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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 04-29-10, 02:04 PM   #1
MattyV
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The Bike-To-Work Experiment (long post)

Hey all,

Thought I would post a "summary" of my experiment of taking on the task of biking to work... I am a bit of a blogger/wordsmith and it got a little lengthy (sorry)...

I wasn't sure if I had the gumption to go through with the experiment, I had talked about it for a couple of years but never went any further than that. Deep down I wonder if I didn't really think it was possible, that I was in a way limiting myself in an effort to "stay comfortable & familiar". For one reason or another (mainly some inspiration from a couple of friends of mine), a few weeks ago I dug out the bike and gave it a whirl. That first ride was rough, literally, as I had gone 3.5mi on semi-flat tires (unbeknownst to me at the time). My discouragement on that ride was palpable, I could feel it seething inside me. Realizing the error when I got back home, the next day's ride was much smoother with proper tire inflation. I was actually excited to ride.

Trying different routes, stretching myself, I was dumbfounded one Saturday to find that I had ridden almost 6mi and felt no real exhaustion. The dream of biking to work became much more real that day. Pushing myself further, I set a goal of riding to work by the end of May - with a practice run or two on a couple of weekends to test the terrain & time myself. The excitement mounted further.

And then it happened. I took myself further than I had ever gone one morning on my bike. The wind was fierce & howling, the temperature super-cold, but I continued despite thoughts of turning around. Fighting against the wind, each foot struggling to make its revolution, I slowly made progress. Making it home in one exhausted piece, I checked my route and there it was. The magic number. 7.25mi. And the timing was reasonable (reasonable for me, anyway) at around 45min. Thus I made my preparations.

I had seen the route I was to take many times from the road, but I had never noticed any problems or concerns. Giving myself a solid hour, I figure that was enough time for any unforeseen trouble or traffic. Letting my boss know what I was undertaking and giving him a copy of the route and my expected time of arrival, I set about getting my gear together.

Since I had a black backpack, I covered it in a white, sleeveless t-shirt for better visibility by motorists I might encounter. The helmet was fitted (just a hair too tight), shoelaces & pantlegs were checked for possible snagging problems. Loading up my pack, it felt rather heavy and I had not thought about it when I originally made plans. I forgot to include 10-15lbs of extra weight from my pack (my gallon of tea, water bottle of ice, lunch, & other necessities for work). I hemmed & hawed, almost giving up. But I pressed on.

Taking residential streets to the route I needed to get on to travel to work was fairly uneventful. That was, until I encountered the hill. Keeping my hands on the brakes, I coasted down the hill faster & faster, all the while hoping & praying that the light would change in my favor when I reached the bottom. It did. I noticed quite a bit as I traveled on that route. The piles of debris on the route, the dead animals (including a deer), the "puckers" in the asphalt - spherical bubbles that created somewhat of a hazard for bikers & rollerbladers.

The intersections were my main concern but turned out fine (on the way to work), the pack on my back began to twinge a little half way through the ride. I tried to readjust the pack using my shoulders which helped a little. Before I knew it, I had made it to the bridge. Only one more mile to go & well within my ETA. I parked the bike, took off my helm, and plopped down at my desk. Taking deep breaths & trying to slow my heart rate, I basked in the glow of accomplishment. I had done it. Half of the experiment was complete. The other half was yet to come and feelings of self-doubt began to creep into my conscious - "You made it to work, but do you really think after sitting at a desk all day you have the energy to ride the 7+ miles home?" Those thoughts persisted, even after taking a nice bike ride at lunch to visit all the old places I used to bike as a kid.

The ride home began simple enough, the lights were with me & I found myself getting a little more comfortable and actually really enjoying the ride. Allowances for more coasting became prevalent since I did have to get home, it wasn't an emergency. But then the near-misses started. I learned quickly that people in cars are in more of a hurry to get home from work than they are going to work. And it wasn't at the intersections, it was in the driveways & entrances to businesses. People wanting to turn right were looking left, paying no attention to anything happening on their right. Quick flicks of the handbrakes kept me from becoming a hood ornament a few times, with sheepish grins, shrugged shoulders, and mouthed "Sorry" coming from the drivers.

