For my entire adult life (and even before) I’ve considered myself an environmentalist. I’ve talked the talk, and for the most part I’ve done my part by minimizing wasteful consumption, supporting political candidates with strong environmental ethics, and even refusing a lucrative career in the traditional insecticide industry until biotechnology properly changed the paradigm. Reduce, reuse, recycle! There was one chink, however, in this moral armor – commuting. For the past 18 years now, I’ve driven my car to work and back home – alone. No carpooling, no mass transit, no biking. Considering the great impact that cars have on air quality, oil consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, I really couldn’t claim to be walking the walk in more than a token way. For the first several years, it simply wasn’t possible – I lived 30 miles away – a congested interstate causeway between my home and work. After moving back to St. Louis it became difficult for a different reason – kids. With both my wife and I working out of the home, we needed to tag-team getting the kids first to daycare, then to school, and now to afterschool activities. Frankly, I don’t think I could’ve commuted by bike even without that challenge – I had not yet begun cycling in earnest, and the hills out here in Wildwood/Chesterfield would’ve presented quite an obstacle to my 210+ lbs.
My wife has been at home for a few months now. With her able to deal with the kids in the morning and after school, I decided it was finally time to put my money where my mouth was. Racing during the past several years has made the days of weighing 210+ a distant memory and given me a level of fitness more than adequate for a bicycle commute of any length or difficulty. Still, until recently, I was worried about how commuting 15 miles each way – over some tough terrain (think Doberman climb!) – might impact my training. Group rides after work and specific workouts would have been difficult, if not impossible. But racing has ended, certainly for the season and perhaps, for me, permanently. With nothing to train for, I run the risk of loss of motivation, diminishing time on the bike, and the spector of a return to 210+ lbs! That nightmare made bicycle commuting seem to be the perfect solution, so two weeks ago I got up a little earlier than usual, put on my kit (I don’t have any fred outfits), packed a change of clothes into a backpack, and hopped on the LOOK 585 Team for my first ever bicycle commute to work.
What a delight! Despite my grogginess starting out, the activity and cool air had me wide awake by the time I hit Doberman. Admittedly, Doberman wasn’t much fun with a 10-lb pack on my back, but I didn’t worry about whether I set a climbing PR and just pooched it until I got up top. Getting back up to speed, I enjoyed the rollers almost as much as on any training ride. I hadn’t seen more than two cars in the first 7 miles of my commute, but I knew that would change once I crossed Hwy 109. However, it proved to be much worry about nothing – even though WHC was incredibly congested, MODOT’s recent repaving of that stretch provided me with a clean, wide, smooth shoulder that allowed me to zoom past the cars as they stacked up at traffic lights in front of Chesterfield Elementary and at Long Road. I probably traveled that stretch in half the time as I would have had I been in a car! Traffic once again all but disappeared once I got past Long Road, and I made it to work in just over 46 minutes – a measley 15 minutes longer than had I driven my car. My company provides a locker room with showers, so within a little more than an hour after leaving the house, I was clean, dressed, awake, and rarin’ to go.
In the two weeks since, I have commuted by bike on 7 of the 10 work days we’ve had. By the end of the first week I was feeling pretty ragged – especially coming home on Friday with a laptop computer in my backpack (total weight 17 lbs!). Lately I’ve been feeling quite strong – I almost feel like I’m a little stronger now than when I was training! It has also taken the pressure off the work day, since I don’t need to figure out how to get in a good workout either during the day or later in the evening. Gas savings alone work out to almost $7 each day that I commute, and considering wear and tear on the vehicle the savings are probably more in the range of $15. I know I won’t be able to commute at this rate throughout the year – the dead of winter will be a problem, and if my wife returns to working out of the home we’ll have to figure something out. Maybe we can switch days getting the kids off in the morning and dealing with them in the afternoon. Regardless, I plan to continue doing this as much as possible. So, if you drive WHC and see a racer-type on a white bike with a black commuting pack – leave a little room, will ya?