The Journey to Work by Bike

Wow, I was exhausted after Friday, and it wasn't from work like the previous week haha. Friday was the first day I rode my bike to and from work. All in all, it's about a 30 mile trip. Here's the story of this great day:

Now, most people who I've told this to either have not believed me or looked at me like something is growing out of my ears. "What?! 30 MILES!?" Yea yea, it sounds far, but I'm a biker, so it's no big deal to me. The ride itself is actually pretty flat and on good roads, so that's not the issue. It's all the logistics of making a commuter ride happen that can be tough.

A few years ago, this idea would've never even crossed my mind. I remember first moving into our house in SLO at my 2nd year at Cal Poly. My car got bashed in pretty good ONE WEEK after I bought it (figures...). I left it at the shop for a few days while it got fixed. Meanwhile, I kepting wondering, "How am I going to get to class?" Our house was about 5 miles from campus, and even though I had 2 bikes (old/new) and I rode quite a bit, the thought never occurred to me. In Michigan, we don't have bike lanes and with the weather, people can't ride year round, so nobody really does. I've never seen someone commuting to work back there.

Anywho, I really got back into biking after my 3rd year while I interned in San Diego. My landlady was a crazy biker, going out and doing 100 miles each day up mountains! (Not sure if she actually did any work though) I got into the bike gear and soon I was biking every other day.

Since then, I've tried to keep up my biking. During part of fall and most of spring quarter last year, I'd bike to school at least 2 to 3 times per week. I figured it's healthy, saves money, and it's green, so why not? I'll admit though, getting started was rough. I had a lot of flats, since I used my old bike. I brought it because I didn't care if it gotten stolen. Turns out I was using the wrong tubes with the wrong values for a long time, which didn't fit properly and would cause many of the flats. There was also the issue of how much stuff to carry and how to clean up once you got there. I ended up getting a messenger bag and washing up in the UU every morning. Usually it was before work, so I was less stressed about getting a flat.

Okay, now that I've sidetracked enough, back to my San Jose ride. At first, I thought it was a little too far to ride. However, with how frustrating Bay Area traffic can be (and it's not even bad by me) and not being able to ride when I get home because of how late it is, the idea of riding to work didn't seem so bad. Hitachi has a pretty good gym with showers, and it would give me my exercise so I wouldn't have to rush home and then try and go run or something, so why not?

First, I planned out a route and tried it out a few times. If you want to see my route, I posted it a post or two back. Next, I made sure I had all the right equipment. I toyed with the idea of using my old bike that I just fixed up, but to be honest, I don't trust it QUITE yet. I just rode that bike to/from the coffee shop the other day (~6 mi). Even though it went well, there are still some kinks to work out (and a few holes in a tire to path :-P). Also, I figured nobody was going to steal my bike at work, so I chose to use my good bike. I got some new equipment and clothing online real cheap from the fall bike sales. Most of it was stuff to keep warm, like a jacket and warmers. At that point, I just needed to pick a day to try out the ride. I was planning on starting out slow (once a week or so) and eventually ramp up the number of rides. I don't think I'd ever ride everyday, especially with 9 a.m. meetings, but I figured I could pull off at least 2-3 times a week like in SLO.

Finally, I decided Friday for the date. Other than that, I just put it off until Thursday night. Man, let me tell ya, I'm a major worry wart and all, but I always forgot what my mom always said, "Everything seems worse at night." That is so true. Even after making my lists of stuff to carry on my bike and nearly passing out on the couch, once I got into bed the worries hit me. "What if I get a flat?...Are there buses close by?...What if I'm really late to work?..." The list went on and on. To tell you the truth, I was amazed that I finally did get to sleep.

When morning came, I got out of bed all groggy, not ready for the ride at all. However, I persisted and got myself out on my bike and actually had a great ride. It was much more peaceful than sitting in traffic, and even with rush hour I still managed to commute in about an hour. The ride home was dark, but pleasant.

I ended up getting home just in time to see the UPS guy drive away from our complex. My new netbook was coming that day, so I actually chased him down on my bike! He was pretty suprised when a guy on a bike forced him to pull over. It turns out that he hadn't been to my place yet (oops). I waited at home until he showed up at my door, no longer suprised by the guy in the bike outfit. I then had a fun evening resting up and playing with my new EEE PC (which is awesome by the way, I'm writing my blog on it right now!)

Along my bike ride that day, I thought of several improvements that would help me for the next (and subsequent) rides. My backpack with all my stuff was WAY too heavy to carry around. In the future, I plan on using my messenger bag and leaving supplies (toiletries, etc...) at work. The hardest part I found at work was figuring out where to dry my towel. We have a locker room, but nothing can be left there overnight and all the showers do get used (which I didn't know, and almost lost my towel when I left it in there). Also, for all the worrying I did before, I have some more ideas about issues while riding. I went out and got some road tires that withstand punctures from rocks, nails, and glass...hell, one guy claims he rode 11,000 miles on a pair of them before getting a flat. (whew!) That, along with knowing the VTA routes, should help me sleep a little better before my next ride.