Then the hill. It was fun (and a bit hairy) going down it on the way to work, but looked almost like a mountain to me on my way back. The hill is "stepped", meaning that it's not a smooth hill but rather a series of smaller hills as they wind up to the top. Think of photos of the Loch Ness monster with her humps coming out of the water, and that's kind of what it felt like. You don't notice it when riding in a car, nor did I notice it riding down the hill. I pedaled & pedaled, my thighs burning, sweat accumulating in my eyes. I got almost 3/4 of the way up the hill and had to stop. The hill had beaten me. But I survived and will come back to battle again.

Making my way through the familar neighborhoods, I saw it in the distance. My home! Pulling into my driveway, I gave thanks for the protection and for the strength that got me safely through. Almost 20 miles (to/from work plus my lunchtime ride) on that bike and it felt great. Looking forward to doing it at least once a week.

The Aftermath:
I had cramps galore in my right thigh last night, it's still pretty sore today. I have pant-rash on my stomach from the sweat & constant rubbing while pedaling. A little ache in the back, nothing major. Will this deter me from doing it again? Well, I could have biked today but thought better of it. Let the muscles rest & "knit" themselves back together, they've had quite a workout and were stretched to their limits.

I look forward to biking again tomorrow, although not to work but around the neighborhood...
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Old 04-29-10, 02:15 PM   #2
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Nice writeup Matty, If I lived closer to work I'd consider commuting. I did do a couple of rides home last year and that told me the distance of 29 miles one-way was just a bit too far for my liking. Who know, maybe if I get really good at riding. The thing I wanted to say is that you might consider bringing in extra things a day in advance of commuting and keeping them at work, that way you need not carry so much stuff and can enjoy the ride more.
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Old 04-29-10, 02:35 PM   #3
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Well done! If you plan to keep at it, dump the backpack and get a rack and panniers. I started commuting to work a couple of years ago and have only used a backpack a couple of times (and only because I was riding one of my bikes without a rack). Having the weight off your back is much more comfortable. I also wear cycling-friendly clothes and change at work. Commuting is great for so many different reasons and I really miss it on days I have to drive in. Keep it up!
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Old 04-29-10, 03:54 PM   #4
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Nice story, keep up the good work. I commute to work three days per week with a 35 mile round trip. I use the days between to shuttle extra clothes, food, etc. to the office. I love my bike commute, and my next home is going to be within 10 miles of the office so I can do it every day, even in the winter.
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Old 04-29-10, 05:01 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by MattyV View Post
But then the near-misses started. I learned quickly that people in cars are in more of a hurry to get home from work than they are going to work. And it wasn't at the intersections, it was in the driveways & entrances to businesses. People wanting to turn right were looking left, paying no attention to anything happening on their right. Quick flicks of the handbrakes kept me from becoming a hood ornament a few times, with sheepish grins, shrugged shoulders, and mouthed "Sorry" coming from the drivers.
Why are you on their right? Are you wrong-way riding, or riding on the sidewalk? Both are really bad ideas.

Good job on the commute.
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Old 04-29-10, 05:11 PM   #6
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Old 04-29-10, 09:15 PM   #7
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Ditto the rack, Matty. Or figure out some way to keep all that junk, such as the tea, in your office.

The cramps are normal, since you'd tripled your mileage that day, and rode harder and more loaded than normal. Keeping hydrated helps. Even a short ride will dry you out.

Oh, and well done!

I'm especially pleased I've been able to help you get on a bike since I've owed you an enormous debt for your example back when I was 400 pounds and miserable. You, without realizing it, helped show me the way.
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Old 04-29-10, 10:01 PM   #8
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Great post. I third (or is it fourth?) the suggestion to dump the backpank and get rack and panniers. It'll make the ride much more comfy.
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Old 04-29-10, 10:24 PM   #9
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Yet another vote for rack and panniers. If you don't want to deck yourself out in cycling gear and change at work there are cylcling-specific padded undershorts that you could wear under your work clothes. When you get to work slip into the bathroom and change in to your regular underwear and then back again after work. That should help with any chafing - except around the waist; loosen your belt a notch or two for the ride.
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Old 04-30-10, 05:16 AM   #10
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Glad to see you are joining the ranks of bike commuters.

