My Trusted Ride

Here is a picture of my trusted ride.  She has taken me over 3100 commuting miles so far. 


3,100 Miles, 400 Commutes, and 45 Pounds

Year one of bike commuting is complete and the numbers speak for themselves.  I pedaled over 3,100 miles while making over 400 commutes on my bike.  Oh, and I lost 45 pounds.  Well, to be honest I actually lost over 50 pounds but I put back on 6 pounds over the last month.  Something new to work on!  So what does it all mean?  Was it worth the effort, the work, the close calls?  The short answer is yes. The long answer?  Well, keep reading.

I started my journey of bike commuting because I simply did not have time to exercise.  I have a friend in Washington State who has been bike commuting for three years and 20,000 miles so I figured I would give it a try.  Since my commute was only five miles, and I was unsure if I would be able to stick to it, I borrowed a single speed from a friend (Twitter @lmtdslip) and worked to see if the five miles was doable.  Fortunately, my work is very cool and progressive and they offer showers and locker rooms for those who work out in the morning or at lunch.  While the first week was hard and I was soaked by the time i got to work, I found that the trip was attainable.  Further, as I continued to ride I found that the stress relief of riding home after work was a tremendous help.

So I took the plunge and bought a Trek 7.3 FX to use as a daily commuter and began the adventure of full time commuting September 6, 2010.  I don't want to make this a huge posting, but the results speak for themselves I believe.  The biggest being the 45 pounds I lost.

I also reconnected with an old high school friend whom I haven't seen in over 25 years.  Chris (Twitter @cluise) is now in Connecticut and is working on training his son's scout troop on their biking.  I hope to get up to Connecticut soon and perhaps go for a ride with Chris.  It's been too long. 

In addition to the daily commute, my son and I did a 62 mile fundraising ride for the American Diabetes Association, together raising over $2,000 for Diabetes research.

I pedaled over 3,100 miles while trying out Continental Gator Hard Skins and Specialized Nimbus Armadillo's.  I lowered my resting heart rate from 77 to 43 BPM, lowered blood pressure and saved some serious jack.  Because my truck got 15 miles to the gallon I figure I didn't buy 206 gallons of gas (3,100 divided 15).  Using an average of $3.50 per gallon for the course of the past year and that is $721 NOT spent on gas.  Take that big oil!

The down side?  Over the course of the first year the Camino wheels on my Trek 7.3 FX lost 10 spokes.  I finally had them rebuilt with DKSwiss spokes.   I am still holding out hope that Trek will supply me with a new bike for my daily commute, even if only on a test basis.  I love my trek, but other bike shops and companies are asking me to use their products and write about it so I am not sure how long I will be on a Trek.

That said, I do feel a sense of accomplishment over the past year.  Even my co-workers have stopped mocking me, even to the point of asking where is my bike on days I have to drive.  Pretty cool?

So, if you are reading this, I urge you to give it a try.  You doctor will be happy and you will be less stressed (except for the times you almost get hit by a car!).

So, put your helmet on, through your leg over the top tube, and pedal away!  And as always - be safe!

Pedaling to New Friends

For six months I have been bike commuting to work, taking basically the same route and working to reduce my time and improve my average speed. Most days I see the same man out practicing his ride - usually on a Teschner Fixie but sometimes on a Pinarello Road bike. He has an easy stride and is fun to watch as he practices his starts on the fixie. 

After reading Peter Flax recent letter in Bicycling Magazine describe his thoughts of watching the older man riding in his neighborhood I resolved to stop and introduce myself to this mystery rider and take the time to get to know him. Boy, am I glad I did! This simple act of greeting a fellow rider introduced me to 70-year-old Earl Henry; member of the Florida Bicycling Hall of Fame, USA Cycling and a champion racer.

Now looking at the photo here I trust you also feel as I do that there is no way this guy is 70! But alas, I looked up his record in recent races and, according to USA Bicycling he competes in the 70 and over group.  Quite frankly, I am impressed.

Earl gave me advice on my riding, invited me to join group rides he does and provided needed encouragement for a new rider who is only six months into the commuting experience. He is a truly humble and inspirational man that I am honored to have met. I only hope our paths continue to cross as we practice our pedaling arts.

Thanks Peter Flax and Bicycling Magazine for providing me the impetus I needed to stop and introduce myself to a fellow rider. How about you? Met any interesting folks on the roads / trails lately? If not, make the time. The real story may be better than the one you imagine in your head!

Be safe!

Broken Spokes and Broken Necks

It has been a long time since I last updated, but trust me that June was a bizarre month. After an intense April and mild May, June came along to sunny Florida and brought the start of rainy season and the beginning of summer. As a daily bike commuter in the lightening capital of the world, rainy season can be quite a source of frustration. The start of summer gives me, as a parent, new worries for my 17-year-old son. So where to begin!

What seemed a simply start to summer found me pedaling faster on a new set of Continental Gator Skins. Reducing my tire size from 35mm to 25mm elimated some of the friction and added a nice burst of speed to my daily commute. Almost instantly I saw a 2MPH improvement in my average speed. The downside seems to be the ongoing battle I am having with the rear wheel on my Trek. The stock Camino wheels have popped 5 spokes now and time is fast approaching to replace the wheel set. I am looking at American Classic and Bontrager Race wheelsets as a replacement. Your advice is appreciated!

