Friday, May 16, 2014

2014 National Bike to Work Day!

Today was National Bike to Work Day! 

What is National Bike to Work Day?
Bike to Work Day began in 1956[1] to celebrate and bring awareness to the option of commuting to work by bicycle. It is part of Bike to Work Month and the culmination of Bike to Work Week. In St. Louis, Bike to Work Day is the same as National Bike to Work Day, which, as far as I can figure, is the third Friday in May each year (May 16, 2014, May 17, 2013...)

I had never picked up on the existence of BTWD before last year. Before that, I was vaguely aware that the young and progressive folks in the city had taken up a distinctly non-lycra style of riding. (For those not from around these-here parts, STL City is geographically and politically and culturally distinct from the adjoining STL county, where I've lived the last 9.5 years.) I noticed naked bike rides, and moonlight rambles, and I was intrigued. And then, as I have written before, I started to see bikes everywhere that weren't these carbon-fiber speed machines. They had "swoopy"* frames, and swept handlebars, and rattan baskets, and the little part of me that had a pink swoopy (Huffy) frame circa 1984 wanted in. Badly. Unfortunately, my decision to buy a swoopy-frame bike (Fleur) coincided with a push to pay off some consumer debt, and so in 2013, I missed BTWD because I'd saved up for her*, and she was on order, but had not yet arrived (at the time, I only had my mountain bike, which is still in need of repair, and which is poorly fitted to me at the moment).

*er, that would be "loop" or "step-through" in real bike jargon...
**The Linus is a she, the Trek is he, and the Motobecane is whatever it feels like at any given moment. 

So this is my first official "Bike to Work Day" ride, but probably my dozenth (dozenth? is that a word?) or so bike commute to work, and I rode at least as many times to my church, where I have meetings 3 times per month, music rehearsal 3-5 times per month, and worship 3-5 times per month. So while this was my first BTWD, this is not my first rodeo, right? Right.

Today's Commute.
I left my home at 7:45 a.m., wearing a long-sleeve black tee, skirt, tights, and heels, covered with a black wind-resistant jacket, plus my Nutcase helmet and my cycling gloves. Why does it matter what I wore? Two reasons: (1) it doesn't really matter, that's the point - it doesn't have to be "cycling clothing" to be cycling clothing; and (2) here's why, for me, this is cycling clothing:
  1. Dark top - it was cool today, but my commute has hills, so while I didn't sweat much or for long, I was still pretty warm by the time I finished my 6.5-mile work commute. A dark top hides any perspiration. (Busy patterns and certain materials can, too.)
  2. Skirt - with the dark tights, I was sufficiently warm (it was in the upper 40s/low50s) and my modesty was preserved, and knee-length-or-shorter skirts don't get caught in your crank. 
  3. Heels - I personally prefer to do anything in flat shoes, but my ballet flats died and my replacements haven't yet arrived, so the only court-appropriate dark shoes I had available were low-heeled booties. That said, biking in heels isn't so hard. You use the balls of your feet (where flats and heels alike are flat), and heels are generally more comfortable to bike in than walk in! I have packed the heels and worn flats, too, so that's an option if you are biking with something that will haul your stuff.
So, how did I haul my stuff?
I've been experimenting with the ten-speed for distance, because it's lighter and has more gearing options than the heavy, basket-ed, upright bike. The verdict is still out as to which I prefer, which is a discussion for another post. However, I've decided as I bring some older bikes back into use (the ten-speed was my mom's and is circa early-70s) I'm adding, at least, fenders, a rear reflector, and a small rear rack. The ten-speed's rack is very little, but it worked just fine with my "makeshift pannier" from my early Linus days. I shared a photo of it here.

In my bag, I placed my smaller cross-body purse, cell phone, keys, u-lock, lights, and (after I was warm enough) jacket. The bag has mesh side pockets for bottles, and I use the rear one for my water bottle (I kick it if I use the front pocket). This means I have to stop to use the bottle on my ten-speed (the Linus has a front bottle-ring in the Delano basket; the Trek a bottle cage on the lower frame tube), but that's okay. I fall into the camp of people who don't like to wear cargo when I ride. Not a cross-body purse, not a messenger bag, not a backpack. It's distracting, heavy, or flops around uncomfortably. So cargo capability is my thing.

