YMCA of Greater Louisville

Biking to Work

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I knew it was time to make a change.  For the past few years I’d successfully developed the habit of working out five days a week.  My time at the Y is excellent for relieving stress, I really enjoy the time I get to spend with my workout partners.  The benefits of a regular workout regimen were positive.  There was only one problem.  Lifting weights had become my workout of choice.  My muscles were getting stronger but my heart wasn’t getting to play along.  Even though I recognized the importance of a healthy cardiovascular system I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my time lifting for time swimming or running.  With only so many minutes in the day I wanted my workout to be devoted to weight lifting, not plodding along on a treadmill.

Discussing the need for a taxing cardio workout became a regular conversation between me and my workout partners.  The conversation changed when I learned my friends took the plunge and began biking to work in order to incorporate a cardio workout.  It was an excellent solution.  Biking to work was not only good for the heart, it was economical and utilitarian.  And for those who care, it was green!  If they could do it, I could too.

Initially the idea of biking to work was exciting.  I was going to join the ranks of the brave folks that take to the streets, powered only by their effort and endurance.  What an honor to join such an elite group of health seekers.  I would later learn biking to work is perhaps much more about being crazy than it is about being brave.

Deciding to ride to work is noble but not so practical if you don’t own a bike.  No worries, early Saturday morning my family set out with me in pursuit of a bike.  I naively entered a bike shop to look at the shiny bikes perched upon their racks.  They were shiny and sleek.  I really wanted one.  Soon I proposed the question to my friendly salesman, “how much?”  The beginner bike John directed me to was “only” $600.  Admittedly I hadn’t bought a bike since I was a teenager and even then it was by no stretch of the imagination a fancy road bike.  My wife encouraged me to consider alternatives, you know, in case I didn’t stick with it.  I was shocked that she would assume I wouldn’t be riding 5 days a week, back and forth to work, for the rest of my life.  I was committed to this new lifestyle.  Quickly I added up in my head how soon I would begin saving our family money by not driving to work.  The bike would pay for itself in just a few months.  Respectful of my wife’s wisdom we left the fancy bike shop and visited some used bike stores.  This actually was a much better option for me.  Louisville has many excellent used bike stores where you can get very nice, used bikes at affordable rates.  My problem, I wanted a shiny bike, not a used one.  I admit it was pride.  It was never my intention to buy a biker outfit and look like a sleek, trim rider, but I really did want a shiny road bike.  We returned home without a bike.  The reality of my situation began to sink in, if I really wanted to ride to work I was going to have to compromise and start out with a less than shiny, used bike.

My thoughts of riding to work began to drift; maybe I didn’t really need to ride.  I could find a different way to incorporate some cardio exercise into my day.  The biking dream was coming to a close until I shared my plan of riding to work with my father-in-law.  In what was a most serendipitous moment my gadget and toy-laden father-in-law told me I could borrow his bike.  We brought the bike down from the attic.  There it was in its shining beauty; a road bike that literarily had the word “Glory” written on the frame.  It was meant to be.  Glory and I were meant to be together.  My excitement returned.  I couldn’t wait for Monday morning to come.  I had instantly become a bike commuter!  Or so I thought.

Returning to the bike shop was different this time.  I needed to buy my safety gear, air pump and new pedals.  New gear in hand and $200 poorer I was now ready to ride.  My confidence was boosted when John took the time to give my “new” bike a look over to ensure it was road worthy.  John told me that my bike was a good bike, that was of course, music to my ears.  Returning home I couldn’t wait to get out in the neighborhood to become acquainted with Glory.  It was raining.  I didn’t care.  It was a good day.

Monday morning finally came.  I woke up early to ensure plenty of time for a healthy breakfast followed by plenty of time to digest.  Preparing for the first ride was invigorating.  My dream to bike to work was finally going to happen.  I dressed appropriately.  Work clothes in my back pack.  I donned my helmet, gloves and safety vest.  I admit I didn’t look like the sleek riders I admired but I was more concerned with not being hit by a car than I was looking like Lance Armstrong.  I kissed my wife and said goodbye.  Kim said a prayer for me.  As I rode up the street in my neighborhood my heart began to pound with excitement, I was really doing this!  I turned out onto Westport Rd to begin my 12 mile ride to Downtown.  It was still very early, and the road was nearly empty.  Picking up speed I made my way up the gears.  With each click of the chain on the sprocket I felt more confident.  I didn’t have a speedometer but that was ok, it felt like I was flying.  Why had I waited so long to experience this great pleasure of biking to work?  Despite the adrenaline I felt great peace.  That is, until I shifted the chain right off the gear!  Oh no, I hadn’t accounted for riding down the street with no power.  Reality set it, I was just an amateur, what was I doing biking to work?  I was still on Westport and not even a third of the way to the office.  Pulling over I found it was not too difficult to get the chain back into its proper place.  In a few minutes I was riding again, slightly humbled.

Transitioning from Westport to Frankfort Ave. I was again feeling excited and confident.  Moments later, there I was on the side of the road, fixing my chain again!  Lesson learned – I didn’t know Glory as well as I thought.  Thankfully that was the last time I shifted the chain off the gear.

Turning from Frankfort to Story Ave. I was being to feel the sense of accomplishment.  Downtown was nearby, I was still alive and enjoying the ride.  E. Main took me to 2nd St.  And soon I was turning into the Y garage.  12 miles for a first ride was a very long ride!  And it was behind me.  What a thrill.  After a full work day it was time to go home.  I realized I wasn’t ready for another 12 miles that Monday.  Thankfully TARC is very bike friendly.  I parked my bike on the front of the 55 and headed home.

Since that first ride I’ve commuted several times to and from work.  I still enjoy the ride.  After several months of riding, I’m still learning.  And I figure I’ll be learning how to be a good rider for many years to come.  Unfortunately I’ve learned Louisville is not a bike friendly town.  It would do us all a lot of good to change this over time.  In a small way I feel I’m contributing to a better community by riding.  Less pollution, less congestion and a healthier me; these are all good things.

I’m glad I made the change to incorporate cardio into my days.  I still enjoy lifting weights and my heart really enjoys when I ride to work.  The next time you see a bike commuter on the street, please be patient, please be safe and be sure to say hi, it might be me!

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