There it is.
Last Sunday, my family and I were in Indianapolis at my brother-in-laws house for a house-warming BBQ. We made it a point to stop by the Indy Bike Garage.
Let me first say that BG Indy is *AMAZING*. Their selection is pretty decent but their customer service is OUTSTANDING. (With a capital “Y” for “Yes it is.”) Granted, it took them 15 minutes to get around to helping us (they were super busy) but when they finally did, they were extremely helpful. I highly recommend them.
So I bought the bike. And I’ve commuted to and from work every day this week. 6 miles each way, mostly uphill (even the way back — it’s a little easier, but still quite a few uphills). It takes me about 30-35 minutes each way.
Some things I’ve noticed about biking, having done it for a week:
- It’s really nice to actually experience the town that I live in while I’m transporting myself. When the scenery flies by past your car windows, you barely notice what’s around you. I’ve seen parts of town I never knew existed, or have only seen once or twice in passing.
- When a line of cars is backed up at a railroad crossing because a train is stopped, but the conductor lets you pick up your bike and cross the tracks, it’s hard to not feel smug as you walk by the cars.
- There is this low-grade 1/2 mile long hill on Reid Parkway — it’s probably less than 5 degrees graded, but OMG it is SUCH an effort to trek up that hill. I’ve had to downshift into the lowest front gear every time so far. I imagine it will get easier with practice (and strengthening) but it’s very deceptive!
- I’m actually *SAVING* time by doing this, since I would intend to exercise anyways. Seriously. If I were driving, my commute would take about 15 minutes (over 5 miles, can you dig that? Avg speed of 20 mph) each way, so by biking, it takes me 30 additional minutes.
However — since I want to exercise anyways, if I were to spend 60 minutes in the gym doing some cardio work (treadmill, ex. bike, elliptical, etc.) I would be using 90 minutes of my day for commuting + cardio. By riding a bike I’m saving 30 minutes every day AND getting both! Win-win!
- Breakfast is now mandatory. I haven’t biked on an empty stomach yet, but given the trek I make every morning, I don’t want to risk it. So I eat something every morning. Sometimes it’s scrambled eggs, sometimes it’s applesauce & noodles (not together! that’s gross!), sometimes it’s toast and peanut butter. But I eat something every morning.
- Finding new routes to come home is very fun, and a neat thinking exercise. It’s fun to take alleys, cross parking lots, and go places you couldn’t otherwise go in a car.
“I don’t want to arrive at work sweaty”
“I can’t afford a bicycle”
This is almost a self-defeating argument, given today’s gas prices. Mark Stosberg (who has been a HUMUNGOUS help in this whole transition, so a HUGE thanks to him!) has a link to a great online calculator to figure out how much your savings will be by eliminating a car commute. Commuter bikes aren’t all that expensive, either. The bike I bought was $450. Considering that I spend about $10 / week on gas (2.5 gallons, 50 miles per week, approximately 20 mpg city driving), this bike will pay for itself in under a year. When you factor in the health benefits of cardio and think long-term, it’s even more worthwhile.
That said, expect to spend anywhere from 400-700 dollars, depending on what features you want. If you’re using this for commuting, you want to get something that’s very comfortable, so it’s worth splurging more than a $200 Wal-Mart bike.
The one thing I will say is to shop around. There are a number of bike shops in the region. Richmond has two, Ike’s Bicycles (South A street) and a new one that opened up back behind the Post Office. I forget the name. You could also go to BGIndy, or a bike shop in Oxford, or any of the other dozens of shops in the Cincy/Dayton/Indy/Muncie areas. Try out a bunch of bikes until you find one that just feels right.
“It’s too far / too much uphill / too dangerous”
Again, this assumes you are working 8am – 5pm (‘ish), and that you live and work within city limits.
Given that –
- “Too far” — this is nonsense. Richmond is 6 miles wide (W/E) by 4-5 miles long (N/S). You can get anywhere in town in under 10 miles. While that may sound like a far distance, if you’re biking it’s really not. You’d probably average about 12-15 mph on a bike, so it will be less than an hour no matter where you’re going.
- “Too much uphill” — With the exception of the Chester Blvd. transition, Richmond is mostly flat, so it’s not likely to exhaust you too badly. Just be sure to get a bike with gears.
- “Too Dangerous” — if you’re biking during the day, are wearing a helmet, and obey traffic laws (i.e. Remember to ride WITH the flow of traffic always), it’s safe enough. It’s good to learn the proper biking signals for turning, and you should ALWAYS bike defensively. As my bike manual says, “A bicycle always loses in a collision with an automobile”. That said — I make it a point to take back roads because they’re low-traffic, but even when I occasionally jump onto US 27 briefly, I don’t feel unsafe.
“I’m too out of shape!”
This seems like a no-brainer, but what better way to get heart-healthy than to co-opt your work commute with your cardio workout? Trust me, bike a couple weeks and you’ll be in better shape. If you’re concerned you won’t even be able to make it at all, just be sure that you buy a bike with gears. I struggle getting up some hills that would probably be easy for a seasoned-biker, but I push myself and I make it (usually). If nothing else, just give yourself extra time, or do a dry-run first so you can get an idea of how much time you need to reach your destination.
“What about when it rains?”
Wear a raincoat, use a waterproof pannier (bicycle jargon for “saddle bag”) and make sure you have a change of shirt. It’s really not that bad, I just did it on Tuesday.
I don’t have any personal experience biking in the snow / ice yet — but I used to walk in it all the time. You have to wear lots of layers to keep warm, cover your eyes to prevent drying out, and cover your cheeks / face to prevent windburn. Mark has some excellent tips on this on his website, BikeRichmond.org. The roads around here really don’t get all that bad, and if you’re already in the habit of riding your bike, it shouldn’t be much more difficult. Just dress warmly, eat your breakfast, and get to work!
BikeRichmond.org is right — a town this size is perfect for commute bicycling. So go buy a nice comfortable bicycle and start biking! You only stand to save money as gas prices rise.