Bike Log #1

A few months ago, when the union responsible for Ottawa’s local bus service decided they could inflict maximal harm on the city by going on strike in the dead of winter, I turned my frustration into a vow that I would explore other green options for getting myself to work. After giving it some thought, I decided to start commuting by bicycle once the weather was nicer.

That day arrived two weeks ago. Even though it was cold and snow still covered the ground, I dragged out my bike, pumped up the tires, and set off. I figured I wouldn’t be that cold with all the heat my body would generate and that I should be at work within 30 minutes.

Wrong on both counts. It took me an hour, which included a stop because I thought my heart would give out otherwise. Distance is not the only consideration, I realized (duh), terrain and wind are important factors too. As for the cold, my core temperature was fine but my hands and fingers didn’t know that and they froze until I put on the gloves I’d brought along just in case (I’m not as dumb as I look).

More surprises: I’m in shape, but my legs were killing me by the time I got to work, and of course I had bike-butt, which is the scientific term for the soreness you feel in your gluteus maximus when you’ve spent an hour on a bike seat.

Undaunted, I biked to work again one day last week, pacing myself better this time. I was less sore when I got to work but it still took me an hour. I also noticed (more than I did the first time) that cyclists are still not very respected on the roads in this city. Cars drove past me so closely that I could’ve licked their windows if I wanted to; and more than once, a city bus driver cut right in front of me to make their next stop.

Does it get easier? How long before I start seeing improvements in the time it takes me to bike to work? How much of a difference does weather really make? What excuses do I come up with for not taking my bike to work? These and other questions will be answered in this bike log. My plan is to start slowly, commuting by bike once a week for a while, then twice a week, and building up from there. (I’m lucky in that my work building has a bike cage and shower facilities, which eliminates some concerns I might otherwise have).

Are you biking to work? Do car and bus drivers treat cyclists with more respect where you come from? Is your workplace as accommodating of cyclists as mine is?

Feel free to leave comments below to let me know about your experience, and any tips and tricks you’ve discovered.

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Karl El-Koura was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and currently lives with his beautiful editor-wife in Canada’s capital city. More than sixty of his short stories and articles have been published in magazines since 1998, and in 2012 he independently published his debut novel Father John VS the Zombies.

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2 comments on “Bike Log #1
  1. Matt Surch says:

    It gets easier. You’ll see more rapid gains once you up the frequency. Unless you are wrecked the day after you commute, you are prepared physically for more. Jumping in head first into riding every day is not risky. Your body will tell you when you need rest or to slow your pace. People commonly take on bike tours of with over 50k of riding each day without any real preparation. They get fit as they ride each day. The same applies to commuting. Unless you push harder than your legs can handle, there is little risk of injury. Spin away and you’ll be cruising sooner than you think.\r\rA few investments in wet riding gear will make trips in the rain a piece of cake. Try Tall Tree Cycles on Richmond or MEC for good options. Proper clothing, along with a bike set up with full fenders makes the commute all the more pleasant when it gets wet.\r\rWhen it comes to traffic, choose your route as if you are on a bike, not driving a car; cause you are on a bike! Avoid high speed roads, seek out mellow neighborhood routes when possible. The highest speed route in a car is not usually the fastest or safest on a bike. You want to minimize stops at lights. In quiet neighborhoods you can safely roll through stop signs when the intersection is clear. You save time. Use the bike paths when you can. They are great. Just expect people to do silly things in front of you from time to time. You will learn to read what cars and busses are about to do. Watch their heads; that gives an indication of turning. Buses are big, but they move slow. You’ll get the hang of it. Use your death glare when approaching an intersection where an opposing driver is waiting to turn left. It works.\r\rWhen its windy don’t fight it. Just spin. Seek routes with good cover – trees, buildings – to break the wind. \r\rKeep it up.

    • Thanks very much for the great tips, Matt! Looks like the weather will be nicer tomorrow and next week, maybe I’ll take your advice and see what it feels like to bike in a few days in a row. I’ll provide an update either here or in a separate post … in the meantime, I’ll practice that death glare. 😀

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