In terms of schedule, it's getting colder and darker now (especially with daylight savings), but I'm thinking of starting out at once a week every Friday, then migrating to something like every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday (the other days are early meeting days). I've realized that I probably won't replace driving for every day of the week; that's a LOT of biking.

With that in mind, not only does that amount of exercise take a while to build up to, but also it causes a heavy calorie drain. For me, this is a definite problem. I'm not complaining, I love being thin, I just want to make sure I don't wither away. I still need to get my blood tests done to make sure everything else (cholesterol, etc) is good too, so I probably should get that done before I venture out on a bike every week.

My next ride is slated for next week. My guess is Wednesday, since I'm heading to SLO that Thursday night. Wish me luck and look out for me on the roads of south SJ if you're in town!


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My Old Bike: Night and Day

Well, after about a month of getting parts and tuning, my vintage 1970s Schwinn Varsity is ready to hit the road (I think). Take a look, here's a shot from before:

...and after:

Pretty cool, right? I'm a big fan of the bright red handlebar tape, a cheap buy from eBay. Nothing like the original from the 70s haha. Most of the hardware is the same, I just cleaned, washed, oiled, and tuned the bike so that it was running smoothly again. There are a number of new items, including:

- Tubes
- Tires
- Rim Tape
- Brake and Derailleur Cables
- Chain
- Handlebar Tape
- Lights
- Rack

It was quite a challenge getting it running smoothly again, many of the parts were out of true or bent. However, in the end it seems to work great. I'm amazed how similar it looks to my old bike (which I miss dearly :-( ...) Let's hope it doesn't have all the same initial problems as my old one though.

Today was meant to be the maiden ride for the bike, but I ran into a few snags, as with any new (old) bike like this. I got home fairly late, so it was dark by the time I put the last touches on the bike. I decided to attempt a 3 mile ride to the coffee shop to read my book and work on my novel. I should've known better, my previous old bike had issues repeatedly over the years.

After only a few hundred feet, the back wheel started rubbing badly against the frame. Then the wheel totally fell off and jammed against the frame. Whoops... Looks like I forgot to tighten and lock some bolts. After dragging the thing back to my garage (luckily I only made it a few hundred feet), I took apart the back wheel and forced it back into place and tightened everything really well.

I'm so happy I didn't get stuck in the dark somewhere in SJ randomly, THAT would not have been fun! I decided to lay low for tonight and just ride it around the garage and the block real quick. Everything worked pretty well. The gears were mostly smooth and the brakes worked fine.

Tomorrow, I plan on attempting the 3 mile ride again (during the day of course). Tune in to see what happens...hopefully I'll get farther than my apartment complex this time.

There are still some minor adjustments to be made, which I'm hoping to fix: the gears slip a little bit (a bent derailleur) and my front wheel hops (it's not true and needs the spokes tightened). After all those minor fixes, I'm hoping that this bike lasts for a long time.

With this bike, I'm replacing my other old red 10-speed that I sold in SLO. I didn't have the space to move it up here and I figured I wouldn't need it, so I sold it to get parted. MAN, was I wrong. An old bike like this is so useful. My newer bike is great, but I don't want to dress in biking gear and clip shoes to go to the coffee shop or Target. I mean, some people like to do that (my clip shoes have covers called "coffee covers"...apparently people do wear this stuff to the local Starbucks), but I rather just hop on and off a bike for those short trips. I also don't want to worry about dings and the possibility of my bike getting stolen. That's why a bike like this is so great.

Along with my test ride tomorrow, I'm also going to try out my new commuter route. It's about 30 miles roundtrip to HGST, so it will be a bit of a haul early in the morning, but I'm up to it. I found a great utility online that uses Google Maps to map routes for biking, running, whatever. Here's my second attempt at creating a route:

My Commuter Route to HGST

My first route was similiar, but some of the roads ended or were too busy. I don't want to be breathing exhaust along my whole trip. I've tried to update my route to take quieter and more direct roads this time. I even got some good advice from my manager Steve who's from the area and knows the traffice situation better.

With winter coming, the rain will come, so I'm not sure how much riding I'll get in right away, but I want to at least test out the route and get a feel for the ride after a few trials during the week. Eventually, I hope to build up to riding every day. That will involve changing my work schedule, how I dress and shower, etc, but I've done it all before in SLO when I biked 10 miles to and from Cal Poly every other day. In the end, it's all about the same 3 things:

1) Pollute less
2) Save money
3) Excercise more

It's a triple win! I mean there's the longer commute time and possibility of being late (flats, etc), but it's not like I have a final to get to anymore. And who knows, with how bad traffic can get in the Bay Area, I might not get there that much later haha.

We'll see how it goes. Wish me safe travels on my bike ride...make that rides tomorrow!

By the way, if you'd like to see more before and after photos of the bike, check 'em out here:

My Bike Pics



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