Category Archives: Teaching You to Bike Every Day

Never Waste a Winter Storm…

This morning my wife and I awakened to a rather impressive amount of snowfall for the Denver metro area.  When I first went outside at 5:30 am there was at least 10 inches of snow on the ground and the thick winter clouds were continuing to produce plentiful additional snowflakes as the morning progressed.  The weather forecast had predicted snow for today but it was unclear to what extent the storm would affect us as the sun reached over the horizon and the work day approached.

As with everything in life, one can perceive this event as either positive or negative.   I, in almost all situations, choose the former! Thus, let me tell the story of my morning:

First things first, it is important to prepare the homestead, scooping the snow from the driveway and sidewalks.  Think of this like the warm up lap for the upcoming workout. There is no secret that biking in 10-15 inches of snow is a significant amount of work, especially when there is minimal snow removal and one must rely on the tracks of cars that have travelled before you.  I also knew I would be covering a significant distance.

Once the snow is scooped the next step is preparing for the journey.  Many people think that you need wide tires to safely traverse deep snow on a bicycle.  I essentially just hop on my standard every day commuter bike as I would any other day.  Clothing-wise, I opted for snow pants over my standard work attire as well as a winter coat, cap, and gloves.  When you have already committed to riding every day, no matter what, there is no reason to complicate things.

Next step is deciding on a route.  After years of this stuff, I have prepared mentally for every situation that can arise.  I know which roads get a snow plow and/or are well tread by commuter cars.  This morning, however, I was in particular good spirits so I ignored the route that I knew would be the easiest in favor of a little more work with a significant reward.  I opted for the path that took me through a popular park.  The pioneer post of this blog happened to be on a day very similar to today with less snow and I remember how fantastic riding through this particular park was on that day.  I really wanted to relive this because I find it to be quintessential business casual biking.  Nothing makes you feel more special than being essentially the only person out in a public place when that public place is at its best.

So off I went.  The start was a little more difficult than I had anticipated.  Although my family had been out scooping the driveway and alley behind our house at 5:45 it would be unreasonable to assume that others would be as ambitious.  I walked my bike through the deep snow to the main road, mounted the self-propelled chariot, and entered the traffic stream.  This road had been partially plowed and there was even a bit of a shoulder to ride on.  I was moving along at a decent pace.  There were many cars that passed me cautiously.  There were also several self-righteous truck drivers who rushed by ignoring all potential hazards ahead.

Eventually I turned onto a side street that had not been plowed.  As I began riding on this street, I realized that the consistency of the drifts was very erratic.  At times my tires had smooth packed snow to sail on and other times that packed snow dispersed and my rear tire slid right and left.  I was all alone on this road so I could safely slide back and forth, making it a game to not dismount even through the largest of drifts.

Finally, I entered the park on my route.  There was not a human soul to speak of for the first mile of treking.  There were several dogs who had escaped their masters and were frolicking through the drifts with unabashed joy, plowing their faces into the white dust.  The ponds in the park were covered with geese and ducks who seemed to be enjoying the fresh snow as much as I was.  As I continued to ride through the park, I began to appreciate the solitude that one does not often get to experience within a city of millions.  For only a small time I had entered Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  To celebrate/destroy this concept, I briefly shoved my bicycle in a drift to document the solitude, taking several photos on my iphone (including the quaint picture at the top of this post).

As I was exiting the park, I noticed there was a man in a small sedan who was struggling to move in the deep snow.  I offered my assistance and found out the man had been chasing one of those dogs I had seen wandering about.  It only took a couple of pushes and he was going again and he thanked me for my assistance.

From here I made the final push to my place of work over a bike trail positioned against a nice creek.  The trail had been plowed shortly before I arrived so I was able to make the final push at a normal pace.

