Why did you start riding your bike to school?
My wife bought me a bike as a birthday present, January two years ago, and I started riding to work every day shortly after that because it seemed like a good way to combine a workout with my commute.
How does weather affect you when riding to school?
I don’t ride the bike in the morning if there’s water falling from the sky, but I don’t mind riding in snow. I have a bike that’s set up just for sloppy weather. Other than that, I ride every day I can up until the temperature gets into single digits.
Describe the route that you take to get to school. About how long does it take you?
I take various routes from Broad Ripple, usually about 12 and one-half miles one way; I like to do 25 miles a day if I can.
What’s the strangest thing that you’ve seen happen coming to or from school?
Once I had a big deer jump right out in front of me on the stretch of the Monon Trail between 96th and 106th Street. It was about 6:30 a.m. and dark, so all she looked like until my lights hit her was a big black blob in the middle of the path. I think it scared me more than the deer.
How long have you been riding?
As I said, just over two years now. I never had time for a hobby like this when I was in my earlier career, the Army; I used to run or swim for fitness instead. But my ankles are so busted up from my former career that running is no longer an option. Cycling gives me a good alternative workout and I’ll keep doing it as long as I can manage.
What do you think about students riding their own cars to school instead of riding the bus?
A lot of them see driving a car to school as a right instead of the privilege that it is. When I was in high school we had to earn the privilege by keeping our grades at a certain level, and we had stickers on our windshield identifying us as students. Any car with a student sticker or no sticker was towed if it was parked in the main school lot. Many of our students abuse the driving privilege and park in areas that cause problems for teachers and staff, and that’s the only concern I have about it. There’s nothing wrong with taking a car to school, so long as the students follow the guidelines and don’t take up spaces near the building that are reserved for staff. Of course I’d love to see more people riding bikes to work or to school because it’s more environmentally sound and it’s great exercise, too. For it to work, though, you really have to have a bike-friendly and bike-aware community. Carmel has come a long way and has some great bike paths and designated bike lanes, but a lot more could be done to encourage folks to ride rather than drive.
What’s the most fun part about it?
The most fun part of riding for me is the feeling you get that it’s you that’s propelling you forward, not the machine; when you’re in the groove and hitting a good fast cadence it’s almost like you’re not touching the road anymore, just skimming along the surface. There are other times that you can slow it way down to slower than a walk and have time to take in what’s around you, check out the wildlife or the scenery around you. In the spring, when everything is just turning that wonderful, fresh green, you have time to look at the foliage and the wildlife in the morning. In the fall there’s the wonderful autumn colors, and ducks and geese flying south, and a whole different world to look at.
How has riding helped you in your life?
Well, I sure don’t spend a lot on gas anymore. And the fitness aspect of it is undeniable, of course. It used to take me 20 minutes to drive to work each way, and I’d do a half hour workout in the morning and evening. Now I do a forty-five to fifty-five minute workout twice a day and get to work at the same time.
What do you do when it snows a lot and the street conditions are less than average?
If the snow is too deep I have to bow to the inevitable and drive, but if it’s just an inch or two, or just slushy, I still ride; I have bikes that are built for bad weather. One is a cyclocross bike—a lower geared road bike with wider, knobby tires and more powerful cantilever brakes—and the other is a single-speed fixed gear bike with a low enough gear ratio and knobby enough tires to get me through most conditions. Either bike will do in sloppy weather, but I like the ‘cross bike better for the snow because it’s geared lower. I find myself riding the fixed gear bike more in the fall and the spring. My “fair-weather” bike is an old Bridgestone road bike I’ve rebuilt as a general-purpose commuter.
Do you ride to condition yourself for other sports?
No. I just ride because I like to ride. I don’t even compete in cycling events; I just commute and ride for pleasure.
Don’t you think it could be dangerous for you or for other cars?
