Friday, September 6, 2013

Of Illness + Excuses

Ever since I returned from Montreal on the 27th, I have been fighting major allergies and a cold. I'm currently at the stage where the tissues aren't needed constantly, but breathing continues to require extra effort. 

I have struggled with minor asthma issues throughout adolescence and adulthood -- usually brought on by strenuous exercise or very extreme weather (heat/cold). 

This is a huge reason why I run very slowly - I top out at 5.5mph and often run as much as 1mph slower than that - and am so happy to embrace "slow biking". 

At any rate, this is all to say that when breathing is hard, it's exhausting. I wanted to ride to work on Tuesday (low in the upper 50s, high in the lower 80s) and I slept poorly and was so exhausted that it just seemed like a miserable proposition. Then it warmed up, and I didn't feel any better. 10 days after I started to feel icky, I'm still feeling... exhausted. Under the weather for sure.

The weekend will be warm, but next Thursday, we return to highs around 80 and lows in the 50s, so I'm hoping to bike to work again next week. It's been a long time since I've biked to work, and timing and/or meeting locations have not allowed me the extra minutes I need to make biking a viable option, which is problematic, too.

This is why I want to talk about reasons for biking and St. Louis: traffic. For all its ups and downs, St. Louis has pretty amazing traffic. Drive in Chicago, New York, or any major city in Europe, and you realize that our "rush hour" woes are pretty insignificant, especially if you can avoid the central corridor (we generally can with our work commutes). In those big cities, people often hop on the bike because it's faster than public transportation and faster than sitting in the virtual parking lots that rush hour can become. But that's not the case for me in St. Louis, and, as a result, biking too often becomes the "if I have time/luxury" option, when I'd like to strive to have it be the first priority, at least with a little more regularity. Between heat, illness, and, frankly, inconvenience, added to the fact that there isn't as much visible bike-commuting in the county (which is a safety issue), I have allowed myself to fall into a pattern of making excuses to take the car instead. The car is, frankly, easier, and I find myself a little bit jealous of the bloggers who are in towns where biking is the easier, better, faster option, because it provides the extra incentive to hop on two wheels instead of four. 

My dedication to incorporating bicycling into my life has not waned; I knew summer in St. Louis would be a challenge and remain shocked that I have been able to ride as much this summer in glorious weather as I have been able to do. But if I'm struggling with some of these "ifs and buts", then you probably are, too. So let's look at them.

Weather. The heat is a real thing. For me, I am unwilling to kit up and then change at the office. My door doesn't lock, and the bathrooms are small, and I don't want to get ridiculously sweaty, since there is no shower at work. So for me, that means lows in the 50/60s and highs not exceeding 85 (all Fahrenheit) or so is the max for an hour ride or longer. My test ride to work last June was to/from (back-to-back, or about 13 miles) in slightly shy of 90-degree heat. Even with water, it was hard, and it took me well over 30 minutes to cool down. I don't enjoy running or bicycling in that type of weather, so I don't. I am not naturally inclined to exercise, so one of my rules for myself is that if an activity makes me resent being active, it's not worth it. Riding when the weather is more pleasant, on the other hand, makes me wonder why I don't do it more often!

Similarly, I will not ride when rain is very likely on the way in (sprinkles are fine) or if thunderstorms are likely. It's not particularly safe to ride in lightning, and it's not worth the risk to me, when coupled with decreased visibility and slick roads (for me and for the cars). This is as much a reflection of the fact that St. Louis is becoming, but is not yet, a particularly bike-friendly city. Especially in the County.

Not sure about snow policy yet; I am planning to set up my mountain bike for some light commuting, and if it handles well in light snow, I'll base my winter precip policy accordingly.

Illness. If I can't breathe easily, it will affect when and how I ride. So bad allergies, upper-respiratory illnesses, and asthma can affect how I feel about riding. These are safety, comfort, and "potential resentment" issues, too. 

Time. This is my biggest issue most days for work, or for church. It takes me 7 minutes to drive to my church and park, so I need about 10-15 minutes from door to seat. I don't sweat when I drive (at least not just from driving), so I don't need cool-down time. It takes me 25 minutes door-to-seat for work in the morning. Ditto sweat/cool-down comments. It takes me close to 20 minutes to bike to church, and 10 minutes to cool down. It takes me 50-60 minutes to bike to work, and 10-20 minutes to cool down. So if I can leave at 10:15 am for a 10:30 church arrival time by car, I need to leave at 9:55-10:00 by bike. If I can leave at 8:30 am to comfortably be in the office by 9:00 am. I need to be on the bike by 7:30-7:45 am in order to be just as cool, calm, and presentable by 9:00 am when I travel by bicycle. 

Some of this is problematic because of how I'm wired... I tend to procrastinate, and I don't naturally manage my time well. So even when I get up early enough to be ready and leave by 7:30 or 7:45, I often get distracted by coffee, the Internet, some project I decided to tackle "really quickly" before leaving for the morning. 

I am very curious to see how trying the mountain bike and road bike, once they are ready for a commute, affect my transpo time to work, and affect my feelings about the hill that is in the middle of the ride!

So time, she is my biggest enemy. The issues cut straight to my personal Achilles' Heel (time management) and flirt with the temptation of faster travel and convenience. 

I want to address these because anyone biking in St. Louis is likely to face these same issues (maybe not the heat as much if you sweat less than I do or can tolerate it better). Part of incorporating bike transportation into my life will be about changing my habits and prioritizing bicycling over the ease of the car. This may require tweaking my hours slightly, forcing myself into better morning routines, or just getting out there even when I'm hesitant. I continue to look to the more consistently cool fall weather to have multiple days to push this new (to me) habit. The one thing I know for sure is that the more I ride, the more I want to ride; the less I ride, the easier it is to just take the car.

Do you have "nah, take the car" voices that you fight off when you get on the bike? If so, let's talk about and through them. Let's talk. And then ride! 

Cheers and happy riding,


  1. Yay for comments! I think you hit the nail on the head with the statement in bold at the end of your post.

    Getting into a routine of using your bicycle to get around is huge. You can get to the point where cycling is the default, and you have to work hard to find reasons not to ride.

    I realized this once I switched to a job where I wasn't cycling to work every day. Add in the "I need to do this with a baby/toddler" clause, and my list of excuses for driving rather than cycling grew.

    I agree that 50-60 minutes is a pretty long commute time (when compared to it being less time by car). On the other hand, that's time you've been getting some good physical activity instead of just sitting in a car.

    I'm also curious to see if the road bike noticeably shortens your commute time. Keep us posted!

  2. I suspected that (the bold part) is the truth at the base of bicycle riding, too. I am eager to try the 10-speed; I want to see what the smaller tires and additional gears mean for the hill and my average speed. My brother is working on the bike (tentatively nicknamed "The Radish" because she's red) and reports that she's in surprisingly good shape. Yay! The fewer components I have to track down for a 1970s French 10-speed, the happier I'll be. (She's a Motobecane.) Unfortunately, my local schedule precludes me from going to get her until October, but hopefully by then, we'll be done with these crazy (and late-to-the-game) hot days.

    We have actually talked a bit about moving closer to Clayton a bit, since I anticipate working there for the foreseeable future, but the home and neighborhood would have to be very special to convince me to move. That said, that idea of having a (slightly - extra mile or two) longer commute for evenings and Sundays and possibly shortening the M-F commute seems to make "life" sense, so we'll see! I don't anticipate we'll do anything any time soon.


Let the bicycle talk begin...