Committing yourself to biking to work every day turned out to be very different from doing so on a whim
If you set a hard goal for any kind of routine or activity, you're guaranteed to learn some new things about that activity. In the case of riding my bike to work every day for a week, I learned a lot about the value of preparation, the power of routine, and the limitations of hand sanitiser.
I wasn't new to bike commuting - I've done it likely hundreds of times so far - but I had never before set a weeklong goal around it. As I came to learn, deciding that I'm going to do something every day, no excuses, does help me realise ways I could be doing it differently... mostly for the better.
Here's what I learned from my consistent week on the road...
Ride-to-Work Day 1
I felt more than prepared the night before my first bike commute: I was familiar with my route, set aside a decent breakfast, and packed ahead of time. In my living room, I had set aside my laptop and riding clothes, and packed my work clothes and snacks so that I would be ready to go as soon as I woke.
In the morning, I changed, got some food in me, grabbed my backpack, and hit the road. It was a quiet hour of riding - mostly I just familiarised myself with the pace and flow of the roads I'd chosen. My preparations had paid off, and I felt energised by the exercise. Once in my office, I unloaded my backpack and reached for my computer to put down a few notes...
My computer. I set it aside but never actually packed it. It's still at home.
What else could I do? I changed clothes again, grabbed my bike, and rode home. There, I picked up my laptop, cursed both it and myself and threw my bike in my car. I also brought plenty of other commuter provisions in the car with me - shower stuff, body wipes, ride food - so I'd be prepared for any and all contingencies going forward.
- Preparation is key, even if (perhaps especially if) you've done your routine so much you've become complacent. Get a system down. And it never hurts to double-check yourself, especially at the start of your week.
- The first couple days into a commuting routine, give yourself some extra time to sort yourself out.
Ride-to-Work Day 2
Day two started out smoother. Instead of merely setting aside my work supplies, I packed everything the night before, no longer entrusting the job to myself in the morning. My ride in was smoother, too - I became more familiar with the route I'd chosen, and I had more opportunity to take in my surroundings. The morning was warmer, so I was glad my office has shower facilities handy. I got to work a sweaty mess, and took off my backpack to get to my shower supplies.
...Which I never took out of the car. And the car was at home. My shower supplies were still at home.
My legs were probably up for another immediate round-trip ride, but my pride sure wasn't. I also had a morning meeting I couldn't miss, so I did what I had to: I adopted a 'freer' approach to office hygeine.
- Preparation is key. I cannot stress this enough. Get your routine down and double-check yourself. You're going to be packing more than you would for a simple car trip into work, so for some people, that kind of planning takes some getting used to.
- Bathroom hand soap - or hand sanitiser, I couldn't tell which - is always a poor substitute for an actual bar of soap. Even the foam stuff doesn't lather well and there's really no practical way to extend its use beyond your hands.
Ride-to-Work Day 3
I kept both my laptop and toiletries at work; I wasn't making those mistakes anymore.
My morning trip began to feel a bit rote, so I brought along some headphones and used my ride to catch up on some podcasts, including the contemplative philosophy-oriented A Partially Examined Life. It was a great way to break up the time, but I also felt a bit removed from my ride—semi-distracted, no longer taking in my surroundings, I felt one step closer to being behind the wheel again, which isn't what I wanted.
My legs were feeling tired by the afternoon - they had already logged about 45 miles for the week - but to keep up my interest I decided to meander home. I took my time getting to a park that was in no way along my usual route. The scene there was amazing: ponds and fountains, softball games, running clubs, and families along the paths adjacent, all lit up by the sun in its golden hour. Past that, I made my way north, through an outdoor fairground - I was given a flyer at one of the intersections - passed more softball games, and cruised by a row of disgruntled drivers in traffic. I changed tack, crossed a bridge, and scaled a small hill to reach the back of a baseball stadium. I rode out to the entrance, said hello to the folks directing the traffic inward, and cruised toward home.
I put nearly 30km on my bike and got home about an hour later than usual. My legs were now much more sore than when I started - and I felt awesome.
- Riding is your time; no one needs to know where you are. Go further out there sometimes, make the most of it. It's always worth doing.
Ride-to-Work Day 4
By day four, my diet changed. What used to hold me over until evening now wouldn't last me past 4 o'clock. I told myself I'd still wait to eat until I got home, but my stomach was raging before I could make it out of my office. I stopped at a fast food joint, then continued on.
I noticed my legs were feeling particularly rubbery, but hey, didn't this hill take me a lot longer to climb on Monday? Well, yeah, I'm in a very different gear now, too. Huh.
Once I made it home, I made a full dinner and ate that, too.
- The old adage is absolutely true: It never gets easier, but if you keep riding, you do get faster.
- If your commute is long enough, you're probably going to have to start planning out your meals a little differently after you make riding a routine. Probably you're going to have to take in more calories. Score.
Ride-to-Work Day 5
By day five, my legs were beat, but I was used to that. I couldn't find my laptop charger in the morning, but I was used to things like that, too. I probably clocked a personal record for my ride in, and ate the last of my ride snacks walking into my office.
At the end of the day, my stomach was wrenching again, so I took another pit stop at a fast food joint before beginning my ride home in earnest. When I left, I noticed a train coasting along the tracks behind me. Instead of hopping on my bike, I decided to stand there and watch it - where did I have to be, after all?
An old man behind me had done the same, so we both stood there, the only two remaining in the parking lot. Once the last carriage passed us, I spun my bike around to face the road. I looked at the old man, who had probably done the same thing I did, which was count the cars.
I laughed, because the last time I had done that was when I was about 10 years old. That's what Mike Yozell, my work colleague, had suggested I do when exploring my area for better rides: just pretend I'm 10 and ride around.
Then I got on my bike and rode home.
Probably I wouldn't have done that had I been driving. Likely I'd have been checking the weather or some other kind of nonsense on my phone while I fumbled for my car door.
- Bikes have the power to take the most mundane and monotonous of tasks -the physical act of getting into work - and turn it into whatever kind of adventure you want to have. Which is pretty damn rad if you ask me.