Shorten my bike commute
April 25, 2012 8:35 PM   Subscribe

When should I expect to see a reduction in the amount of time I spend bike commuting?

After a seven and a half year hiatus, I am back to bike commuting. I start a new job in a few weeks and I intend to bike commute full time (rain or shine, but not snow - so I should miss maybe 10 days a year). Today was day 3 of my test ride and the ride is getting worse, not better.

The route is a little over 6 km long each way. The route starts with a very steep and long downhill grade, some flat riding, a long gradual incline, followed by some flat city biking, then a short steep uphill climb to the office. I reverse this route on the way home. This is a road commute, with 98% of the route on a side street designated as a bike way (so there are signals to help cross major streets). Assume this route is an optimal bike route given the terrain and location of bike ways.

I am overweight (5'11" and 202lb) and out of shape. I am riding a 20 year old hybrid, same bike I commuted on years ago without incident.

I've done this three days in a row now. My ride times are getting worse every day. The ride there was 27 min day 1, 28 min day 2, 31 min day 3. The ride home was 34 min, 34 min, 38 min. Where I could climb maybe 50% of the short steep incline to work and maybe 33% of the long steep incline on the way home from work on day 1, my climbing ability shrank to 0% of the short steep incline on the way to work and maybe 15% of the long steep incline.

I do my training ride all at once, with an additional km tacked on either end that I won't do in a real commute (so 14 km round trip). When I get back from this 14 km ride I am knackered and need to sit down and just rest for a few minutes. My back is sore and one knee is sore (I think poor adjustment on bike), but I don't feel like my muscles are sore.

* Bike commuters - when did you see reductions in your commute times? How long should I expect to wait to see the results of practice?
* Given my current fitness level, do you think I will be knackered when I get to work, or should I be fine (given that the ride to work is a subset of my training ride)?
* What is the best way to prepare for the commute so I am faster on my first day of work. Should I ride the route 5x a week, or should I take rest days?
* It rained on day 3. Is a 3-4 minute increase in ride time just a "rain tax", or is it something else (fatigue from days 1 and 2)?
* I know that my seat is way too low (the quick release is broken so the bike seat is fixed at the lowest position) and the front gear is not working properly, so I can't fully shift into granny gear in the front. The bike shop is full though so they can't fix my bike until Saturday. Can I expect gains once I have the bike repaired?
* Map my ride claims that this ride burns ~600 calories a day. Assume I make a 500 cal reduction in diet (say no wine with dinner on weeknights) to get an even pound-a-week weight loss. How does that change my ride time?
* What is a good target time for the ride to work. Is 20 min a realistic goal?
* How long do you think it will take me to learn to ride 100% up that final hill? Pushing the bike uphill is a bit demoralizing.
* When does it get better? I like the ride but the fatigue/tiredness associated with it is not really the best thing for a brand new job.
* Given my current sweatiness quotient, I am going to bike in workout clothes (not work clothes but not hard core cycle clothes). Is it tacky to show up on the first day slightly sweaty and ask to be shown to the washroom to change?

posted by crazycanuck to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Frequent (though not 100%) bike commuter here who tracks his commute times obsessively.

In order:
When will it get faster? It depends. I took about 6 weeks off due to travel/injury and lost a lot of speed. It is slowly coming back over the course of at least a month. I wouldn't count on anything right away - give it 6 weeks at a minimum.

Will you be knackered? This is almost 100% a function of how hard you try / have to try to get there. Once you get your granny gear fixed, you can hopefully take the last hill pretty easy.

Training schedule: I don't think someone in your position should be riding every day, given the soreness. Take rest days, but train hard on the days you do train. Remember that you need to train harder than X if you want X to be easy.

Rain: I don't find that rain slows me down, except in the cases where I have to take corners slower. Your mileage may vary.

Your broken bike: Proper seat height is extremely critical. Having the granny gear for the uphill climb is going to help you get up that hill with a lot less exhaustion. It is usually worth learning to fix these sorts of things yourself.

