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commuting article (long)(16 posts)

commuting article (long)MJ
Nov 8, 2001 6:43 AM

Dirt Rag Articles:Zen and the Art of Commuting by ron coughenour

You wake 45 minutes earlier than usual. Groggy and stiff, you eat a quick breakfast and down a cup of coffee. Hard as you try, you can't shake the sleep from your head. Sore legs from a hard ride the night before make moving a little more difficult. Yet you ride to work anyway.

The air is thick. It is a humid morning. The pack on your back feels awkward and heavy. Sweat runs into your eyes. Smog from the diesel garbage truck that just rumbled past constricts your throat. The belt around your chest tightens. The jerk in the jacked-up Ford F-150 flicks his cigarette at you. It doesn't burn your arm when it hits you. You feel sorry for Mother Earth that there is so much garbage along the road as you ride. Yet you ride to work anyway.

They don't deliberately try to hit you. They don't go out of their way to avoid you. They are protected by a half ton of steel armor. You have a piece of styro-foam wrapped in plastic on your head. It was more protection than the opossum that lies decaying in the ditch had. Yet you ride to work anyway.

Your concentration is focused on staying on top of the white line. Six inches to the right, and your tires fall victim to jagged asphalt and glass and broken pavement. Six inches to the left, and you fall victim to the bumper of a 1998 E class Mercedes. Your legs are heavy, your lungs are on fire and the blind curve at the top of the hill has suddenly captured your attention. Tight to the right, no shoulder and uphill. They're coming down as fast as they can. They're going up even faster. The odds are against you that you'll ever see the other end of this turn. Yet you ride to work anyway.

Head down, you crank hard around the turn. Your chain jumps between gears. As they whiz by, you can see yourself in their passenger mirror. Fear comes in the form of the rock that is all too quickly approaching. You swerve to the right. Off the road and into the brush. It grabs at you, it scratches at you, it tears at your skin, it makes you itch and you can hear the laughter from the BMW that slows a bit just to make fun of you. Yet you ride to work anyway.

You out-ride Death. He has fallen behind you, as he has every ride so far. Left turn onto the bike path through the park. The trail levels and finally no traffic. You've reached the plateau. The sunrise is breathtaking. The birds chirp to the tempo set by your knobbies. A slight breeze brings a smile. The aroma of freshly blooming flowers swims in your nose. The leaves rustle their greeting to you. Your breathing falls into the rhythm of all the life that surrounds you. The moment is brief, but this is why you ride to work.

Right turn and back on the street. The light at the intersection has traffic backed up for nearly twenty minutes. You know. You've waited for it before. As impatient horns blow, you get a wave from the guy in the Jetta with the Dirt Rag sticker. You feel sorry for him. As you approach the light, you can see the building that houses what you reluctantly call work. It hurts to think that you'll spend the next eight hours inside. A silent promise to get out of the city as soon as you can. Where the wait for the light is about fifteen minutes, you get a pleasant surprise, a new Mercedes, an F-150 and a BMW, buried in traffic. You put the smile your heart wears on your face and wave. Yeah, this is why you ride to work.
re: not my experiencedzrider
Nov 8, 2001 8:06 AM
I commute a few days a week - 9 miles each way - into Hartford, CT. This article doesn't describe either my experience or my perspective on commuting.

Most trips are uneventful. The most frequent problem with cars is drivers who are polite but indecisive and complicate intersections. Second most frequent is people squeezing the shoulder on 4 lane roads. The rude or careless are infrequent, but very frightening and tend to stay in my mind.

It troubles me when bike commuters are portrayed as death-defying socio-paths who live for the oppurtunity to pass cars stuck in traffic. This isn't me. I'm a 53 year father of 2 who rides to work without anger or resentment. I see bike commuting as possible for much of the general public and wish it were described that way more often.
not mine eitherMJ
Nov 8, 2001 8:22 AM
but it was a pleasant diversion in what is now my late afternoon...

commuting for me is about boredom (uneventful indeed) and trying to stay focused enough on the (same) road to deal with drivers and their amusing approach to the road - complacency and a lack of vigilance are the most dangerous things on my commute

I must admit though that I really enjoy passing long lines of cars in stationary traffic - I don't think most commuters are death defying, or angry or resentful either - I think it is a 'normal' thing to do for normal people - but most people who find out you commute on a bike think you are a death defying thrill seeker

whenever I mention I ride in at work - people always ask if I run all the red lights, bang on cars and yell at people - I explain that I only run redlights when I see there are pedestrians in the crosswalk (preferably the elderly) and that I normaly break off a few windcreen wipers every morning to exert my influence and hold my lane :-)
Triple that...UncleMoe
Nov 8, 2001 8:38 AM
Rarely do I have troubles with drivers either. And everyone has become much more pleasant since 9-11-2001. Not one car has driven by and done that annoying scream and then driven away cause they startled me, since the events.

