Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why am I not biking?

Because I'm a wussypants.

I don't have any good reasons why I'm commuting to work by car every day. My office is about 3 miles away, there are sidewalks and trails that traverse the entire distance, I don't live in the arctic, I own a functional bicycle, and my office even has showers. The case for biking should be open and shut. Right?

The truth is, I did start biking to work back in December. Let me tell you how it went, and what my plans are to get back into the habit.

First attempt

It all started, as most things do, with Mr. Money Mustache's post on getting rich with bikes, coincidentally his first post in the Get Rich With series. By nature I'm averse to physical exertion, so it speaks volumes that I dove into Mustachianism by starting to bike to work during the winter months.

I forget if I had a plan initially besides biking as many days as I could, probably with a day or two in between at first since I was (and am) out of shape. A group of coworkers are avid cyclists so they told me about how I should bundle up with gloves and head scarves, and use blinkies and headlights for night time; and they let me borrow theirs. All good advice! One of my coworkers, let's call him Dan, even biked with me my first day to show me the best route that he uses.

Everything was stacked in my favor — at first. As I recall, I biked in five or six times over a period of three or four weeks. It was always a little difficult to get out the door, but once I was on the road it was great. My morning routine was thrown off a bit because I would shower at work when biking, whereas normally I shower at home.

As I expected I was rather out of shape. The three-or-so miles took between 30 and 40 minutes, which includes traffic lights since the paths are along a main road; for a little context, the trip by car takes between 10 and 15 minutes depending on traffic. Throw in a shower and that's like 50 minutes — a pretty long commute in my book.

I didn't fully get used to all the equipment in my short stint biking. With the car I had to remember my keys and my wallet. The bike added gloves, hat, helmet, headlight, and backpack. Juggling those items, putting them on and taking them off in a certain order, was something I think will become much easier with practice. It was a mental load I didn't usually have to deal with while half asleep. Also I had to deal with another change of clothing, so that's one more thing.

The last pain point was the darkness. It gets dark early in the winter. Biking to work was nice because the sun is out in the morning. Biking from work was not so nice. I would be ready to leave for the day at 5pm, and by then the sun was down — that's where the blinky and headlights saved my life a few times.

None of the above "excuses" was insurmountable. Combined, they were enough resistance that I couldn't keep up the habit more than a few weeks. Actually my excuse to stop biking was because I flipped over my handle bars braking incorrectly. Pro-tip: when you've got momentum and need to stop, brace yourself while you're jamming your brakes. Otherwise you'll get thrown forward and onto the ground. Also, always wear gloves. They kept me from cutting up my hands something awful.

Second attempt

I wouldn't be a very good Mustachian if I let that keep me away for long. I recognize that it's a difficult process to train myself for new habits. With this in mind I have a plan of attack for rebooting my biking commute.

Two of the big pain points of my first attempt were 1) darkness and 2) coldness. Luckily the season after winter is spring, which should dispatch those issues quite nicely. I also find that I'm prone to waves of guilt — like, it's Monday already and I haven't biked yet, and even if I bike tomorrow that's only once this week and  OH GOD WHY AM I SUCH A BAD MUSTACHIAN. It's very demotivating.

So here's the plan. Starting March 11th, when Daylight Savings Time begins, I'm going to bike once a week.  It's a small enough commitment that I won't be able to weasel my way out of it, and I also won't let myself feel guilty for only biking once.

My ultimate goal is to commute by bike more often than not. But for the time being I'm out of shape and my number one goal is to build the biking habit. The rest can come later.


  1. Good to hear your getting back into it! If I might make a suggestion however I would say go full force into this. I think if you start out only once a week and then use your car the rest of the week it will make it more difficult for you to want to bike that ONE day the following week.

    This is just my personal habbit but I find it hard to ween myself off of something. I prefer to just cut the wussypants cord and do it. There is no alternative, there is no fall back plan. It's your bike because that is all there is.

    If you have to give your keys to your wife or kids in front of some dramatic sunset and tell them as if your life depends on it and in a deep voice "Hide these." As the silhouette of a helicopter takes off in the background and whips your hair about you'll feel a great weight lifted from your shoulders knowing that you made the right choice and your only resource is not yourself.

    1. I have a co-worker who operates on the "Just Do It" principle, and it really works for him. He once biked a 100 mile event without any training, and finished, just because. Right now he's training for an iron man.

      My point being, he is wired that way, but it doesn't always work for me. My earlier foray into biking was more of a "just do it" approach -- less intense than it should have been, probably. "Cut the cord" was an effective approach for me when I was vegetarian for 13 months back in college.

      That said, I maaaay actually sell my car in the spring and do without one for some period of time. That would be my version of a commitment device as you describe. More on this as it develops :)

    2. Good luck M.A.! Keep us updated.

  2. Good for you. But remember that once a week is not going to change the "out of shape" bit, so don't come back to us with that as a reason to have stopped again :-)

    Good luck!