Dieting: If you lose weight, the ride will be easier and faster.

Target time: I wouldn't set one, honestly. The sky's the limit. Focus on incremental gain and consistency.

Getting up the hill, it getting easy: No idea.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:49 PM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Three days is way too short a time to see proper improvement, especially if you happen to be out of shape. I'm not sure I can help too much with specific goals, but I would maybe advise against being too fussy over timing your commute. Here's why: I bike commute every day, and I avoid using my cycle computer specifically because it encourages me to race against myself to beat the time. I kind of feel that this always encourages really dangerous behaviour (racing to beat red lights and such), and if not, too much of my commute depends on traffic light timings and random traffic interruption that I have no control over, so the resulting times are not really reliable.

These days I would maybe go out once on a weekend on a riverside track where I can actually cycle without being interrupted by traffic, and I would use those times as a reference.

The back pain sounds like an issue, you might want to have the fit of your bike checked out properly by a bike store (also make sure it's maintained properly if it is 20 years old!). Another thing that can really, really help back pain while cycling is stretching (example).

Good luck! Keep at it, and maybe focus more on gradual improvement in how you feel (like getting up that hill), rather than obsessing over times.
posted by theyexpectresults at 8:51 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The too-low seat can be capital-B bad for your knees, so get that fixed as soon as possible.

My experience is that when I was young it took a couple of weeks to go from inactive to fully functional, and now that I'm older and decrepiter it can take three or even four weeks to get to "as good as it gets," meaning slower than when I was young.

I think it's always good to take rest days for your body at first, regardless of the activity.
posted by Forktine at 9:06 PM on April 25, 2012

My "in the city" bike commute for a 6.2km FLAT FLAT route w/ traffic lights and it takes me 25 minutes plus or minus at a calm pace (not blowing lights, etc..). I can defiantly get in in 20 if I have too, but it doesn't make me feel safe (and would make me sweaty)

I have a heavy 20 year old bike w/ front rack and baby seat on back.

Things I found that made my commute faster over time:

Biking more week made me slowly and surely stronger and faster
Got nice slicks on my bike instead of knobbies
Better light planning and timing so I wasn't stopping and starting as much

I'd expect you can shave some time off your route but expect more that you will just be able to do it feeling cooler in about the same amount of time instead of cutting more than 5 minutes off.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2012

* What is a good target time for the ride to work. Is 20 min a realistic goal?

Sounds realistic to me, give or take a bit depending on those hills of yours. I find that I average a touch under 20km/h for commuting, and that's on a hybrid, not wearing lycra, not just trundling along lazily but not killing myself either (lycra-clad people on racers whizz past me, while I whizz past women in skirts on those Dutch style bikes with baskets but most MTB / hybrid riders go about the same speed as me), and if I understand my bike computer correctly that average speed also takes into account time stopped during the overall trip.

Getting your seat height right will be a big improvement - your leg should be almost completely straight (ie knee not locked) when the pedal is at the bottom.

Based on the learning curve when taking up almost any new exercise (or starting again after time off) expect no more than maybe a few weeks before your body settles into a groove & it starts feeling just normal to do your ride.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:13 PM on April 25, 2012

Congratulations on being a [renewed] bike commuter!

1) Reductions in commute speed: If you want to assess your riding speed, just counting total minutes doesn't tell you much because other factors, like the time spent waiting at lights and intersections, can vary from day to day.

You may well be getting a little slower, true, because new at this and you're probably a little tired, which your hill performance would suggest. To assess your true speed (and maximum speed, and maybe cadence), get a bike computer. Also note the wind speed and direction each day and cheer yourself on if you do well against wind. Spring is always freakin' windy.

2) To ensure that you're capable of riding well in three weeks, you can't exhaust yourself right now. Give yourself permission to ride just 3 days a week the first week, 4 days the second week, and 5 days the third week. (If you feel stronger and faster before week 3, then add days, but don't add days if you still feel draggy.) Add an extra training ride on the weekend once 5 days feels good. Getting too tired does not improve your performance and wrecks your motivation.