The most annoying thing for me on the commute is getting my gear ready the night before, and even that isn't annoying really, just takes 10 minutes and I made myself a gear checklist cause I was tired of forgetting stuff (like a towel to dry off after the shower!).

I do enjoy riding past people stuck in traffic though. One of the reasons I started commuting 2-3 days a week, 20 miles each way.

When I drive to work, I find I return home at night tired and somewhat frustrated. When I commute by bike, I return home in a great mood.

The exception was the day I got the urgent need to empty my bowels one mile from home. No bathroom between here and there. No problem, I can make it. Only to get a flat. I rode home on the flat and just made it! (lol - at least now I can laugh at it)
Uncle Moe's chamois butter!! nmMiklos
Nov 8, 2001 3:18 PM
Recognise elements thereMuncherq
Nov 8, 2001 8:50 AM
but he has missed my nemesis (since I moved out of London into the country) - the mother in the 8' wide 4x4 (SUV) with 7 kids in, looking at the back seat whilst talking on the cell phone with one hand, eating a bit of toast with the other, trying to tune the radio via the remote on the steering wheel with an elbow whilst having a stab at bit of steering with a knee, with all the windows misted up except a little fisty-smeary bit in the middle (out of line of gaze), revving along 2 gears below where she should be (lack of 3rd hand) overtaking me mere meters before cutting into a turning right across my front wheel.

Mind you, I have it worse than most - there are TWO schools in my village...
different experience for memr_spin
Nov 8, 2001 8:56 AM
I'm lucky. Almost all of my commute is on a multi-user trail so I don't have to deal with cars. But multi-user trails have a whole other set of issues that we've discussed in detail here before!

I used to take a lot of pleasure in riding under the freeway on-ramp where I used to sit in my car, waiting for my turn to get on to the freeway so I could sit in traffic for the next 45 minutes or so. I won't say I took pleasure in all those people sitting there miserable in their cars-- I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. The pleasure derived from the fact that I wasn't one of them. And that I was on my bike.

Now, I don't even notice the traffic. It's just not my world anymore.
Do I detect a hint of jealousy? Ragging on BMW/MBkenyee
Nov 8, 2001 10:20 AM
Funny how he mentions them. I doubt the people that own them would want to do something like run you down because they'll be targetted for lawsuits as soon as the person gets up and sees what they drive.

No mention of kids in beat up cars doing stupid things.

No mention of the current "beat on SUV" rage (as if minivan or other drivers are magically better).

I'm disappointed. :-)
agree and disagreeohio
Nov 8, 2001 4:03 PM
I don't share his commuting experience, in that I enjoy my daily ride, no matter the weather, and I do it because here in Boston it saves me 30 min each way over public transportation and about 10 minutes each way over driving (if I had a car).

On the other hand, I do have to deal with a lot of bad driving, which in turn makes me (at times) not the best cyclist. I used to sustain my hand signals until the turn was at least intitiated and usually completed. Now I signal for maybe a second, and get my hands BACK ON THE BRAKES. I now ride the corridors between parked cars and moving traffic, because you can only go so far with horns blaring behind you, and cars swerving left of center to get around you. And I now use an annoying and BRIGHT front strobe, instead of a normal front light. Still, I know it's only a matter of time before the next driver rolls right over me to make a right turn, or the next guy clotheslines me with his driver side door as he climbs out of his parking spot...
AND in response to your complaint about SUV beating, and others saying "he only hates BMW drivers" because he doesn't have one, I can say that, in my experience, it's true that they are worse drivers, especially the SUVs. With SUVs it might be because they have a harder time seeing me from the elevated position, but almost all of my bad experiences have been with Expedition-size trucks/SUVs and 2-door German cars. Smaller SUVs tend to be more courteous, and folks with 4-door german cars don't drive like maniacs. This is all in general. Obviously not a rule.
I actually saw a door incident on Beacon St.kenyee
Nov 8, 2001 6:36 PM
Some obvious college kids parked (driving a Civic I think). The driver opened his door right into a biker. I was amazed. No one was hurt luckily.

