That title looked so cool as I was typing it out. It was like the beginning of a spy thriller or something. I’ve been obsessing over the title of this post for a while, because so many have been running through my head. “CarfreePVD vs. Johnson County”, “Overland Park: The Return” “CarfreePVD X commuterDude Limited-Edition Collabo” “Bike-to-fake-work day.” I like Project: Fake Commute. Maybe someday I’ll travel from town to town, visiting other bike bloggers and commuting with them. Wow, I really know how to dream big, don’t I?
The title refers to the fact that I have now completed a “Fake Commute” in my old home town of Overland Park, KS. Well, I started in Olathe, and ended in Overland Park but whatever. Basically, it was Johnson County Kansas, the land of my birth. The place where I learned how to ride a bike, and learned to drive and learned identify the make and model of a car from 1/4 mile away just by its headlights.
In my various wanderings of bike blog-land (I refuse to add the suffix “-osphere” to “blog.” The word “blog” is bad enough on its own), I happened upon the blog of a bike commuter in Olathe, Noah (you can find his blog at KC Bike Commuting) . I’d followed his blog for a few months and when I planned a visit to my family in Olathe, I asked him if I could tag along on his morning trip. Well, it turned out that the starting point of his trip was a little further away than I’d expected, but he suggested I talk to another local bike blogger, Keith AKA commuterDude. Keith was happy to help me in my quest to commute in my hometown. It was fortuitous, because I’d planned my trip to Kansas before I realized I would be out of town for Bike-to-work Day, and thus not able to take part in the festivities. My normal everyday bike-to-work commute is pathetic by most standards, so this would give me the chance to try a real commute on the most holiest of bike holidays.
This is the third in a series of what I’m calling “Fake Commutes” although I didn’t give the other posts that title. In January, I biked around San Francisco for a day, and although I didn’t frame the post as a fake commute, my ride was certainly an appropriate length for a commute. When I visited Portland, I specifically set out to ride like a bicycle commuter in one of America’s most bike-friendly cities. And, now the third in the Project: Fake Commute series (this post also functions as the second in my “Commuter Profile” series.)
For this ride, I borrowed my brother-in-law’s bike. It is very different from the bike I’m used to riding. It’s a full-suspension, extremely heavy mountain bike, with a rather slack geometry. The left-hand chain stay jauntily boasted that it was “shimano equipped” so at least it had that going for it. I knew that it did not have lights, so I brought mine along, but I wasn’t expecting my brother-in-law’s lack of a helmet. I have to say I felt naked without it. Here’s the view from the cockpit.
Keith likes to get to work early, and since I had plans for later in the morning, I was happy to meet him at 6:15 on a residential corner not far from my sister and brother-in-law’s house. It was a misty morning, the grass was fresh with dew, and almost no one came by as I waited for Keith.
Keith soon rolled up on a very smart-looking, green steel road bike. It sported fenders, rear rack, waterproof panniers, and bar-end shifters on the drop handlebars. Definitely a nice set-up for commuting, or Keith’s favorite weekend activity: randonneuring. After brief introductions, we headed out. As we biked along the 11-mile route, I interviewed Keith about his experiences as a bike commuter. We were headed to the gigantic campus of Sprint World Headquarters where Keith works.
I’m not one for super-early commutes, so my first question for the Commuterdude was, why do you commute so early?
commuterDude: At first it was because I had a shift that started early in the morning. Eventually, I wasn’t required to be in by 7:30 AM, but I noticed that there was much less traffic if I came in earlier in the morning. For the most part, I take the early commute, but occasionally I log-in from home and telecommute for a couple of hours to miss the heaviest part of rush hour, and then bike in later in the day.
CFPVD: When did you start commuting by bike and why?
cD: I started commuting by bike about 10 years ago, but it’s hard to put an exact date on it since it didn’t happen all at once. The first time I biked to work was when my car broke down so I grabbed an old Jazz mountain bike I happened to have. At the time, I had a 76 Buick Regal which got about 6 MPG in town. After high school, I’d gained a few pounds, but by 2000 or so, I’d gotten back in shape. I soon saw biking to work as a good way to train for longer rides on the weekends. For those, I started out with 40-50 mile rides and after 2002 the miles started increasing as I discovered randonneuring.
CFPVD: Is the bike your main mode of transportation?
cD: Up until about a year ago, my wife and I had two cars between us. Then my mother-in-law had mechanical problems with her car (which ended up being terminal) so she needed a car. I initially let her borrow my car, which was in the driveway most days anyways, and eventually she took over the payments. While at first it was hard to adjust to only having one car, now we don’t really miss it.
CFPVD: Really, never? Even with having kids?
Earlier, Keith had mentioned one downside to the trail. Because it’s there, some people expect you to ride on it all the time (and not on the streets). They don’t realize that it’s not always the best route due to rain, mud, distance, etc. I saw 2-3 more bike commuters on my way home, but it was a disappointing number for the official “bike-to-work” day. Eventually, I got tired of the constant up and down of the bike trail. There was an iron fence along the trail, but a gate led to a subdivision and checking my map, I could see that it led back to a major street. But first, I had to brave: McMansionLand!
I made it back to my sister & brother-in-law’s place a little sweaty, a little muddy, and with a new respect for the people who commute by bike in Johnson County. In a way, I’m a little jealous. Keith gets in a real ride before and after work every day, and I only get to ride for a mile and a half. I wonder if I would have ever made the transition to car-free (or even car-light) if I’d stayed in Johnson County.
After returning to Providence, I emailed Keith to confirm a few details and ask my standard question: What are the 3-5 reasons you commute by bike?
1 – Physical: I love what the bike has done for me, and it’s created a level of enjoyment that I never tire of
2 – Mental: I’m a better person upon arriving home by bike – as opposed to the kind of person driving in suburban traffic creates – I’m less stressed, more relaxed, easier-going
3 – Financial: While I’ve never done the math beyond conjecture, the financial savings are pretty significant. I don’t buy gas – since my wife drives our only car primarily – so I go months without operating a gas pump. I have no idea how much gas costs these days, and I kinda like that. Further, I get a workout every day, and aside from the cost of bike parts, it costs me very little. People usually join and drive to a gym – and I don’t need to
4 – Nature: riding a bike puts me closer to what many people in the area have learned to ignore: the subtleties of changing seasons, birds, squirrels, beaver, rabbits, snakes, deer – even a bobcat once – things the average motorist wouldn’t even imagine they’d see on a commute home
Thanks again Keith!