Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wrapping Up Another Year of Bike Commuting

I've reached the end of another school year and it's time for a look back to recap and assess my bike commuting numbers. Overall, this was a really successful year. I always start out the year by setting some goals - long-term, year-long, semester, and monthly goals - and this year I met or exceeded all of them, and managed to beat my personal records, too.

A foggy mid-May morning.
Back in August, I had thought reaching 100 days by the end of May would be a pretty good achievement for the year. If I was lucky and reached that goal a little early, then I'd set my sights on matching or beating my personal best of 111 days. Well, as it turned out, I reached 100 days by spring break at the end of March. I broke my record of 111 by mid-April. At the end of April, I calculated that I had a 75% bike-to-work average (down from a high of 90% at the end of November - but then, I always expected my average to fall during the winter, so 75% was still pretty terrific). At that point I made it my "final" goal for the year to keep my average at 75% or better through the end of school. Definitely "do-able" but not exactly a lock since I knew there were going to be several days in May when I'd have to drive to work whether I wanted to or not. With only a month left to go, there simply weren't enough days available to try to increase my average by more than a percentage point or two.

New personal record: 132 days.
So as of today, I have ridden to work 132 days for a bike-to-work average of 76.3%. At just over 28 miles per day, that works out to about 3722 miles, and I estimate that I've probably saved approximately 123 gallons of gas in that time.

Over the course of the past year, my best individual month was September when I rode 95% of the time. I only drove my car one day that whole month. The worst month, not surprisingly, was January - but even in that dead-of-winter month I still managed to average about 46% - or a little better than 2 days per week.

Since I started biking to work on a more or less "year round" basis 6 years ago, I have always had the long-term goal of commuting at least 50% by bike. There were a couple of years where I fell short of that, but by the end of last year I had managed to get my long-term average up to 50% (50.5 to be exact). With the personal record breaking numbers I pulled this year, my 6-year average is up to 54.7%. That works out to 16,300 miles that I did not put on my car.

Climbing a hill under bright sunshine with a shadowy
 riding companion on day 132.
I remember a couple of years ago thinking 111 days was going to be pretty hard to beat. Even last year, when we had the mildest winter I could ever recall, I "only" made it to 108. I have no idea if I can beat 132 - or if I can, how long it might take. Time will tell.

Type II Fun: The kind of fun that's only fun afterwards.

In all the years I'd been biking to work, the Greek goddess Pneumos (don't bother googling her) always seemed to have my back and I never punctured a tire. Well, even goddesses must sleep in occasionally because one frosty 20-degree morning in December I got my first flat tire while commuting to work. It was still dark outside, and I was on a hillside on an unlit back road about 5 miles from work. I feared I might not have time to repair it, and I dreaded the thought of even trying to do it in the dark on a 20-degree morning in December.

I got out my cell phone and tried calling work. At worst, I thought I should let them know I might be late and we'd need someone to cover my first class. At best, I hoped maybe somebody with a pickup or SUV might be able to come bail me out. Unfortunately I couldn't reach anyone. I was going to have to change a tire. In the dark. On a 20-degree morning in December.

The road I was on had no streetlights whatsoever, but about 100 yards ahead I saw a driveway with a little lantern light at the end of it. I hobbled on over to take advantage of what little light it could give me. Then I had to take off my nice, thick, warm gloves and set to work prying off the tire and changing the inner tube. Before putting in the new tube, like any experienced rider/mechanic knows, I checked the tire to make sure that whatever punctured it wasn't still poking through. I couldn't trust sight, so I ran my bare (but cold-numbed) fingers all through the inside of the tire and couldn't find anything. I put it all back together, pumped it up and I was off. Though I managed to change the tire in impressively fast time, I figured I only had about 15 minutes to get to work on time - so it became an all-out time trial to beat the bell.

I did make it - but noticed in the last half mile or so that my back tire was getting a little soft again. Obviously, despite my check, whatever punctured it was still in there. It held up well enough to get me to work though, and I walked in as the bells were ringing. No time for coffee. No time to change clothes. I taught my first class of the day in biking clothes. Sweaty biking clothes. I later spent my lunch break patching not one, but two inner tubes. You see, I always pack one spare tube plus a patch kit in case of the dreaded double-flat. This was one of those times when that bit of anal retentive overkill paid off. By the way, it took a lot of effort, but I eventually discovered that I had a tiny little shard of glass stuck deep in the tire - invisible to the eye and impossible to feel - but with each revolution of the wheel it would poke out from its hiding place for a moment then hide itself away again, eventually working its way through my tube. Sheesh.

Okay - on second thought - that story doesn't even qualify as Type II fun. Well, maybe the frantic race to beat the clock qualifies. The rest of it just sucked.


  1. I've had a few days of "type II" fun. Recently, there was the day when the left pedal fell off of the spindle, when I was standing up to pedal uphill, followed (of course) by a hard crash. I was already at my office, so I hobbled over to the bike racks and made plans to bring it to the shop at the end of the day. It's only 4 miles away so I'd walk it over. Well, in the evening, as I walked up to the bike, I noticed it had a flat tire. I did not notice that mid-day when I checked on the bike (and jammed the pedal back on to the spindle). OK, I dug out my spare tube, swapped tubes, and started pumping. No luck, the spare wouldn't hold air, and my patch kit was at home. I also broke my pump in the effort. That was not a good day...

    Nowadays, I always carry two spare tubes and a patch kit.

  2. Last yer I had two flats but since it had been years since the last I had long given up carrying tubes or pump... Two long walks home has cured me.

  3. Great work, Brooks. Makes me feel lucky I live in a temperate climate where I can ride to work every day of the year without taking extreme measures.

    Your story about a stuck piece of glass in your tire reminded me of the time I set about changing a tube by the side of the road and ran my finger around the inside of the tire...only to catch my finger on a decent shard of glass sticking through, which proceeded to bleed profusely severely limiting my ability to do the job properly. I tied my handkerchief around it, but that didn't really make it any easier. To compound the situation, the hub lock nut had broken and was only being held in place by the tension of the axle nuts.

    It was a sombre walk to the nearest bike shop.

  4. In the military we call it second hand fun :-)

  5. Congratulations on beating your record by such a wide margin. And you managed to keep riding almost half of the time in the dead of a northeatern Ohio winter. That's nothing to sneeze at!

    I definitely can relate to your story of looking for light after flatting in the dark--and of trying to get to work on time. And I've had a few instances of "second hand fun." There were the dreaded double flats and other mishaps. Perhaps the most vexing was the time my Regina CX freewheel blew up and I suddenly found myself riding with twelve fixed gears for the last 15 miles of a century!

  6. I've never heard of "Type II fun" before. Does this count?: Once I lost the left side crank arm bolt on the Towpath during an after work group ride. The arm came off, lodged in the rear spokes, causing quite the abrupt skidding stop. I nearly wiped out two other riders following behind. It was a fixed gear, so I limped a mile back to the trailhead pedaling one-footed.

    1. does it count? That depends. Is it fun remembering it?