a bell. Ring, ring!
Basically, you could be wearing a suit and tie and ride this bike to work. (The Amsterdam is seen here to the right and it's the bike with me in the picture above.)
It was perfect. Now I just jump on my bike in the morning wearing whatever I'm going to wear for the day. Most of the time it's jeans and a shirt (as pictured above; that's how I look at work 98% of the time). Sometimes (though rarely) it's dress pants, a tie, and jacket. And no matter what I'm wearing I'm comfortable on the Amsterdam.
The key, obviously, is giving up speed. I go slow. But it's not just about about the clothing. Going slow is also about smelling the roses.
Apparently, I'm a part of a growing trend. Check out Slow Bike Movement: Not all cyclists in a hurry, a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Among the growing population of bicyclists are those who eschew speed and spandex in favor of sitting upright and slowly making their way through town in whatever they happen to be wearing that day. It's a trend that some are calling the Slow Bike Movement.And the article echos my own experience about clothing:
"When I think about the Slow Bike Movement, I think of bikes that allow people to sit upright, see your surroundings, be more visible to your environment that you're riding," says Public Bikes' Dan Nguyen-Tan.
[A benefit of slow riding] carries over to when you're getting dressed in the morning. Slow riding means not arriving at work sweaty or worrying about wearing specific bike-riding shoes or any of the other wardrobe-related concerns that plague would-be commuters.But the article also highlights the greatest benefit of slow riding, something I tried to capture awhile back in a poem:
Being a Slow Bike Rider...means getting to know more about the rest of your community.
"I actually like interacting with the people in my city," Logan says. "And when you're riding slowly, that tends to happen more often."
Both Logan and Colleen Stockmann, who works at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, say it's easier to strike up a conversation with people on the street while biking. When you're not rushing past, head down, people tend to talk to you - ask for directions, comment on your bike or otherwise carry on a conversation. Sometimes that means talking to curious tourists, and sometimes it means striking up a conversation with another slow rider in the bike lane.
Sure, it's easier to talk to someone who isn't whizzing past, but the laid-back pace also encourages you to look around, Stockmann says. When you're riding casually, "you notice more," she says.