OK, you're all set. How was the ride? Glorious. Frustrating. Hard. Easy. Worth it. Discouraging. Educational.

Glorious. You can't ask for better than lows in the 40s and highs shy of 70 with no rain or humidity. It's perfect. You're a bit chilly when you start, but don't sweat too much, and the exertion and breeze are positively refreshing. We don't get many days like this in St. Louis, and in my opinion, there's no better way to spend them than on a bike.

Frustrating. I'm struggling with fit and comfort of the drop bars on the ten-speed. It's okay for shorter distances, but my shoulders and neck hurt, and though it's easier to "shoulder-check" what's going on behind you from a ten-speed, I'd like a mirror. That said, the ride on this bike is stiffer and more narrow than on the Linus, which I consider a drawback, but also the posturing is more aggressive and the bike lighter, which theoretically, with the skinny tires, could make hills less obnoxious... 

Hard. ...if I had added a little air to my tires. They felt pretty good when I checked them, but I ignored the nagging feeling I should check the actual PSI (I aim for 90 on the skinny tires, as recommended), and they were a little soggy, which made my ride positively sloggy. Also, shifting on this bike (downtube shifters, no individual gear "landing spot" so you can be stuck mid-shift) is hard. So all in all, I found myself wondering whether I do really need more gears on the Linus and if so how many and fighting my way up the saddest inclines (and hating the real ones). Dumb. I should have checked the PSI.

Easy. I can get there from here and I've done it before. The distance is do-able, and had I not stopped twice for water and to let traffic pass, I probably would have arrived at least five minutes quicker than my Linus pace. 

Worth it. Bonus: adding in my Cycling Savvy knowledge meant that my commute on Clayton Road and Forsyth was so much nicer, because I was better able to navigate rush-hour traffic in a way that felt safe and effective. Unfortunately...

Discouraging. No matter how safe and visible you are, some people are frustrated, impatient, don't understand the rules of the road (for motorists or cyclists) and decide to take that out on you by honking, swerving, and passing too close for comfort. That happened today on my least-favorite stretch of road, and it's put me off that part of the route, possibly for good now. I'm officially actively campaigning for a bike thoroughfare that connects Manchester Road to Clayton Road west of Brentwood and East of Woodlawn. The options right now? Frankly, they suck. For everyone. (My reward on McKnight for getting through angry motorists on the 4-lane roads bumper-to-bumper 2-lane traffic, followed by a hilly ride through a busy highway/street intersection. Inhaling exhaust is not why I chose to ride. Blerg.)

Educational. Every. time. I. ride., I learn a little more about what works and what doesn't. Using my Cycling Savvy skills on Clayton Road made that part of my commute an absolute breeze. And on more than one occasion, I figured that I do prefer the upright Linus, but I still wonder whether I need to play with the gearing, or maybe even shift the stable around someday. Maybe the right bike is none of the three, but has elements of all three? A decision for another day.

Now what?
Tonight, I'm riding my bike from my office to meet friends, and then hitching a (car) ride home. I'm so glad I rode in, and so looking forward to a group ride and picnic tomorrow, but tonight I'm too tired to navigate an imperfect route in the dark, with sore shoulders and lingering frustration from the aggressive motorist. Which is to say that every little bit counts and it's okay to keep trying new things. 

I rode today. Full stop. That I'm not putting in the full 13-14 miles is okay and doesn't diminish the experience in the least. And I'm quite sure that my route isn't right yet, so I'm going to keep experimenting, or, if I do move from my current house someday (likely), I will absolutely be taking into account my access to bikeable destinations and effective mass-transit options, and giving them proper weight. 

Did you ride today for National Bike to Work Day? How was your ride?


  1. Well, I work from home these days, so I have no commute. But I did ride over to the library and back, which is a wonderful little 2 mile quickie trip in the neighborhood. It always makes me feel happy to find excuses to take little rides and stay out of my car!

    1. I think the short transport rides are often the loveliest. Nice to be able to avoid rush-hour, too. My church is 2 miles from home, and I love that ride.


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