Drivers in Boston seem to be bad in general; I haven't noticed that SUV drivers are worse. They're all insane nowadays (weaving through traffic, driving too fast on streets, leaving almost no safety gap) and I feel safer in a car. I luckily telecommute most of the time :-)

Glad you use lights. You wouldn't belive how many cyclists I've seen that don't. On a side note, a cyclist ran into my dad while he was walking across the street one time too, so he doesn't have a high opinion of cyclists now :-P
You know the old joke about BMWs....cory
Nov 9, 2001 7:46 AM
What's the difference between a 5-series and a porcupine?

The porcupine has the prick on the OUTside.
LOL. If they're not burned outkenyee
Nov 9, 2001 9:02 AM
This is way off topic, but have a look at this:
Affects all recent 5 series and some 3 series.

I've actually found Saab and Volvo drivers more annoying. They think they're invincible in their tanks and drive like maniacs (I haven't mentioned the usual college kids in Boston who haven't realized that they're not immortal yet :-)...
This guy obviously has issues...Rich Clark
Nov 8, 2001 11:36 AM
...with competitiveness, with risk-taking, with people who can afford expensive cars. He's not commuting for the love of riding, or a sense of obligation to be Earth-friendly, or for other constructive reasons. He's working out his aggressions.

After all, consider the source. A dirt rider, on a MTB, with a backpack, who writes for a dirt-bike magazine.

There *is* an art to commuting, no doubt about it. And it's an art that produces joy and self-fulfillment, as art often can. The writer of this article has clearly not mastered it.

Zen and the art of commuting?!?!?!?Ahimsa
Nov 8, 2001 12:42 PM
This is not art as it is described. The assumption that riding in traffic is a horror while park trails are bliss is exactly the type of thinking that drives bikes off the street and onto trails and lanes through legislation.

Bah. I love my commute. All of it. There are bad drivers whether I am in a car or on a bike, it does not matter. I prefer to ride because it is "a better way". Better for my body. Better for my soul. Better for the environment . Better because I love to ride and I'd rather do something I love than something I hate (driving, honking, sitting in traffic, arriving home angrier than when I left).

I've said before that part of the pleasure of city or traffic riding is to "stop and smell the roses". Make time to grab a cup of joe on the way at the java house where they know your order when you walk in. Exchange knowing nods with messengers. Ride the lane fast and hard, carving out your line like you're surfing a pavement wave.

Coworkers all think you are nuts, but you think you should ride further, and are embarrassed by their awe because you know how easy it really is. How common the ride has become, how short it now seems.

Nothing wrong with being pleased that you pass stuck traffic, this only reinforces the truth that often times we should all ride and leave the car at home.

I love to ride. This guy sounds like he is obligated to ride. I feel sorry for him. Life is too short.


A. (think this cat needs a new route and some slicks instead of those knobbies...)
not my experience, either!guido
Nov 8, 2001 1:16 PM
This article has a main theme: fear. While it can be daunting to venture into rush hour traffic on a bicycle, any self respecting roadie contributing to a website promoting road riding, should overcome this fear.

Biking is as safe as driving a car, if you ride defensively and respect motor traffic. Speeds are lower, therefore accidents are less life threatening. An extremely small percentage of bicycle accidents are a result of being hit by a car from the rear. One website, I think it was ISTEA, said that most bicycle-car accidents are the fault of the bicyclist, and they mainly refer to school kids and casual cyclists going the wrong way on streets, riding at night without lights, etc. In other words, riding a bike to work need not be a high anxiety experience, as the writer above treats it. With the right attitude, one can actually be comfortable out there on the roads.

I have a direct route on residential streets with very little traffic. At two points I cross heavy traffic, but never have to ride in it. (When I do, I go at a good clip to be noticed and to keep the "speed differential" less with the cars. That gives them more time to decide how they're going to pass you.) The side streets are not used as thoroughfares. Perfectly safe, shady in summer, pretty all year round, always something new to observe along the way: a garden coming up, a house being renovated, life on the streets not visible from six lane highways. You acknowledge the ladies on their walk, the kids playing basketball, the policeman in his cruiser. On a bicycle, you are their friend. You travel quietly, gracefully, and do not interrupt the peace and quiet of their environment.

Riding a bike to work can be seen as a quality of life issue, especially in these trying times after 9-11. Health and fitness, balance and agility, mastery of your wheel, a simple, guileless machine that you don't have to spend a small fortune on to keep running, or replace every 5 years. Riding gives me a sense of power and freedom, mental as well as physical, virtually lost in this mechanized, automated, technological world.
What am I doing wrong?Miklos
Nov 8, 2001 3:23 PM
I actually enjoy commuting as much as any other ride. My morning commute is always in the dark and at this time of year, part of the evening commute is dark. This morning it was 32 degrees and I enjoyed every minute of it. The article was written by a writer, not a rider.