After exiting the trail, across the street from my work, there was a business man who had gotten his brand new 4-wheel-drive Subaru stuck in an unplowed lane of traffic.  It was apparent that he had been stuck there for a while and had recruited a resident homeless man to assist him.  After realizing the good feeling developed after helping the first stuck car, I was quick to offer my assistance again.  It was apparent that all wheels had been buried in the soft snow and the driver was making futile attempts to disengage the car even with the homeless man’s efforts and excessive gasoline combustion.

The difference between this commuters’s mood and mine could not be more apparent! He scoffed that his office was open today, forcing him out into these horrid conditions.

I knew that even by adding my additional pushing, there was little chance that we could muscle this 3600 pound beast out of the drift.  I saw some nearby landscaping rocks, which I grabbed and shoved under the tires.  We recruited one more passerby and with two big shoves we were able to get the feeble Subaru back on the road.  I was once again proud for having helped this hapless commuter get on his way.

I had now arrived at my destination, parking my bike all by its lonesome on the usually half-filled rack.  As I walked into the work place, I reflected on these first hours of my day.  I felt a minor amount of fatigue, having used different muscles to remain on my bike in the snow.  However, that minimal amount of weariness was nothing compared to the energy my heart felt.  I had experienced the pureness of nature, assisted two men, and experienced again the pleasure of hard work, yet my day was just beginning.

Many folks will spend hundred or even thousands of dollars to get out into the wilderness by investing in cabin stays, snow shoes, and ski lift tickets.  I got all of this for “less than free,” all on my way to work!

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Your Body: Underappreciated Asset and Shapeshifter Extraordinaire

Every morning I set out from my house exerting a fair amount of force in alternating intervals on respective pedals.  Despite the remarkably complicated nature pertaining to which muscle should fire off at which time and with what degree of intensity, I am able to perform this task with very limited effort.  I am easily able to maintain the required effort for long enough to carry me on my Chariot to  my place of work, a short 14 miles from my home.  What is most impressive about this feat is that my body does not require an input of gasoline, because over the previous several hours my gastrointestinal tract has extracted key nutrients and fuel from the delicious foods I consumed the previous day and distributed said nutrients to the proper tissues.

Over time, humans have replaced manual effort with increasingly complex machinery.  We have invented cranes to build buildings, scrapers to move large quantities of soil, ships to cross oceans.  I do not wish to understate how important these inventions have been.  Nonetheless, the unfortunate side-effect to all of this mechanization is that it has created the impression that we are incapable of doing amazing things without external power provided by internal combustion engines. The magnificence of the human body has hitherto been downplayed. Now, we have a difficult time wrapping our brains around the idea that we could use our own human power to take us short distances on a daily basis.

When I engage in conversations with others regarding my daily commute, there is always a certain level of disbelief.

“I can’t believe you are able to do that!”

“Wait? How far do you ride every day?”

“You must be in such good shape.”

I always appreciate the envy and the underlying assumptions, but the truth is that I am far from super human.  It is true that over time my body has adapted quite nicely to the requirement of my daily bicycle commute.  My cardiovascular system is certainly above average in terms of efficiency, and my leg muscles maintain a certain level of hypertrophy.  I certainly, however, did not start that way.  I have never been a elite athlete; I was even overweight at one point in my life.

What makes me different than most people is that at one point I decided to exercise every day by riding my bicycle to work.  This simple decision, which has transformed into an intractable habit, has changed my body into what it is today.

Is it not amazing that our bodies have the ability for such profound transformation?

We are not stuck in the body that we have today.  We can make decisions that allow for us to become something entirely different! If you believe that your body is incapable of such things, I challenge you to acquire a bicycle (if you do not already own one), dress appropriately, and hop on this bicycle on the morning of your next work day.  When you are done with work, head the opposite direction. Repeat every day.

Not only will you enjoy improved performance of your organ systems: musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, et cetera; you will be free of your dreaded car commute and enjoying the wonderful outdoors!

Have you undergone a massive change in the shape and function of your body as a result of your daily bicycle commute?  Are you still on the sidelines?  Please leave your comments below.