Friday, June 13, 2014

Taking the Lane Guest Post: Ashley's Relationship with Bike Commuting

My relationship with bicycle commuting has been a bit of an on-again, off-again one. It's like any worthwhile relationship though: it takes work. And, I know bicycle commuting is more than a fling for me.
The story isn't all that romantic, but it does get sweeter with age. Let's step back in time to see how it all began. You know that's what any predictable romance would do.
I began bicycle commuting in my last few semesters of undergrad primarily to cope with stress. My doctor recommended increasing my exercise level. I'm not a gym rat, nor did I have a regular time to set aside for a gym routine. (I worked 2 or 3 part-time jobs and took, on average, 15-16 credit hours each semester.) I did, however, have a bike. I also had an apartment conveniently located on the bike trail. What's more, I had a keen desire to reduce my morning road rage and frustration with limited near-campus free parking (read: dedicated time). To my surprise, my bike commute took the same or LESS time than driving, parking, and walking on UNL's city campus. Bicycle commuting became the white knight or something of that fairy tale romance lore. I was falling in love.
I was not always faithful though. There were days of inclement weather and work after class about 10 miles from campus that sent me fleeting to the comfort of my car.
Fast forward a year or two: new job, new apartment. I still lived and worked on or near the trails and within a distance where bicycle commuting and car commuting took roughly the same amount of time. Most of the year--April to October--I would commute by bike a few times a week. I had also begun exploring the limestone trails and venturing farther by bike on the weekends. This provided ample time for personal reflection and decision making. It also cemented my love for my bike.
Within a couple more years, that love would be challenged. A move to Omaha (for a silly boy) and commute to Lincoln left me with little daylight to commute. I also didn't find Omaha very bike friendly at that time. (I hear it has improved, but I will always be partial to Lincoln's trail network.) My bike basically collected dust for about six months.
Fast forward again. In 2009, biking became a bigger part of my life and has shaped who I am today. It again offered space for personal reflection. It also offered a physical release from grad school, which I began that fall. It was then that I took my bike commuting relationship to the next level. I bought a CX-style bike and official commuter rack and panniers. We were getting serious!
Two years later still, a long distance commute caused a short break up. But, I am pleased to report that after two more moves, a fairly difficult personal loss, and knee surgery, I am happily engaged with bicycle commuting.
In all seriousness, I do view bicycle commuting as a long-term relationship. It takes work, and communication is key--with yourself, your employer, your partner, your bike shop, and anyone or any place else that can enable and encourage your bike commute.
I have learned that my daily commute depends upon me and how well I prepare the night before. I dink in the morning unless I have appropriately readied myself. This includes laying out my clothes; packing my work materials; going to bed at a regular time; checking the weather and planning to layer or pack the necessary gear. This last piece took me awhile. Not only did I need to accumulate (i.e., buy) some essential rain and cold weather gear, I also needed to develop the mindset for riding in less-than-perfect and ever-changing conditions. (Those who live or have lived in Nebraska know it can go from 60-70*F to 20-30*F in less than 24 hours.) Even so, some may consider me a fair-weather cyclist or a seasonal commuter. I'm ok with that because I know myself and my body well enough now to acknowledge when weather or body say I should not ride.

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