My First Partial Bike Commute: Trial and Error

My alarm is awful. I’ve worked to slowly get used to waking up as peacefully as possible, and I now wake up to one of my favorite Bach pieces, Aria by Simone Dinnerstein on almost minimum volume. But at 5:45am, even an angles song would piss me off.

This was the first morning I would try bike (partially) to work! The night before I planned everything. I was already wearing my base later (a merino wool long sleeve, some long johns, and the best travel underwear ever!), the water was measured and ready to start some great local coffee, my tire pressure was perfect, and my lunch was ready to be thrown in the bag with my neatly folded office clothes!

That smile wouldn't last to long though :(

That smile wouldn’t last to long though 😦

Coffee down, banana ate, and layers applied, I stepped out into the 42ºF morning. It was drizzling, and my hands were cold (I lost my gloves camping a few weeks ago >:8), and I had developed a sore throat, cough, and the sniffles during the night, but I wasn’t going to let any of these excuses stop me! I put the rubber to the metal and began my first ever commute!

3 miles later I was just about to exit town. I was alread a quarter of the way there and ready for anything. Traffic was light at 6:15am, and the rain wasn’t so bad either. The street lamps had lit my way for a time, but soon they would become few and far between. Then it happened: my head light went out…

I forgot to charge the damn headlight.

I had faced down every obstacle that morning. The cold. A cold. The rain. The early morning. Everything. But I couldn’t ride in the dark.  Even if I could see (which I couldn’t) cars entering the highway couldn’t see me. Irritated, I turned around. Pulling in I scared my wife half to death as she wondered from the shower what the noises were as I dragged my bike into the house, defeated, and slightly peeved. My first commute had dissolved to mere 6 mile workout.

But today was different. Still fighting a cold, I got up, made another pot of coffee, packed another lunch, and made a quick steak and eggs breakfast. As I tied my shoes, my pups wished me luck in a variety of ways. Zoey licked my shoes and pawed at my knee; Java, rubbed her butt on the floor. I am truly loved.

Java left, Zoey Right.  The best cheerleaders a guy could ask for!

Java left, Zoey Right. The best cheerleaders a guy could ask for!

When I stepped outside today the weather was a great 48ºF !  That’s not sarcasm, only 6 degrees difference and suddenly my hands aren’t cold anymore. There were only a few clouds in the sky and the moon shined bright. Compared to yesterday, these were perfect conditions!

I had to tackle 3 large hills on my way, but I was rewarded on the last one with a speed I’ve never experienced on a bike before. As I raced the sun to the Buckhead MARTA station, I abandoned my workout playlist (a J-Pop album that is both upbeat and allows me to practice listening to Japanese!) to enjoy the wind, occasional bird song, and the sound of panting progress!

Arriving in Buckhead via Bike

Goooooood morning Buckhead!

Just short of 12 miles and a tad over an hour later, I rode into the station sweaty and alive. I wanted to talk to everyone I passed, but most were still asleep; they had barely made it this far, better to not disturb them. That’s OK, don’t mind the crazy person smiling to himself, he’s going to be just fine.  He’s going to be better!

Bike to work, the 7 mile mark!

Psshh, the source for this said this is a girls only poster! Well too bad :P

I want to be able to bike to work.  But as a consultant, it’s rare that I’m ever actually in my home office (5 miles from home), and instead find myself at a client site much further away.  But that won’t stop me this time.  However, the distance may slow me down just a bit… It’s 16 miles each way!

So I’ve broken this seemingly impossible goal (to go from 0 miles a year to 32 miles a day via bicycle) down into stages.  I’ll ride each day, and little by little increase the distance until I hit the numbers I’m aiming for.  And this week I hit a great mile stone, 7 miles in 40 minutes!  At this rate I’ll be at work in an hour and about 2 hrs… Still, it’s progress. 

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

At 26, I’ve never walked, ran, or biked a distance of 7 miles in my life.  In fact, since owning it I’ve riden 4 times.  I’m slowly trying to gauge where max distance is over time, hopefully minimizing the chance for injury by easing into it as well as learning the bike itself.  So far each ride has left me pretty tired, and my legs feeling like half set jello, but there has yet to be any intense soreness the day after.  I am however aware of the strain I’m putting on my body, and have no intention of jumping up several miles each run.  Which leads me to my first biking tip ever: creating a distance menu!

The Menu

First I started with a chart with 2 columns, one labeled ‘Miles’ and the other ‘Route’.  I then added rows from 1 to 16 with half mile increments starting after 9 miles (since I’m guessing I’ll have to slow my progression about that distance).  Each route starts and ends at my home, and the chart was emailed to my phone for quick reference.  When I’m walking out the door, I can decide how I feel that day and have a quick route planned out to match.  So if the Sun is going down and I only want a brief ride in I can follow the route for 2 miles and be all set!  In a few days I’ll try my 8 mile route when I think I’m ready.

Building Your Routes

Using routebuilder.org  I was able to easily click my way across a google map and get a great estimate on the distance.  It took me about an hour or two to map everything out (I have over 16 routes mapped after all), but now that I have them all mapped out it’s a peice of cake.  Each route starts and ends at my house, and some share the same first few starting streets to speed up the route mapping process as well as give me  some options should I change my mind early on.  The site offers a saving feature, but if you don’t start over each time it will overwrite the last one, so I just gave up and built a simple route reference system.

Route Shorthand

I used the following format for jotting down my routes so that I could easily read it on my iPhone:

(L)COBB-(R)PEACHTREE SE-(R)XMPLSTRT…

Since all my routes start at home, I skip the first road most times to save space.  In this example I turn left onto Cobb Parkway, then right onto Peachtree St SE, and finally right on to Example Street.  The first time you try a longer route, you may need to check half way through, but after a while you’ll easily remember the path you plan to follow with a quick glance.  I usually try to leave out vowels or use nicknames for really popular streets with long names. Like PTREE for Peachtree.

Mix it up!

I decided to try and get each route to take me somewhere new.  If I want to do 3 miles, I’m not planning on riding the 1 mile route 3 times, which would be far too boring.  Instead, I want to ride the 3 mile route, and if I’m in the mood can ride the 1 mile route to top it off at the end.

Let’s Ride!

After that it’s back to peddlin’.  For now I’m focusing on slowly working my way up to that magic 16 number.  But first on my list is mile 11, because that’s the distance to the closest train station from my house.  Thus allowing me to bike there, and ride the last few miles on the train, which should be a great sub goal!  Wish me luck!