Monday, July 14, 2008

Cycling Commuters, Unite!

Well, those in Wichita, anyway. Everyone else using their bicycles to commute elsewhere should unite also, of course, but you've got to start somewhere.

For us around this part of Kansas, the best place to start is with the new, wonderful Cycling in Wichita blog that John Buass has started. John's a better blogger than I--he's more consistent and though in his thinking and his writing, and it shows on his latest blog. Not only does he have all the essentials for cycling commuters and just plain recreational bicyclists living in Wichita--beginning with a link to the knowledgeable folks at Bicycle X-Change, which is where I go to get all my work on my bike done--but he's quickly networking to the larger cycling commuter world, particularly in this part of the country. And here in Kansas--and Wichita in particular--it is networking that we need; those who use bicycles to commute to work around here constitute a very distinct minority. Anyway, I'll be checking it out regularly, as a way to supplement and enrich my bicycling lifestyle.

"Lifestyle"? Well, maybe that's a bit much...or then again, maybe not. I've never cycled professionally, never raced, only ever used my bike to get to school and now to get to work and in between, when times and circumstances have been amenable to it, to go on rides with the kids or to get some shopping done. When all is said and done, I guess that does add up to making me a fairly serious cyclist. Here's the six-mile route I ride pretty much five days a week, rain or shine (the link says 5.5 miles, but I've clocked it, and I think the difference comes in the bike map's inability to accurately calculate my path through Town Square West's huge parking lots), and here's the bike I use, all ready to leave our driveway this morning:


It's a Trek 7100 which I bought new in 2006, trading in an old mountain bike that I'd rode the life out of over the previous 12-15 years or so. (No, I was never into mountain biking, but I was living in Utah back in the mid-90s, and everyone was buying mountain bikes then.) It's a fine bike for working the main roads and sidewalks and bike paths and parking lots of Wichita; I'd say I've put close to--or maybe even more than--4000 miles on it in the nearly two years that I've been here. And yes, I do commute year-round--biking in the cold isn't usually a problem, if you've got the gear for it (I've biked to work when it's 20 degrees out); the only real difficulties in Wichita weather-wise are the occasional patches of snow and ice on the roads (very hard to get through, depending on one's tires) and the high winds (slows you down and can make navigation a pain). When things really don't look good out, or I'm just feeling beat, Melissa and I will work something out with sharing the car (yes, we only have one car, for both economic and environmental reasons), or--very rarely--I'll take the bus. Overall, we've been able to make it work.

My commuting has gotten me some notoriety here at Friends; on bad weather days, my students will make jokes or express disbelief that I rode in that morning, and my leaving meetings early so I can manage the 25-35 minute ride home (depending on traffic and weather) before, say, one of the girls has to be taken to piano lessons have attracted a little envy from other faculty members occasionally. All in all, I guess it is a "lifestyle," or at least a regular enough part of my life that I can't imagine myself getting along without my bike. I hope to be able to continue to ride here in Wichita and elsewhere for decades to come. And thanks to John's new blog, accomplishing that goal has become a little easier. So John--thanks.

10 comments:

Matt said...

Do the buses there have racks you can attach bikes to? I used those quite rarely in Philadelphia but was glad to have them a few times when it started raining heavily in the day or I otherwise could only ride one way (flat tire or something).

The last year I lived in Philadelphia (near Manayunk and the Wissahickon park) my wife and I used bikes or buses pretty much exclusively to get around, as we didn't have a car. It worked pretty well. One thing I've regretted after moving to NY City is hardly ever riding here.

John B. said...

Russell,
Thanks for the rousing plug for the blog. I'll do my best to earn some of that praise.

I of course knew you cycled, but I didn't know the extent of it till I read your post. So, like, wow.

We--your family and I--should go for a ride sometime, say at Sedgwick County Park. I'll drop you an e-mail about that.

Tejvan Pettinger said...

Commuting is great fun. Here in England, I commute into oxford everyday

Russell Arben Fox said...

Matt,

Do the buses there have racks you can attach bikes to?

Not that I have noticed, no. Perhaps they do, or some of them do, and I haven't been paying sufficient attention. I know I've never seen a bike on one, but then again, as I alluded, I really do try to keep riding even through the winter, and thus haven't used Wichita's (fairly minimal) bus system extensively.

I love Philadelphia; I've only ever been there for conferences or as a tourist, but I've always imagined it'd be a fine cycling city.

John,

A family bike ride at Sedgwick or up by the zoo or down along the river (I don't know the bike paths down there at all, really) would be a blast. Let's plan on it.

Tejvan,

Thanks for stopping by! I've never been to England, but the time I spent in Germany really converted me--if I wasn't already convinced--that many European cities have it right: compact, accessible neighborhoods scattered throughout the cities, making bicycle commuting much more of a likely option.

Damon Linker said...

Russell,

Funny to read this post: I just bought a bike (or rather, Beth bought me one for Father's Day). I'm loving it. Distance-wise, I'd love to be able to bike into West Philly to work (about 6 miles), but any reasonable route would take me through some pretty dicey neighborhoods, and I don't need the stress. But cycling around the burbs has been great so far! I've also turned that Velo bike-route website into a bookmark. Could come in handy some day.

Cheers on wheels,
Damon

Russell Arben Fox said...

That's fantastic, Damon. Like I said in response to Matt's comment, I've always thought Philadelphia would make a great biking city, and I've no doubt that applies to the whole metro area as well. Glad you're enjoying yourself!

Tom Brandt said...

Russell,

I keep reading more and more cycling bloggers, including Andrew Sullivan, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein , and now you.

I bike to work quite often, except when the weather is really crappy or I need the car for soem good reason. There is quite a community of bicycling commuters here in Ann Arbor which is getting more and more active in promoting 2-wheel commuting, and working with city, transit system, police department, employers, and other groups to make it easier and more accepted. Many bike commuters still get hassled by drivers, but things seem to be getting better. I hope you don't get hassled much in Wichita.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Tom,

Thanks for the comment. I left a note on John Buass's blog earlier today, about my experiences on the streets of Wichita, which have been, so far as I can recall, completely positive. If I've been hassled, it must not have been significant, because I can't remember it. (I can remember pretty clearly the hassles I had commuting to work in Mississippi; there was the time a pick-up truck charged right up behind me, then swerved past me fast, but not so fast that I couldn't hear the guy on the passenger side shout at me "Faggot!" I think they took some offense at my helmet, perhaps.)

Fred said...

Russell,

Thanks for an interesting post. It's good to see someone using their bike for everyday purposes.

I live in the south of Sweden (near Denmark) and I ride my bike everyday when going to work or into town. We don't own a car, but still we get by fine by riding our bikes.

Where we live (and I suppose Sweden in general) there are lots of bicycle tracks. You can even go quite far into the countryside on your bike.

Take care,

Fred

Matt said...

Damon,

You should try to pick up the map of bike paths/routes in Philadelphia that you can find in many bike shops- it might help find a route for you. I found it very useful. Much of the city is easy to get around on though in Center City it can sometimes be a bit dicey since the streets are so narrow, there are few if any bike lanes, and the sidewalks are crowded. (The drivers are not the most careful, either!) I've done it but perfered to avoid center city if I could. I mostly rode along the path that goes along the Schuylkill and the cut up towards Penn by the zoo. The area between Penn and the Zoo isn't the nicest but I never had any trouble from people there even when riding at night.