3) If you treat yourself sensibly now and ramp up your riding, you should be able to ride 6 km twice a day (assuming bike fit and other factors have been dealt with).

4) "Rain tax": maybe. Fatigue is also a likely factor. Also, those random traffic lights. See: get a computer to track your speed.

5) HOLY CRAP FIX YOUR SEAT and get your gears looked at. (No wonder hills are making you suffer!) Seriously, a low seat, exertion, hills, and carrying extra weight all combine to put you at some risk of developing tendinitis (not fatal, just really annoying and something that will stop your workouts until you heal). Please stop riding this week as you are more likely to make yourself feel worse instead of better. Get the first available bike shop appointment Saturday.

==> If your knee is sore, the low seat is almost certainly why. Please, really, stop until your seat is fixed or else you will lose a lot more riding time.

6) Someone with better math skills than me might tackle that. Just tell yourself that if you lose, say, ten pounds, you will have, in effect, bought yourself a much more expensive and lighter bike.

7) 20 minutes of pure elapsed time sounds ambitious: 20 minutes of pedaling time only works out to an average speed of about 18 km/hr, which is decent commuting speed.

8) HILLS: I am so embarrassed that I didn't learn this until last year, after a few years of riding, but the way you cycle up a hill is this: cycle up the hill. Do not walk your bike after you get tired.

There's a big valley in Toronto called Hoggs Hollow that I used to think was something I could climb out of some day, maybe. I would hit Yonge Street going south from Wilson as hard as I could, pedal madly until I had nothing left, then stop about 1/3 of the way up and walk my bike the rest of the way. After getting some pointed advice, here's what three days of HH looked like:

Day 1: Started cycling as strongly and steadily as I could, shifting to my granniest gears when needed. When I stopped (1/3 of the way up), I stayed stopped as long as it took to get my breath back and feel ready to cycle again. No shame. Then I pedaled again, stopped again for a bit, then pedaled for one more stretch to crest the hill. So that day was three segments, two stops.

Day 2: Two segments, stopped once.

Day 3: Didn't stop at all.

I had been cycling longer than you last summer, so I'm not predicting three days for you (and your hill may be steeper) but the only way you get better at riding hills is to ride the entire hill. Seriously. It can be embarrassing going slowly (and I remember my Day 1 was marked by an elderly woman walking beside me for a bit, offering encouraging words), but you are getting fitter every time you finish a hill (on a properly adjusted bike).

9) I commuted to a new job last summer (Toronto's killer summer of sweat). I took transit the first day so I could meet everyone and get things sorted out without any extra stuff to worry about. I told my boss I'd be cycling in after that, and everyone was fine. You can investigate the washrooms yourself and learn how to make changing and freshening up work smoothly for you on day 2 and onwards.

Have fun! Spring is the nicest time of year for riding.
posted by maudlin at 9:47 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally I like to enjoy the ride more these days than push myself so hard. The comment that you'll feel cooler at the of the ride is good advice. Also, feeling less wiped out is good too. Save the brutal ass kickers for Saturday, recover on Sunday. Use the weekdays to maintain.

Also, what do you think about not concerning yourself with weight, times, or calories for the first few months? Maybe first taking care to get properly fitted on your bike, and just enjoying pedaling, being able to see all the neat things around you and how they change from day to day, and so on, might build stronger bike riding habits that will contribute more to your health over the long term.

Short version, it's like watching water boil. It takes longer than you might expect.
posted by roboton666 at 10:03 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have had my current cycle commute for over a year now. I have not experienced any change in ride time. But mine is 6 km and I do it in just 20-25 minutes (highly dependent on traffic and weather, btw), so either I started fitter than you, or I have fewer hills (true, I think), or my bike is better.

But I don't think your time will change unless you are really pushing yourself hard. My experience has been that that is not fun, especially on the way to and from work when you are not exactly out for a pleasure ride anyway.