    1. No, I suppose you're right. I won't get in shape, but I do plan on getting in better shape. I was pretty exhausted from even biking three miles. My hope is that even biking once a week, and maybe some recreational biking on weekends, will get me to the point where a three-day biking commute week won't be so physically demanding as to be unthinkable.

  3. Oh, and ditch the backpack asap - get yourself a rear basket or a rack + pannier for your stuff. Riding is so much more comfortable without a heavy backpack on. You will like it much better.

  4. I'm not sure why MMM is so focused on biking. There are in between options like riding a moped, scooter, or a motorcycle. I live about 7 highway miles from work and taking to the street is my only option. A motorcycle is much cheaper than a car and is more practical when speed, frugality, and not sweating are issues.

    1. I agree with you that biking is not for everyone. But I think MMM does a pretty good job explaining why biking is so badass. That said, motorcycles are undoubtedly more badass than cars.

    2. I agree that mopeds, scooters, and even motorcycles are better and cheaper than cars. But once you have one of those you are now also on the line for gas, insurance, tabs, and even parking. Although it is cheaper than a car it still adds up over a ten year period. Many times a bike is just a one time sunk cost and maybe some upkeep once or twice a year. Plus the added benefit of exercise and a bike starts to distance itself even further from mopeds, scooters, etc.

      *EDIT* Oops didn't hit reply!

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  6. I am a newly minted cyclist as of 2011. I started much like you, and I admit that the winter months had me off my whip and on my feet more often than I'd like.

    Yes, get rid of your car. You can alternate between riding your bike and walking with good shoes. Someone above said to ditch the backpack. I couldn't agree more. I have a nice Salsa rack from Trek on my hybrid roadbike (Fuji Absolute 3.0). The thing is, I didn't pay for it--it was a gift. I suggest checking with other cyclists, using Craigslist, and checking out REI and other stores for their super sales times. Get a couple of black bungie cords (or whatever color suits you) and slap your backpack or whatever you want to carry on it, no problem. Plus the rack makes a great place to put a visible light.

    My TOP tip: Raise your bike seat!!! I guarantee you it's too low if you're finding that you're "out of shape" in a way that keeps you off of the bike. You will get much more power out of your pedaling if you raise the seat high enough that you can only just reach the ground (at stoplights, stop signs, you can lean to a side to keep balance, or practice going slowly enough so that you don't have to stop, or even consider playing around with other methods.

  7. Tip #2: Get used to your gears. I mean, if you have them. I have two derailleurs and keep the front derailleur low while I'm "struggling" and move it up as I want speed--the back derailleur I keep on the 2nd set, as it gives you great flexibility between high and low gears. If you don't have gears, I honestly think you might consider selling your bike and getting one with gears. Hipsters may like fixies and one-speeds, but when you're struggling so much you don't even want to get on your bike, there's a problem. I have 29er wheels, thin tires, a "man's bike" but a small frame (I'm 5'3", so I need a small frame).

    Tip #3: Rain or shine riding. It makes a huge difference in your motivation, particularly if you live in an area where the weather is usually not in the "shine" category. The fact is, excuses are easy to make. Wear a light buff, gloves, and a helmet with a visor. Don't wear heavy upper layers--warm clothing, one inside layer, one outer shell--a really good windbreaker! Get out there when it's pouring! If you're riding no matter what, you'll find you enjoy it more each time.

    Tip #4: Quit riding on sidewalks! Encountering uneven pavement, garbage, pedestrians, and even the hazards of driveways and cross streets does not make for a safer or quicker ride. Trust me. Get off the sidewalk and into the streets.

  8. Tip #5: Quit riding too far to the right--keep at least 3-4 feet between your bike and the sidewalk, or a car. Keep a safe distance from road hazards! Even if there's not enough room for you and a car to ride side-by-side, you have the right to keep yourself safe. Take the road when needed! Don't worry about the car behind you, even if it honks. Place your left arm at your side, palm back, to teach other vehicle operators to back off. They will ultimately back off or pass you at a safe juncture. (Caveat--if you can safely give drivers a means to pass, always do so--but never just because you feel super nervous or anxious about their impatience. The truth is, the last thing anyone needs is an impatient driver rushing past a cyclist at arm's length. This extra room allows you room to move over in the off chance you do encounter any bad drivers--rarer than you think!).

    Tip #6: When you come to any intersection, get to the left center of the lane before stopping. This allows right-turning vehicles to go on their merry way, and keeps you safe. You will be RIGHT where a driver can see you.

    Tip #7: Use clearer signals, and get more comfortable maneuvering your bicycle. Communicating with other drivers will make you feel more in control and teach other drivers how to behave around cyclists.

  9. Okay, now I'm not out of tips, but I don't want you to get bored reading my reply. What I will say is that your top problems are Excusitis and a lack of biking skills--not fitness, you gain that as you need it. You're exactly as fit as you need to be for riding your whip--you just can't go as fast as you'd like. You can work on that as you learn the skills!

