Today is my 7th Anniversary of full-time bike commuting. “Big deal”, you say. “You started riding a bike to work, but why keep track of a date like that?”, you say. It is common for people to keep track of significant events in life, certainly birth dates and wedding dates, but also job anniversaries. The lifestyle change to full-time bike commuting is significant enough that many, if not most, bike commuters at least pay it a thought or a mention when it rolls around every year.
So, seven years ago this past January, I decided that I needed to get healthy and fit. And seven years ago this past June, I got back into cycling again. And seven years ago today, just over two months after getting back into cycling, I decided to start riding my bike to work. Every day. And I’ve loved nearly every mile and minute of it.
Bike commuting is not for everyone and for those who don’t, they might not understand why someone would choose to forego the convenience and safety of an automobile for a bicycle. Over these last seven years, I’ve read many blog posts and posts on bike forums about why people choose this lifestyle and I’ve considered writing my “Why I Ride” testimony more than once. I’m not sure why, but I think my seventh anniversary is a good time to put ink to paper (or upload bytes to the internet) and lay down my thoughts.
Had I written this in the past, I would likely have enumerated a long list of reasons. Since I spend hundreds of hours on a bicycle and in my head, I’ve mentally organized this post several times and I usually came up with quite a few reasons. But where I am in life right now, it all seems so simple as to be stated so concisely that I find it amusing I required a bulleted list in the past. Here it is…
I ride because it makes me happy and healthy. Period. Carriage return, line feed.
Ok. I didn’t start this blog post only to stop there so please allow me to elaborate.
In 2007, my job ramped up to much greater responsibility and, consequently, much greater stress. I learned quickly that I don’t deal with stress very well. By 2008, I felt that I was in an unhealthy state and really, really needed to do something about it. Really. Once I had gotten far enough out of shape, I stopped weighing myself, but I’m certain I was 50 lbs overweight and I think it was really more like 60 lbs overweight. Not only did I feel fat, but I felt unhealthy and I felt I was heading for an early grave. That quote by the character Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption has always stuck with me: “Get busy living, or get busy dying”. At 45 years of age, I decided it was time to get busy living.
I’ve always struggled with staying fit and, throughout my life, I’ve tried various physical activities to maintain an active lifestyle. I’ve run and I’ve skated (inline), but I’ve had the longest history with cycling. So, at the beginning of 2009, I began working hard at the gym with a plan to get fit, buy a new bicycle, and get back into cycling. By late spring, I had lost enough weight and improved my fitness enough that I bought a new bike and took my first ride in early June. I’m guessing a bit looking back so many years in time, but once I got comfortable riding long distances again and enjoying it so much, I began to think about riding the four miles twice per day to and from work. On August 19, 2009, I began bike commuting full time. I didn’t start one day per week, which is a good idea BTW. I just decided to ride a bike to work and never looked back. Seven years later, I ride to work pretty much every day out of the year unless there is heavy rain or ice on the ground, which I’m sure will amuse those who bike commute in the North.
In addition to the 40 miles per week I log commuting, I spend many more hours riding for fun. During Daylight Savings Time, I generally ride 15-30 miles 3-4 days per week after work. And year round, I’ll try to ride longer rides once or twice on the weekend. During DST I’ll average about 150 miles per week and when the weather is bad during the Winter, I will average only about 50 miles per week.
Getting back to my succinct and profound reason of “It keeps me happy and healthy”, there are several aspects to this.
There is a mental benefit to just being in shape. When my clothes fit the way I want and when I think I look good and healthy, I just feel better about myself.
Three is a mental benefit to being able to accomplish physical challenges most men my age cannot. (I’m very aware that is not just fitness, that many men my age have injuries or other heath issues and I feel blessed that I have my health.)
There is a mental benefit to spending time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. I can tell a big difference when daylight savings ends and I’m riding in the dark once or twice per day.
There is a mental benefit to seeing things that you wouldn’t see locked behind steel and glass and traveling by at 50 MPH. Just the realization that by exposing myself to the elements and moving through life at 15-20 MPH I see things, little things, makes me happy.
There is a mental benefit to having hours every week to think. Yes, I must worry about staying upright and out of the path of the thousands of heavy, steel vehicles passing all around me at high speed. But that becomes mostly automatic with proficiency leaving plenty of brain cycles to think about all kinds of things. My job involves solving a lot of problems and I really feel good when a solution presents itself while out riding.
There is also a health benefit of having a higher resistance to disease. I don’t know if this is scientifically proven because I’ve just taken it as a given benefit and have not gone off searching for proof, but I get sick a lot less that I did before I started riding every day in all kinds of weather. I really only get sick now when I travel.
And finally, there is an obvious health benefit to being in shape. I can feel it in my low resting heart rate, my reasonable blood pressure, and my ability to put out a lot of work whether behind a mower or in front of a paceline.
There are other reasons to ride that other people may state, but they’re not what motivates me. For example, there is a definite financial benefit to parking the car in favor of a bicycle. I can testify to that. But it’s not why I began riding and it’s not what keeps me riding. Perhaps I’ll write another post or two on other reasons because they could help others who might feel differently.
Stay tuned for future posts and year eight!