Friday, March 16, 2012

Making the jump to 9 miles

By Tim Harvey (including image)
Steady pressure on the pedals and a gentle downward slope whips my speed up towards 25 mph. Pavement, trees, and mailboxes whiz past in a blur. I press on faster and top 26 mph, exultant. This is the closest I'll come to flying and it feels incredible.

This stretch of road near Stellhorn Road is one of my favorite spots on the new commute. I love the speed and chance to pour every ounce of energy I've got into going as fast as possible.

February marked a big change for our family, moving from downtown Fort Wayne near Taylor street to a neighborhood near 469 and Maplecrest. What used to be a casual 1.1 mile jaunt is now a more epic 8.6 mile trek each way. Gone are the days of arriving at work 7 minutes after walking out the front door. The new ride comes in at close to 40 minutes.

I'm loving every. single. minute.

Truth be told, I wasn't always so enthusiastic about cycling. I grew up riding a BMX bike around the neighborhood like many other kids in Southwest Allen county. It was a taste of freedom before you turned 16.

But loving the bike died suddenly when I started working to drive, or driving to work. It was a bit of both at first.

Fast forward a decade and some change and you'd find me in Grabill with a family, busy job, and a beautiful countryside to explore. Realizing that we *still* need to get fit after many attempts, my wife Sara and I started thinking about bikes. We started at Summit City Bikes, and got some of the best cycling advice ever..."If you're not sure about spending $400-500 on a bike that will last, go get something for $60 that will break down and frustrate you. Come back after that happens and you'll love what you find here."

While I wanted to convince myself that we'd ride every day (work was only 300 yards away and Grabill is a great place to ride), we both knew ourselves better than that. We went with the Wal-Mart bikes.

Sadly, I missed out on a lot of beautiful riding in the Grabill area. My web design consulting business changed gears and I started working with in Fort Wayne, so we moved again. We loved the idea of urban living, being conscious of the environment, and living frugally. I started walking a mile to the office, which took about 20 minutes.

And thus, my love of cycling began...with a walk. Eager to spend as much time with the family as possible, I pulled out my bike. It was rickety, weighed a ton, and shifted to the sound of machine gun fire. But I tell you what, whizzing through the streets of Fort Wayne of it were magic. Popping up and over curbs, whipping past traffic, and charging through downtown was fantastic.

With work so close and biking/walking seeming to fit, we dropped down to one car. Now that I was going to rely on my bike for transportation, we decided to invest in a bike that would last, and even just work properly. :)

I scoured the Net for information and settled on a Trek Valencia, due in a large part to the blog. He raved about his Valencia and I wanted every bit of the fun he talked about in his series of review rides (here's one of them:

Back to Summit City Bikes I went and this time was ready for the investment. They were exactly right, after riding a $70 bike for a while, the new Valencia felt like a Porsche. It was fast, light, shifted like a dream and felt great.

Riding to work was a joy and was helped considerably by the accommodating nature of the office I work in. Cycling really took off for me when my boss, Matt Outten, started pouring gas on the fire. He got me thinking about riding more than just to work. Pretty soon, I was doing 5 miles rides on the greenway around Fort Wayne.

Matt, a cyclist himself, challenged our team of 3-4 to ride all the way to Squaremouth's other office in St. Pete Beach, FL. Not literally, but we'd all total our mileage together to see how long before the four of us could rack up 1,100 miles. The competition at the office pushed me over the edge! Pretty soon I was doing 20-30 mile rides before work around the greenway. Up to IPFW, over to New Haven, down the south Wal-mart, over to the Towpath trail, everywhere I could find! If I remember right, we combined for 1,100 miles in less than 3 months, and I had a couple 300 mile months.

Cycling remains the first, and only exercise I've ever really enjoyed and been able to stick to. I feel like I've barely begun to ride, but this summer will mark 2 years of cycling as an adult. I've lost 30 pounds and feel great. My kids used to tire me out. Now, I can run with them till they're ready to drop. Riding has become such an integral part of life that when we decided to move close to our best friends, being able to stay on one car was a major factor.

I explored the various routes as we looked at houses and evaluated whether the increase in mileage would be feasible. While 20-30 mile rides were common for me to do, I wasn't sure about doing 20 miles each day being mandatory. Fortunately, I have a couple route options. I start out on Evard, and can then take a designated bike route (Reed Road to Lakeside Park) or Shoaff Park greenway to IPFW and down into town.

It's been about 6 weeks since we moved and it's worked out better than I could have imagined. Several weeks, I've been able to ride 4 out of 5 days. It takes a bit longer than I originally expected (I tested the routes on my road bike with no laptop or gear in the summer), but I'm getting faster. The traffic on Reed Road is consistent but manageable, with motorists being surprisingly patient and giving me plenty of room. I've yet to have anyone wave the 1-fingered gesture of friendship, so I call that a win.

The longer ride hasn't been without challenge. I've had to buy a bit more clothing and some shoes. In February, I found that the clothes I rode in downtown at 0 degrees was barely getting me by at 20 degrees.

The longer distance also required another set of riding clothes so I always have something clean. Yea, I'm one of those people who much prefers to ride with cycling-specific shorts/pants. With clothing sorted, shoes were the only other challenge (and mostly because I'm kinda picky).

Previously, I'd clip in with my winter riding boots on SPD cleats and use regular shoes in the summer. At almost 9 miles, I can't stand to ride without being clipped in. I want to move fast and I like the solid feel of clipping in. So I invested in some lightweight mountain bike shoes that I can walk in, but still use cleats. They've been great!

It's amazing to me that in less than 2 years, I've gone from a flabby desk-driver to a marginally fit bike commuter. I never would have thought we'd have one car and bike to work most days. It certainly wouldn't be possible without the incredible support of my family who drops me off some days or stays home while I have the car.

Including cycling in our lifestyle has meant better health, saving money, meeting incredible new people, and doing some good for the Earth.

Our oldest daughter told me the other day, "Daddy, when I get old enough, I want to bike everywhere like you."


I'm always excited to talk about gear or riding. You can find me on twitter: @tihm. I'm planning to start up a blog about my riding experiences and the stuff I use. You can follow the twitter account if you want to know when I get going: @PedalTransport.

Take a peek at maps of my rides:
Old commute:
New commute (longer Shoaff Park route):
New commute (shorter Reed Road route):

I had met Tim through the Twitterverse and got to chat with him at our January Bike to Work Day at the Dash In. Hearing about where his commute by bike was about to take him I asked if he would like to write a post detailing his experiences. He took me up on it and I am so glad he did. Thanks Tim! If you are interested in writing about your bicycle commuting experiences, please contact me via twitter, @fwbikecommuter or email,

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