Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thanks, but I'll ride

I’ve lost count of how many times co-workers have offered me rides home on rainy and snowy days over the years. It doesn’t happen much any more, because I’ve been working in one place for a long time and most everyone knows I’ll decline the offer. Even my wife has stopped calling and offering to come pick me up unless she knows I’m facing a headwind strong enough to stop my forward momentum.

People who drive to work every day have a hard time understanding why the rest of us voluntarily subject ourselves to wind, heat, rain, cold and snow instead of climbing into climate-controlled steel bubbles for the trip home. I blame this on the tendency that people have to describe weather as “bad.”

Just this morning, the local newspaper’s website contained a headline about “bad weather” putting cars into tailspins during yesterday’s rush hour.

Unless it’s severe enough to wreck your house or kill people, there is no “bad” weather. There’s just weather. Some is more comfortable, and some is less comfortable. It’s what you make of it.

A woman who sometimes chats with me briefly by the back door as she walks to her car happened to see me gearing up to ride in several inches of new snow last night. She laughed and yelled, “You’re a madman!”

No, I’m not.

I’m not even all that tough, or brave, or any of the other things that some people call bike commuters (to our faces) when they’re impressed by what we endure. I’m just a bike geek who likes getting exercise and having fun.

When I plow through the snow in a busy intersection, surrounded by drivers in their idling cars, I know I’m the sane one. Because a minute later, I'll drop away from the street and roll down into a dark, quiet bike path through the woods.

Riding in the snow might look cold and miserable when seen through a windshield, but I’m one of the few people having fun while commuting at rush hour.


Jamie said...

Great post. Last year, our office was closing two hours early so that people had time to get home before a freezing rain storm hit us. My boss actually was upset at me because I wouldn't accept a ride home instead of taking my bike.

When you have all the equipment you need to make a trip like this, it's not that big a deal to do it. My bike has big knobby tires, and I have a rain suit, headlights, taillights, and waterproof panniers. It's really not that big a deal.

But to our insulated society, which has a near-paranoid delusion about the effects of weather on people, behavior which would have seemed perfectly normal to our ancestors is now worthy of getting us called "madmen" (as you pointed out).

The real madmen are the ones who lock themselves up in little tiny boxes full of pollution and watch their bodies turn to stress-filled balls of lard while we get exercise and enjoy the great outdoors.

Jeff Moser said...

I'm sort of new to bike commuting, and this is my first winter doing it. Sometimes coworkers can get into your head and cast some doubt.

We had a huge wind storm ahead of a big rain, and I was getting all the comments. "Don't you miss your car on days like this?" And you start to think, "Am I crazy?" As it turns out, I had a 30 mph tail wind all the way home! I barely had to pedal, and it was one of the easiest commutes ever.

The snowy commutes have been a blast. It's like getting to play before and after work.

Anonymous said...

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."-Norwegian Proverb

Doug said...

As I was locking up my bike outside of work on Friday, a co-worker that had just got out of her car, commented to me how cold it was and she could not get her feet to warm up. I mentioned I had overdressed a bit and was sweating on my commute. I got a blank stare. People just don't understand how riding your bike can keep you warmer then sitting idle in a car.

SD_pedalpower said...

Amen brother. We have all been offered a ride and they will never get it until they try it.

Anonymous said...

Living in the desert, I have the reverse issue. In the hot months it's around 120F. I get lots of looks, but I actually am crazy. But it doesn't mean that riding in the heat is.

JimR said...

Winter commuting is funny deal, the more it snows, and the worse the conditions are, the more you want to be out there doing it! OK - I'm only in Michigan so I can't get close to your conditions - but I do have the same co-workers that want to offer a ride.

Unfortunaly, my problem is too much traffic and limited room on snowy, icy roads. I know the drivers have enough to worry about out there without dealing with me in the way. It's a riot when I puch that consern though!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely seconded on all counts! I also recently had an epiphany about safety in winter conditions, too: I feel much safer on the bike than in a car. This statement causes a few incredulous looks, as well, but it makes perfect sense on consideration. In the motor vehicle, speeds are higher, and the mass creates much more momentum. If and/or when traction is lost, the vehicle can go anywhere, smashing into telephone poles, drifting into oncoming traffic, mowing down pedestrians, plunging into ditches, etc. Tow truck operators love slick roads, and waiting for one in the cold sucks. On the other hand, if I lose traction on my bike, I go down. That's it. I'm ready for it, as I would be even if I wasn't riding on ice, so it's not a catastrophe, and with a bit of gear and skill, it doesn't even have to be painful (well, maybe a little, sometimes). Then I get up, and keep going. Too bad for the tow trucks, good for all the people I didn't run into. Just stay out of the way of the four wheeled hockey pucks, and all is well. Val

Will Handsfield said...

I live in Denver, and every weekend, thousands of people drive in traffic up to the mountains so they can race down the slopes at 15 - 30 mph in heavy winter clothing and technical gear. I can't understand why the fact that I ride my bike in the flat city in the winter generates so much surprise from the exact same people. My daily commute in a car would be 20 minutes, mainly sitting at lights. On a bike it's 11 minutes, and I get to go fast and use my body for what it is designed for, moving!

I wouldn't give up bike commuting if somebody paid me. It was 24 degrees and sunny this morning, and I got to work pretty warm (except for hands), and loved it.

Great post, I totally relate.

Anonymous said...

The thing I really hate are those days where you just plain don't feel like riding. It really sucks. I often do feel better after I get to work, but it's never fun.

How many of you have cars? I have one, but rarely drive it. Cars really are coffins on wheels. I can't even trust myself in a car.

24F isn't cold. 4F is.

Brendan said...

Right on, Tim. Wonderful writing. I argue with people that being out in the elements daily changes your response to them -- when you can't turn up the heat because you're not in a car, you just have to toughen up and deal with the cold.

SiouxGeonz said...

One morning, when I still had the car, I heard the forecast and thought "oh, goody, what can I wear for this?" ... instead of "should I take the car?"
I remembered the too-rare back-to-nature excursions in my life, and how I reveled in being *in the world and interacting with it and thinking and responding. Now I don't have to get "back" to nature. It's here. Yes, so are buildings and streets and cars, but I like being *in* nature, not hiding from it.
Sometimes explaining that people pay big bucks to ski in weather worse than this and they have fun, so I can too, kinda works. Until you do it, though, it's hard to believe.

erik k said...

awesome blog, I like your out look on weather, I know that feeling too, i get similar looks when Im going surfing on the east in MA when im going surfing in the snow