When taking the bike to my LBS for a spoke repair, I got a call from one of my sons friends that he got hurt at the beach. I got what has to be every parents favorite line; "Mr Meadows, your son is ok but....." I am pretty sure I didn't here anything after "but." Anyway, I was told that he hit his head on the ocean floor while diving through waves at the beach. Since he was awake, walking and talking I just said bring him home. About 30 minutes later a second call comes that he wants to go to the hospital. We direct them to the nearest ER and then off we go to meet them and make sure all insurance information is handled. Well, that is when the fun really started.

After a CT scan the doctor came in to tell us our son had broken his C1 vertebrae in his neck. WHAT!!!!! This is the first in the spinal column, where the skull rests on the neck. Broken on the left side - complete break. But God is gracious and spared our son! Every doctor then started asking how he got out of the water and stunned to hear him say he walked out of the water and went to the beach.
Long story short, my son is doing well, he is healing, still walking and all. There is a long healing time, but things are positive and God has been great to our family through this. Needless to say I didn't get on the bike for over a week, but that is ok. I love riding, but I love my son so much more.

Looking back at my complaints about the broken spokes I feel somewhat foolish. Yes, I broke a few spokes and I may need new rims. However, my son broke his neck and walked away! Who could ask for more.

Cell Phones, Coffee Cups & Automobiles

About two weeks ago I was forced to crash my bike in order to avoid being hit by a car. As a person who bike commutes at least four days a week I usually pay keen attention to what the traffic surrounding me is doing. So I would like to tell you I was quite surprised to be confronted by a car travelling close to 50 miles per hour with the driver holding a cup of coffee in one hand and texting on her cell phone with the other. Again, I would like to tell you I was surprised, but I was actually not surprised at all. I see this far too often every day. So as I was sitting in the grass getting ready to pick my bike back up, I noticed that the driver had stopped and rolled down her window. She called out to me, "Are You OK?" to which I replied "Yeah, you didn't spill your coffee did you?" "No" she replied then she drove off. NICE!



IS $250 Really the Value of a Cyclist Life?

This is a hard post to write because of the vivid reminder of how little our society and courts value cyclist rights. But now it is more than rights, it is the value they place on the lives of cyclists. I live in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, St Petersburg to be precise. There are some very nice areas for riding including the tremendous Pinellas Trail, a converted rail line. However, as a full-time bike commuter I cannot always be on the Pinellas Trail. That is where the problem in the Tampa Bay area comes in.

Since last July 2010,  17 cyclists have been killed, read that again, KILLED, riding on the roads of Tampa Bay. Sometimes it is the fault of the cyclist, sometimes it is the fault of the driver. But now the courts in Tampa have established the value of a cyclist life at $250. In an article in the St Peterburg Times on April 22, 2011 (Law puts a low value on the lives of bicyclists), Dan DeWitt writes about the case of Brad Ash, a bike commuter who was killed last October by Jennifer Tuttle when she hit him with her GMC Yukon. Seems Ms Tuttle was too busy tending to her young son in the back seat of the Yukon to pay attention to where she was driving. So she killed Brad Ash, a 41-year-old middle school teacher. Ms Tuttle was cited for "careless driving," she pleaded "no contest" and Judge Robert J. Cole of Pasco county withheld a formal finding of guilt and fined Ms Tuttle $250 plus court costs.

The irony is she would have been in much more trouble had she hit another car and killed the driver. This was not "careless driving" it was reckless endangerment and put everyone on the road at risk. If you are too busy to pay attention to the road, get out of your car!

Reading the comments is even more elightening to the issues on the roads in Tampa Bay and elsewhere in the U.S. My personal favorite was from a reader with the screen name "fredster" who wrote in the comments:

I love bike riding and do it every chance I get. BUT I also have to drive for a living. 32 k miles per year. I can not always give a bike rider the 3 ft clearance the law says I have to. I am not about to go into the oncoming traffic to obey the law.

That comment alone speaks volumes, the arrogance of someone to say 'I have to drive for a living but I cannot be bothered with obeying laws about a bike rider' perhaps indicates someone in the wrong line of work.

I do all I can to stay out of the way, I found a low traffic route to get to work and I use crosswalks at busy itersections. In fact, last Wednesday I was almost hit by a Dunbar Armored Truck as I was crossing in a crosswalk, with the "walk" indicator lit and the Dunbar driver ran the "no turn on red" sign into the occupied crosswalk. When I called the company the response was "you should be careful."   Really, perhaps your drivers shouldn't run red lights!

So until all parties start to take responsibility for their actions and treat traffic law as something more than a mere suggestion, tensions will continue to rise. This applies to the cycle clubs who go on big, group rides and run stop signs, red lights, etc. These actions anger drivers, who in turn are less inclined to honor the rights of the bike commuter, who may be obeying the stop signs and red lights.

Finally, until the courts and police take the issue seriously and enforce the laws on the books, drivers will never honor the rights of bike riders. Judge Robert J. Cole has now established that it is more cost effective to kill a bike rider than it is to get a speeding ticket. I can't help but wonder if the fine would have been the same if the cyclist had been his son, daughter, or wife? Perhaps it is time for Pasco County to vote Robert Cole out of office.

In closing, think about the impact to society where we value the life of a human being differently based on the mode of transportatioin they choose. I will keep commuting and working to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling, will you do your part to calm the tensions between cars and bikes?
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