Not usually; I’m lit up like a Christmas tree in the dark, and I try to stay on bike paths and sidewalks for most of the ride. Still, it can be dangerous and you’ve always got to be careful; I was hit by a car once last summer on West Carmel Drive when I was crossing the road – in a crosswalk, with the green light, and doing everything right from my point of view. Thankfully, I was going very slow to cross at the light and I wasn’t hurt and my bike wasn’t even damaged beyond a bent pedal. I ended up somersaulting over the handlebars onto the car’s hood, so it was a good thing I was wearing a helmet. The woman driving the car was making a right turn on the red light and never even looked to her right before she hit the gas. It scared the heck out of both of us, probably her more than me because I saw it coming and at least had time to hit both brakes hard. Her first hint was the thump of the impact and then me looking at her from on top of her hood. The lesson there is that if you’re on a bike you have to be on the defensive at all times whenever your path and that of a motor vehicle intersect. I should have made eye-to-eye contact with her before moving across the road, even though I had right of way. Lesson learned.
What comments do you get from other people?
The funniest comments come from my students. They see my bike parked in my classroom day after day and some of them assume my license has been revoked or that my car is in the garage being repaired. It never occurs to some of them that anyone would want to ride a bike voluntarily if they have a car and a valid license.
What do you do in the hotter months when it’s really humid and warm outside?
Well, that’s the best time to ride because you have an automatic 10-15 mph fan at all times, just by keeping up the pace. Like any other workout in summer months, of course, you have to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.
Have you had any near accidents or anything bad happen while you were riding?
Besides the deer and the accident I mentioned before, I’ve dumped the bike at least once a year since I’ve been riding. I hit some loose gravel in a turn back when they were doing so much road repair on 116th Street and got all skinned up on my arm and leg when I went down. And early last winter I hit a deep pothole on the way home from work after dark in the rain on Broad Ripple Avenue. I was on my fixed gear bike – no coasting on those – and went right over the handlebars. Again, I can’t emphasize the importance of wearing a helmet. Both times I went down were when I let my attention get fixed on something way ahead down the road instead of paying attention to what was right in front of me, so there’s a lesson to be learned there as well; even though you need to be aware of what’s going on 360 degrees around you when you’re on a bike, you can’t let your attention stray too long from what’s right in front of the front tire.
What’s been the best moment?
Zooming down the bike path on a wonderful spring morning last year and having a big hawk swoop in front of me and match me for speed for what seemed like minutes on end. It was probably only for ten seconds, but it was like we were both flying in formation forever through the woods. Then she landed on a fence post and watched me speed on by. She didn’t look impressed, but I sure was. That’s a moment in time that just would never happen in a car on the way to work.
And the worst?
The worst was having about six flats in a two-week period during all of the aforementioned construction, once flatting-out TWICE in one day. I became a master flat fixer during that stretch of time, I can tell you. I can even change a flat in the dark after that, and I had to.
What’s the farthest you’ve ever biked before and why did you do it?
The farthest in one trip was fifty miles, when I was thirteen, and I was working to get my Boy Scout cycling merit badge. I’ve made longer trips after that, but never in one stretch like that one.
What suggestions or tips do you have for other people to do before deciding to bike to school?
Educate yourself. Learn how to bike safely. Get a good helmet and wear it whenever you’re on a bike. Learn how to fix a flat. Learn to work on your bike. Ensure that your bike is in good working order and that you have a proper tool kit to fix anything that might go wrong on a commute. Check out the Internet for websites that are devoted to bike commuting because there are a lot of good information and recommendations out there. Check out some sites like fixedgeargallery.com or bikecommute.com to see what other cyclists do to optimize their bikes for commuting. A little bit of reading up will prepare you for any commute you need or want to do and educate you about cycling in general. But above all, have fun! Get a decent bike that fits you and take the time to ensure that it’s set up properly for you, and you’ll enjoy cycling more because it’ll be fun. There’s no need to do it if you’re not going to have fun doing it.