Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The experiment begins

The Fuji Crosstown 3.0. Imagine this in bronze and without fenders. That's my ride.

A while back, I posted about my intention to try commuting and in-town errand-running via bicycle. Well. I'm now two days into that experiment. I'd say I've ridden about 20 miles in all, most of that along the route I'll eventually take to where I work.

How's it going? you may be wondering. So far, so good.

Some more specific observations (read: yammering) below the fold.

I can't say enough good things about my bike. I'm still getting used to it, but it's a strong, light bike that (so far) seems equal to whatever I've felt confident enough to risk with it. I've not ridden a bicycle regularly since I was in high school, so I have a bit of work to do in the confidence department. But this bike is helping instill that confidence. Seeing as this is Wichita, I'll have no use of all 21 speeds on this bike, but there are some steep (for me--about which more later) inclines along my route on which the lower gears have come in handy.

The route on the map I linked to above constitutes about half of my eventual commute--I actually ride about half its length. The rest of my route goes through, mostly, residential areas. The bike paths themselves are either asphalt or concrete and are in good repair. Best of all, this one follows the Arkansas River through lots of parks and green spaces, the museum district, and a big waterfront development downtown. Along this stretch, there are a couple of sandhill cranes, who like the open, grassy banks (they very occasionally come upstream to my stretch of the Little Arkansas, which has many more trees and ground cover) and who appear accustomed to bike-riders--they stood right by the path and didn't flinch as I went past. The one downside is that the river's channel works as something like a wind tunnel: the stretch I ride on runs in a north-south direction, and in the summer the prevailing winds are from the south. These past couple of days, they've been a steady 20 mph. I've had to shift gears while riding on level ground a couple of times, just to feel like I'm getting somewhere. The cottonwoods are now blooming (a bit late this year); at times, it has looked like I was riding into the teeth of a blizzard.

The residential areas I have to ride through aren't as aesthetically-pleasing as the river part of the trip. Most of the houses are cheap frame structures built during World War II to house workers building war aircraft. With very few exceptions, they all could use some work; some need to have a wrecking ball taken to them. That said, though, some people greeted me as I rode past, so I could shift my concern away from people and toward the debris in the streets.

I'm humbled by how out of shape I've become. After about an hour of riding, I have to be careful how I get off the bike or I'll end up in a heap on the ground. I'm pretty saddle-sore, despite the bike's having a wide seat and shock-absorbers besides. But then again, my physical condition is one of the reasons I wanted to get a bike. All this stuff will get better with time. Right now, I'm pretty tired and sore, but otherwise I feel good.

I figure that my riding these past two days has saved me about a gallon of gas. One advantage of the bike is that, because it can go places that the car cannot, it actually shortens distances (though not time, of course). The equivalent car trips would have been a couple miles longer than my bike rides; my car averages in the high 20s for city mpg; so there you are.

The upshot: I'm happy with how things have gone thus far. I need to get stronger, and I need to get past the saddle-soreness, and those things will happen if I stick with it. So far, I see no reason to quit.


Lucas said...

Good job John! That's an impressive thing to do. I wish i had the willpower to do the same. Keep it up! - L

Kári said...

Things have transpired in such a way that I now find myself spending the whole summer in Denmark at my parents'. It's nice to spend time with friends and family like this, but besides that my absolute favourite thing about Copenhagen is that you can cycle everywhere. At least when the weather's nice, which, so far, for the most part it is.

Now, I just need to find time to update my own blog...

R. Sherman said...

The EMBLOS and family have returned from Germany, and one of the things she always complains about is how "bike unfriendly" the U.S. is. As with Kari, she and kids biked everywhere and loved it.


emawkc said...

Good on ya, John B.! And just in time for le Tour!

John B. said...

Thanks to all of you for dropping by and commenting.

Lucas puts it just right: here in Wichita, someone's sticking with something like this will require willpower. Yesterday my route took me to an intersection that not only has a railroad crossing but is at the base of a freeway's offramp--whose traffic always has a green light, by the way. I was there around 12 and so it wasn't terribly busy, but I can easily imagine what that place looks like at rush hour. Time to consult a map for a better route, methinks.

That willpower should also extend to U.S. cities, though; Europeans, to their credit, have not basically rebuilt their cities to be more accommodating to cars. In this country, modifying streets to make them more bike-friendly and building dedicated bikepaths (along with, of course, improving mass transit and encouraging high-density development closer in to town rather than suburban sprawl) would be cheaper in the long run than building yet more roads. It'll be interesting, these next few months, to see how rising gas prices will shape debates about re-imagining urban areas and the ways we (should) get around in them.