24 March 2011

Scoping out your commute
(Bike commute day 7, to work)

In an earlier post, I list the clothing and toiletries you need for commuting day-in, day-out. But you need to be ready psychologically too, comfortable in knowing you can make it to work on time, certain of the route, and not so tired that your presence is less than the usual energy you need.

Scope out the route with maps. Do some homework with city maps, Google Earth, and the maps published by MVRPC and Five Rivers Metroparks.*Note: Both of these links go to locations that are in development while a new set of maps is being published. In the meantime, some older maps are here.*

Bike the route first on a weekend. Do it leisurely, and note the time at several checkpoints. Note the road conditions, especially if the route has areas that may damage tires. Note where the ride depends on safe conditions with other vehicles, and where road crossings may have heavy traffic during rush hours. Develop a call list for alerting agencies of unsafe conditions, starting with the numbers for Five Rivers Metroparks (937-275-7275), the Miami River Conservancy District (937-223-1271), and the street maintenance official for each city on your route.

Find alternative routes. On the same weekend that you scope out the commute route, or soon after starting to commute, ride through some alternatives to your normal route. Even the bikeways have times when a section is torn up or when the river floods a significant stretch. It's really easy to take a wrong turn or lose your sense of direction while you navigate a detour. So find some alternatives when there's no pressure to get somewhere on time.

Get comfortable with changing a tube. With the increased mileage that commuting builds, you can be certain that you'll get a flat tire on some ride. Three of the four most common sources of a flat tire are broken glass, sharp rocks, and metal trash. No matter how much you try to avoid these, tires seem to be magnets for sharp objects. The fourth source of flats, and the most common for many, is low tire pressure. Always check the tire inflation with a squeeze of your thumb and forefinger. If there's any give, use a floor pump to add air and check the pressure. The usual pressure for a 1.25-inch tire is 40 to 60 pounds, and a narrow tire (about 0.75-inch) holds about 110 pounds.

So before you need to change a tube under time pressure or in cold weather—or in a cold rain, at night, with dogs snapping at your fanny—practice the change in your living room. And then change the tube for the back wheel, with its gummy black gears (if you don't keep them nicely clean and the chain lightly oiled). Change both tubes, especially if the bike has been hanging from the rafters or leaning against the wall over the Winter. Those tubes may be old and crackly if you haven't ridden in a long while. Change them! The practice will do you well.

Just remember that an experienced cyclist can change the tube inside of 10 minutes. That's a goal you can reach with just a little practice.

Commute record
Temperature: 31 to 33°F at 07:30, 30 to 32°F at 09:55
Precipitation: none
Winds: none to moderate, out of the east
Clothing: Top with 3 layers (Lycra longsleeve undershirt, skinsuit, arm warmers, and wool jacket); Bottom with 2 layers (skinsuit and Lycra tights); ankle socks. Closed-finger gloves. (Comfortable, a bit cool; fingers too cold.)
Bike: Trek 850
Time: 0:51:00 (approx.) for 12.5 miles
Bikeway users: 2 deer, 8 tree trimmers

08:22—departing from home.

08:35—passing the zig-zag up from the Mad River Bikeway. Winds against me, sometimes perhaps 10 mph.

08:47—passing the west gate to Eastwood Park.

09:00—passing the trestle remains at Linden. Long wait for signal at Research Boulevard.

09:13—arriving at  work.

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