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Suburban Bike Commute

By Lauren Spatafore Lauren is a lifelong rider and guest contributor to ZappaWheels.

Riding to work in Hamilton County, Indiana

Bicycle commuting isn’t just for urban dwellers. With an open mindset and a bit of pre-planning, anyone can do it! I started bike commuting to work in September almost two years ago. It's a quick, easy ride for me, less than 10 miles round-trip. Now, regardless of what the day will bring, I begin each day with the satisfaction of knowing I've already exercised.

​It wasn’t always this way. Before 2015, I worked at a school across town, about a 25 minute commute by car. There was not a direct or safe route for me to travel by bicycle. Often, I would take my bike with me so I could get in a ride after work, while it was still daylight and still before rush hour. However, I wasn’t getting in the miles that I wanted. So, when a position opened up at a school closer to home, I jumped at the opportunity for less travel time and the ability to ride to work.

The Beginning of a Love for Bikes

Photo: Old Ten Speed Gallery

As a teenager, every dollar earned from my paper route or babysitting was saved to buy my first new bicycle. When I did, I rode that bright yellow Schwinn 10 speed everywhere! It was a sense of freedom, the ability to travel outside the neighborhood without having a driver’s license! I remember many lazy summer days when I would ride to my cousin’s house and we would ride to the mall, to lunch or just explore parts of the community from a different vantage point.

However, my love for riding began well before then. My father, it seemed, was always working on bicycles. Being mechanically inclined, he was able to recondition bicycles on a budget for his four children. I often watched, and learned. Then we would head off on a ride together. I am the third of those four children, and those bike rides, that one on one time with my Dad, not only developed a strong father-daughter bond, but also instilled in me a love for bicycling.

​Since then, I have been riding regularly. I’ve belonged to various bike groups in a couple different states over the years. As newly-weds, we purchased matching carbon fiber road bikes. My husband and I would log miles after work with longer rides on the weekends. I’ve done some weekend camping rides with friends, led a few Scout outings, even tried mountain biking occasionally, until my own kids became more proficient than me!

When my boys were younger, I rode places with them comfortably nestled in the Burley behind my bike. My community has a rail-trail path and a wonderful network of bike paths connecting most of the town, and it’s still growing. We’d use these trails to ride to the library, the grocery store, parks, concerts and playgrounds.

Biking Over the Years

We loved our rides together on the tandem tag-a-long.

From ​the Burley, we graduated to a double tandem, is that even a thing? The one wheeled, two-seater connected to my bike with them both pedaling along. We didn’t need a horn or a bell, people could hear their loud, happy chatter well before we would catch up to them! ​When they were both on two wheels, we continued our bicycle adventures. We would ride to the swimming pool, the ice cream shop, Vacation Bible School, restaurants, community events, 4th of July parades and other festivals.

​I could say that I like that we weren’t using fuel, sitting in a climate controlled vehicle and searching for parking spots. We did think about those savings, but to me, it just seemed like the natural thing to do. The trails around town provided the same freedom for my sons that I experienced in my youth. They could meet up with friends across town, have lunch, ride the rail-trail and explore parts of the community they would have missed if they weren’t on bikes.

​Consequently, they both have developed a love for bicycling and purchased a few of their own. My garage is testimony to that; filled with several mountain bikes, a fixie, unicycle, trials bike, those first road bikes, my custom road bike, an 80’s era Trek and more.

No room for any more bikes in our garage!

My Bike Commute

My bike commute.

​Back to my commute. It takes me about 14 minutes each way. Initially, I thought that I would ride to work on days when it was over 40 degrees at 7AM. As a result, there were many days I was unable to ride. However, after work when I walked to my car and the weather was perfect for riding, with the sun shining and low wind speeds, I regretted not riding that day.

​I had to lower the bar, so to speak; the temperature bar that is. So, if it was 38 at 7AM, and the high was going to be 40 or above (with low wind speeds) then I would ride. With this mindset, I was still riding to work in Indiana in the middle of December!

Cold weather ride

During those cold winter days when I drove to work, I thought about when I could begin riding again. It's easy to become complacent and gain a few pounds while cozy and warm inside during those cold months. The truth is, I missed riding my bicycle to work!

It was time to get some help. From ZappaWheels, I gathered practical advice about bicycle commuting in cold weather and determined that if I used a historical average temperature of 50 degrees, I would not ride to work again until mid-April, Disappointed, I had to lower the bar once again. Certainly I can endure a few cold fingers for the 14 minutes it takes to get to work.

Now I’ll head to work on my bicycle if it is 32 degrees, with a forecast of sunshine by 3 pm. It takes a bit more advance planning but gradually, I have been able to extend the number of days I ride.

These days, besides work, I ride to many destinations; gym, pharmacy, library, bike shop, restaurants and more. My husband and I go out for long rides on the road bikes on weekends. Often, we'll ride other bikes to get around the community, to the swimming pool, over to visit friends in other neighborhoods and my favorite, the ice cream shop.

My bike commute has become a highlight of my day. With an open mindset and planning, anyone can do it! Like me, I'm sure there are so many destinations you can reach by bicycle. Where will you ride next?


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