I have commuted on a bike for over 35 yrs. At the job I currently have, I can’t do that. There is the minor matter of a bridge I would have to cross every day that is much too dangerous for a bike. In the past I rode routes to work that were from 15 to 20 mi. a day. I think in all the years I rode, I only managed to ride to work all 5 week days one time. Mostly 3 to 4 days per week. In a previous job, I rode through a park in Washington DC, crossed the Potomac River and stopped and relaxed at a small water park reading the newspaper while cooling off before going in and cleaning up and changing. That really made the whole day for me.
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Old 04-30-10, 05:49 AM   #11
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Why are you on their right?
?? The last time I drove in MI cars drove on the right side of the road like they do everywhere else in the US. If a cyclist is riding between traffic and the curb or shoulder then he'd be to the driver's right. Unfortunately drivers aren't accustomed to anyone being there. If you're cycling slowly they'll go by you but if you are flying down a hill it won't occur to them that they haven't passed you with as much clearance as they thought.
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Good job on the commute.
Yeah! I have commuted by bike before, max of about 15 miles. It's great. Wish I could now. 55 miles is a bit far.
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Old 04-30-10, 05:54 AM   #12
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Cool one. Get a pannier and just ride to work every day.
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Old 04-30-10, 11:16 AM   #13
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Matty,
Nice writeup. As others pointed out, spend about $25 to $35 on a descent rack, and you can get some descent Axiom bags for around $35. Not having a load on your back will do wonders for comfort on your bike. I take 3 bottles of water with me (filled from my Fridge at home), a thermos of milk, a sandwich, change of cloths, and rain gear every day, plus some basic tools and supplies to fix a flat or perform some basic emergency bike repairs if needed. I've averaged about 1 to 2 flats a year, and have had to tighten or adjust a few things along the way before.

I know the first few rides can be quite the physical workout, but keep with it. When I started commuting to my work 3 years ago. The ride is only 5 miles each way and the terain is flat. The first few weeks I'd ride maybe two or three times a week. The ride would kick my @ss. My legs and lungs would be burning and I'd only be riding an average of about 12.5 MPH. 3 years on I've done a hand full of Metric centruries and a few century rides as well. On my summer tires I can now easily average 15 to 17 MPH on the exact same bike.

During the 1st half year of riding, the thought of going 62 or even 100 miles seemed completely insane and impossible. Riding in Winter was not even something I thgoutn was possible in Buffalo NY. Now all of those are fun challenges. Over the first few months your should see some radical improvement in your leg strength and aerobic cababilities.

With more riding in traffic you will learn to anticipate the crazy cagers that are out there much better. Make sure you can be seen, and give your self some room to your right to move into incase you get cut-off unexpectedly. Probably the best piece of safety gear I have is a mirror. Being able to see what is happening behind me with just a quick flance down to my mirror is extreamly helpful. Certainly I can turn my head to look, but I don't want to take my eyes off the road in front of me too long either.

Keep up the riding and ENJOY. Not every day is equally good, but a day riding is still better than a day in traffic in a car. I love cars and enjoy driving (I own 3 cars including a class), but riding a bike to and from work is excellent for you physical and emotional health.

Happy riding,
André
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Old 04-30-10, 11:48 AM   #14
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I forgot to include 10-15lbs of extra weight from my pack (my gallon of tea, water bottle of ice, lunch, & other necessities for work).
First off - congratulations! I love biking to work and I'm going to start with it again any day now. Second - why do you bring a gallon of tea to sit at your desk? Do you love to pee?
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Old 04-30-10, 12:52 PM   #15
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Congratulations on the ride! Mostly because it was a goal you'd been looking forward to for years, and you've achieved it! But also because you've joined the world of bike commuters, and because you've gone a lot more miles than you recently thought was even possible.

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Deep down I wonder if I didn't really think it was possible, that I was in a way limiting myself in an effort to "stay comfortable & familiar".
"... such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for growth and happiness."
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Old 05-03-10, 05:41 PM   #16
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People wanting to turn right were looking left, paying no attention to anything happening on their right. Quick flicks of the handbrakes kept me from becoming a hood ornament a few times
I hope you're talking about people pulling into businesses or driveways, not pulling out.
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