    1. Whoah, quite the number of tips. It sounds like people want me to ditch the backpack. To be more specific it's a messenger bag, but yeah, biking would be easier if I didn't have it. I'm going to consider it.

      I think I already raised my bike set. I'll try raising it some more. Even with gears I find myself winded on inclines that go on too long. Actually my girlfriend's bike is the one with gears, and I'm borrowing it; I have a single speed that a coworker was giving away. My plan is to use the single speed once I'm badass enough not to have a heart attack while climbing hills.

      I definitely agree on rain or shine! Most of the times I did bike it was raining, and it was awesome. I felt so smug compared to those wussypantses driving their automobiles.

      Around here they're less sidewalks and more paths. Most of them are paved like a little street. Then again my coworkers who bike do ride on the streets for certain portions of the commute, so that's something I'll consider when I get more comfortable.

      Thanks for commenting!

  10. This is awesome, MA!! It's great to see you doing this stuff and re-motivating yourself. I was also in your shoes at one time and committed to biking 3 days a week (MMM was right there motivating me though, of course).

    After that spring/summer/fall of biking, I had lost over 20 lbs (and I was not really overweight to begin with) and the 8-mile bike ride only took me about 35-40 minutes. Soon, I really began to enjoy it.

    The only suggestion I have is that you commit to biking on MONDAY. That way, you are done for the week early. I know how my mind works and if I say once I week, I might delay until Friday and then something comes up and I'm out of luck. Maybe have a backup day in case of bad weather. The other benefit to biking Monday is that you can get all your stuff ready Sunday. Then you can mentally psych yourself up. My problem is when I'm on my way out the door and MMM is like: "aren't you going to bike? It's only 3 miles" or whatever. Then, I'm not mentally prepared and I somehow feel resentful. If I decide myself the day before, then it's very easy.

    Plus, you can give yourself a bonus challenge to try biking one other day the same week, if you're feeling particularly badass. On a beautiful sunny morning, inspiration might strike.

    By the way, I use a backpack or a courier bag and I am fine. The way I see it, if you're first starting out, there's no need to go buy a bunch of stuff unless it's really prohibiting you from biking.

    Good luck!!

    1. Hey Mrs. MM,

      Thanks for the encouragement. Rather than biking on "one" day a week, I think I'll try something like "the first best day possible", which will account for things like weather. This coming Monday, for instance, I'm expecting to be jetlagged from a trip to the west coast for a conference, so if I go to work at all it will probably be by car. But Tuesday! Tuesday is the day I will bike, for sure. I do the same mental guilt trippery to myself that you describe. I'm looking to avoid it this time around.

      Also totally looking forward to losing weight. I figure if I hit the line hard biking then my new years resolution to lose weight will take care of itself.

    2. So how's the biking going? Enquiring minds want to know... :)

  11. Yeah Acolyte!!

    Mrs. Money Mustache sent me over here and said I had to weigh in as well.

    I agree on the issue of the fancy equipment. I still use a backpack for 90% of my riding today, even when I am riding 40 miles on the road or thousands of feet of incline on the mountain bike. It's cozy and it's quick to put on - then you just wear it right into work or the store or wherever.

    As for the other guy above who said he doesn't know why MMM focuses on biking so much, the reason is this: Because that's simply how you get around. There are no other alternatives. What, you're going to use a MOTOR, when your own legs can do the job? WHY???? Are you specifically TRYING to destroy yourself due to lack of exercise? Would you like me to pre-build you a coffin right now, to tow behind your little lazy motor scooter in case your faint heart gives out while riding it?

    We all should be running in bare feet, chasing down wild buffalo with spears, all day. Given that this is no longer a convenient option, the least we can do is ride our bikes.

    That's the short answer, anyway :-)

    1. MMM,

      Hooray for backpacks! I thought there was something cool about biking around with one. One time last year I did some grocery shopping at Trader Joe's with my bike and messenger bag -- almost killed myself too, from lack of headlights at night -- and I'd like to make that a common event this year. Minus the almost dying.

      Oh man, good answer. Makes me want to use biking as a mere stepping stone until I can get to work running. Seriously, thanks for the motivation. I'm really looking forward to kicking my driving habit.

  12. This post made me chuckle.
    My first time on a hand-brakes bike after about 10 years ended with me going end-over on a beach boardwalk. I skinned my elbow really bad, and that was with a jacket on! Note to self: Front brake is STRONG.

    I have recently started biking to work as well, and my goal is at least once a week until the work slow season, then as often as possible. My biggest hurtle is that i am supposed to BE at work by 7a, and now that the time has changed it's super dark that early. My easy route is down the Santa Ana River Trail, and it's only about 5 miles. I'm constantly reading about how the bike commuters are finding dead people on the trail (maybe not constantly, maybe once a year, but I'd rather not be that biker), and I've heard comments from my local peanut gallery about how "unsafe" it is for a woman riding alone on the trail in the dark. I guess it's true.
    But the biggest problem is just getting my ass out of bed earlier.