Lessons I’ve learned from bike commuting

Here are a few random things I learned from spending time on the road.

1. Cleated shoes have holes in the bottom of them!

It’s 36 degrees in February and it has been raining and snowing all day. Unlike most in the office who are dreading the toasty warm bus/subway/car ride home I am actually looking forward to biking through the mess. After all, I have my fenders, my full gore-tex outfit and fleece shoe covers. The first 10 blocks of riding bring me back to my childhood; I’m charging through puddles and laughing maniacally at the world … until my feet are starting to feel cold… really cold….

Cold rain froze over the rear cassette, preventing shifting and making my bike a single speed for most of the ride

It was at that moment that I was reminded of something painfully (literally) obvious that I have known all along: cycling shoes have holes in the bottom of them to bolt your cleats onto! Next winter I’ll be filling those cracks in with wax.

2. Going out of the way can be worth it

I will admit: You have to be a little mad to even consider having midtown be included as part of your commuting route, but it was the most direct line home so it was part of my routine for some time.

While the snow and cold are late to arrive in the city, you can count on the early sunset which complicates riding, especially in midtown which takes on the appearance of a carnival as early as 4pm.

I’m approaching an intersection after dark where a guy is walking a halal cart in the left lane while three lanes of traffic are trying to barge left onto a one way street while a pedicab and two cyclists (including me) are trying to go straight. I see what should be an adequate opening in front of the pedicab and behind a car… except that the car slammed it’s brakes on at the last second.

*pop*. My brake lever punctures the tail light making a perfect bullet-hole shape.

After giving the guy $100 to have it fixed I decided it was probably cheaper to ride the west side highway bike trail home during the dark months.

3. Don’t chase cabs!

After a great training ride with the ‘Arches in Brooklyn I’ve thrown caution to the wind. Not only am I riding Flatbush Avenue home (read up on the “dollar vans” some time), but I’m drafting off of a cab at 30 miles per hour. We are flying over the crest of a hill when I see a giant pothole materialize from under the cab! I manage to pull my front wheel up but don’t quite have the twitch to get the back one up high enough.

My wheel hits the far edge of the pothole, cracking the rim at two spoke eyelets. Miraculously my tire doesn’t go flat for another 10 miles, but the damage is done and I have to buy another wheel. Luckily these aren’t my racing wheels!

4. Rain is to tires what soap is to hands

So you know how soap reduces the surface tension of water making it more “slippery” to aid in washing your hands? Well water does the same thing to broken glass, of which there is a LOT in the city. How many flat tires in the rain did it take for me to finally plunk down and get some proper puncture resistant Armadillos? Don’t ask.

5. There are places to speed, and there are places not to speed

In my early twenties I lived in Minneapolis, which is a pretty bike-friendly city in it’s own right. I’m barreling down my scenic route to work and am entering the convention center area which houses a number of hotels. About a half of a block from an intersection I see a woman with two suitcases begin to wander into the road against a red light. I start to ring my bell, but she is in another world, looking in the other direction, away from incoming traffic. I spot check the traffic and there is a car in the next lane over on my wheel — no escape route there. I give a couple of quick yells. Still nothing as she is now a few more steps into the road. I check my speed and there is no way I’m going to be able to stop this thin tired bike from 28mph in this distance so I do what any sensible mountain biker would do: I lean my right shoulder out and brace for impact.

What happens next surprises me to this day. I feel nothing more than a soft brush on my shoulder but when I look back it is if she and her affects were pins and I was a bowling ball. She was on the ground and her two suitcases were half way across the crosswalk. I circled back around and make sure she and her suitcases were ok and was on my way. In replaying the scene in my mind I still can’t decide if I was the wreckless kid or if I saved her life (it’s much easier taking an impact from another person than from a car). Either way, I certainly toned things down from that point on and have kept the racing to the race course and the open road.

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