They roll through the darkness, through fog, wind, rain, and sometimes snow. They work up a sweat by the time most people are working on the morning’s first latte. They dart through traffic, slip down alleys, hop curbs and dodge sleepy motorists, all with one goal in mind: to get to work on time.
Hardcore commuters, those brave souls that prefer a bike or in-line skates to motorized transport, prove that getting to work doesn’t have to be a drag, and anyone can squeeze a workout into a busy day.
“I feel great when I get to work. I’m relaxed and refreshed and awake, says Scott Baker, a 42-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, who turns his four-mile commute into a 10 to 14 mile ride on his way to the office most mornings. At night, he rides home in the dark, sometimes without so much as a light.
“I kinda like riding without a light,” he confesses, although his penchant for darkness has gotten him into some near scrapes with pedestrians, dogs, and squirrels. “I’m probably not quite as cautious as I should be.”
Caution is a keyword for commuters braving the elements and the darkness that come with the territory this time of year. Unless the snow is piling up where you live, you can leave the car in the garage if you pay attention to a few simple rules:
• Put a Lid on It: Helmets should never be optional equipment for rollerblading or riding. Period. Plus, there’s no avoiding the fact that you are more likely to take a spill during certain times of year. Be prepared.
• Get a Light: A few bucks and a couple AA batteries will get you a 2.5- to 3-watt light that will help other people see you in the gloaming, but that won’t cut it if you actually need to see where you are going. Spend the $60 to $75 for a rechargeable unit with a minimum of five watts. Riding trails at nightrequires even more power. Top-of-the-line lighting can cost $300 for 10 watts or more.
• Find a Fender: Traditional fenders that follow the curve of the wheel shield you better than the flat kind that extend straight out from your seat post, but they won’t fit on many mountain bike models.
• Be Wary: Piles of leaves and puddles are tons of fun by day, but they are killers in the dark. Even with a good light, you probably can’t see well enough to accurately gauge the depth of puddles. Morning or evening light can screw up your depth perception, too, so give curbs and other hazards an extra dose of caution. If temps are around the freezing level, what looks like a thin puddle may be black ice.
Exposed aggregate is found on many bike paths in urban areas. In addition to being bumpy, this stuff becomes extremely slick after extended wet periods. Approach with caution.
Traffic danger increases in winter due to lower visibility and the fact that drivers are more focused on road conditions. Don’t be a hood ornament.
• Know When to Say When: Sometimes Mother Nature wins. Nasty conditions can be a fun challenge, but too much of a good thing means you should take the bus.
• Clean Your Ride: In the Old West, no cowboy worth his salt would go inside without making sure his horse was well cared-for. Treat your wheels the same way. Wipe down your bike or the wheels on your skates. If you can wipe off the bike chain, do it, and then lubricate after it is dry. Pay special attention to brake pads and cables.
• Clean Yourself: If you turn your commute into more than a pleasure cruise, you’ll have to deal with the funk factor when you get to the office. The first step is not to overdo it with the raingear. You should be fairly cool when you leave, or you’ll be really sweaty when you get to work.
Take a change of clothes. And make sure they are stowed in a waterproof pack, a plastic bag, or rain-proof panniers.
Sweat doesn’t get smelly until it sits on your body for a while. If you shower before leaving and wipe yourself down when you arrive, you’ll be OK.