I find it hard to believe your commute (if that's what you mean by "this ride") will make a 600 cal difference to your needs. I switched from a 1.5km each way ride to a 6km each way ride without changing my diet noticeably and have not lost any weight. When I've tried to estimate it it's more like a 250-300 kcal expenditure. Maybe your hill makes a big difference to this, or maybe your 600 kcal estimate is including normal expenditure during that 1 hour too, rather than on top of it?

Finally, in terms of making things easier, keeping your chain greased and your tyres hard are the number one things that I find make a difference.
posted by lollusc at 10:06 PM on April 25, 2012

your rides seem within an acceptable range of times, but you only have three data points. there are not many conclusions you could make. i don't think you should be worried about some trend.

does a few minutes really make any practical difference in your life? who cares if you're a few minutes late or early? you can just start your ride a little earlier to make sure you get to work on time.

it seems like the only variation is small, it could simply be due to hitting back traffic lights or traffic or some other factor. you seem to want to conclude that your travel times are getting longer, but i don't think you have enough evidence to suggest that yet.

don't worry about the small things. focus on just riding your bike to work. after you do it for, say, 1 year? then you can start to think about making it the most efficient route possible.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:14 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

keeping your chain greased and your tyres hard are the number one things that I find make a difference.

Yes! Especially the tyres! For way too many years I thought it was good enough to pump my tyres (recommended 70-80psi) to around the 50psi mark, which often fell to about 30psi if I neglected to check them for a few weeks or more.

The problem was using a crappy hand pump, which would get difficult & boring by about 50psi. $50 spent on a proper floor pump has made all the difference. That extra hardness in the tyres translates very tangibly to much less effort pedalling, and easily a good 5-10kph faster riding.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:43 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely get your bike looked at, but if you're mechanically minded, you might be able to fix the granny gear yourself by tightening the cable slightly. There should be a twisty thing at one end of the cable that you can turn. (Google for details - ignore all the stuff about the high and low screws)

The hills will be much easier once you've got the granny working again.
posted by kjs4 at 11:06 PM on April 25, 2012

Your ride times should increase initially, so nothing to worry about there (your muscles are going to be sore from the day before, not fit from the month before). It will take you muscles a little longer to recover since they're getting used every day without a break, but I would guess that after taking Sat/Sun off, on Monday your time will be back down to where you started, and the following Monday you'll be seeing improvement.

I am not a fitness expert, but from my own experience, I would take rest days to be faster sooner, for whatever that's worth.

You will always be knackered regardless of your fitness level if you are timing your trips and trying to improve your times.
You will never be knackered if you make the trip at an easy effortless pace, (and while that will be slower, it won't be very much slower)

I personally very much prefer to take it easy and show up to work not sweaty and ready to work. Perhaps do this for your first day - go slow so you arrive without needing the washroom, but can find out about it later that day and use it the next day and onwards?

Don't try very hard to beat the hill until your seat and gears are adjusted. While ill set up you're more likely to strain something which will set you back further.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:13 PM on April 25, 2012

Some yoga or light stretching after your ride at the end of the day might really help. Bicycling magazine has some good post-bike stretches. These make a big difference for me.

I think three days is too soon to expect improvement. Cycling doesn't pound our muscles like some other sports, so many folks don't get quite as sore. But of course your body is fatigued from all that extra work--a good fatigued, but still fatigued.

Cutting your time nearly in half seems ambitious unless you really are spending a lot of time walking. I sometimes zip by folks, and people zip by me, but we all seem to end up stopped at the same light. I wouldn't expect time improvement like you would on a road bike on longer rides.

I do bike commute every day (even in the snow though ice is a bit scary). I started last summer and kept at it. I think I would have given up if I was expecting to see improvements that quickly. Months later, yes, I am faster--or, at least, the ride itself is easier. I also improved my baseline fitness even though my commute is only six miles total.

And, actually, my daily commute has been extremely motivating: I also have a lightweight road bike, and in a few weeks I'll be riding it in a century. So the commute is great for you, but do give it some time.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:34 PM on April 25, 2012

* Given my current sweatiness quotient, I am going to bike in workout clothes (not work clothes but not hard core cycle clothes). Is it tacky to show up on the first day slightly sweaty and ask to be shown to the washroom to change?

If its the very first day on a new job then I"d probably say take the train / bus. Or ride very slowly to avoid getting a sweat up.

I would take the train / bus on my first day in normal work clothes and use it as a reconnaissance day to determine what sort of facilities are available; are there showers, good secure bicycle parking, what will you need to bring in on a normal cycling day.

If its a city job then i think showing up to reception sweaty and in lycra on your first day is rather bad form. Missing 1 day of cycling is not going to damage your routine but cycling in on your first day might single you out at work as a bit of a nutter.
posted by mary8nne at 12:43 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing that making the commute considerably shorter is probably not a useful focus-- becoming more comfortable/efficient and riding all the way up the hill is a more reasonable goal because riding in traffic on your way to work doesn't lend itself to a time trial! I ride the same distance as you and I can see a difference in my fitness through the difficulty I find in the ride, particularly the hills but also my level of tiredness at the end. Also, I would be wary of expecting to lose weight this way-- of course it is entirely possible and you are exerting energy but in my first few months of cycling I was ravenous! And if you are starting a new job you probably don't need that...
Re: clothes, I would not show up on day one in the sweaty bike gear. Give yourself one day's grace to meet everyone in a more dignified manner! (Speaking as a sweaty undignified rider myself :).) FWIW, I think people are more comfortable with the sweat factor if you are in reasonably bikey bike gear as opposed to normal clothes. It gives them a quick read on why you are at work sweaty, and being sweaty in gym gear is relatively socially acceptable.
Good luck and I hope you enjoy this new world!
posted by jojobobo at 2:58 AM on April 26, 2012

I see bike commuting as a fun way to get to work and incidentally get exercise. If you see your commute as a workout, you will A) get sweaty and B) take unsafe risks on the road. You'll still naturally burn calories if you ride slowly, and if you take it easy you will be able to bike every day and not get injured, which will add up to more calories.

That said, you must get your bike properly fitted. Makes a huge difference.
posted by yarly at 3:42 AM on April 26, 2012

A couple of things that I always bring up is your actual set up. Are you riding in your work clothes? What kind of shoes are you wearing? How are you carrying your cargo? As soon as I took my gear off of my back and onto my pannier rack, I felt a lot stronger and zippier. Personal preference may also dictate the size of your tires, and I'm not sure the tire width on your hybrid, but you may want to go for some skinner tires since your entire commute is on well marked pavement. That may make you feel a little racier.

Don't concentrate on time so much as how you feel. Three days is not nearly enough. And my god get that seat post fixed.
posted by Think_Long at 5:48 AM on April 26, 2012

Given my current sweatiness quotient, I am going to bike in workout clothes (not work clothes but not hard core cycle clothes). Is it tacky to show up on the first day slightly sweaty and ask to be shown to the washroom to change?

Missed this bit. Honestly I would just take the train/bus in for your first week until you get a feel for the new culture, and so you can scope out places you can store your bike - hopefully your office.
posted by Think_Long at 5:49 AM on April 26, 2012

I agree with scoping out the office for the first day or two before you ride in.

I was in almost exactly the same situation as you when I got back into bike commuting in Maine - old bike, a little heavier actually, 6 mile route. Before I talk about time improvement, I have to agree with everyone else and say: stop riding until you get your seat properly adjusted. My seatpost had the habit of slowly sinking down over the course of a week. Before I realized this I just couldn't figure out why the rides would seem to get harder. And this was having the seat just a bit lower than optimal. If it is way off you risk damaging your knees as noted above. Get the bike shop to help you here.

Time / Speed:
So, looking back to my logs from 2006, I can see that starting off I was averaging about 11.25 - 12.25 mph when I started. About three weeks later, I was up to 13.5 - 14.5 mph. I seemed to plateau there for a while. A few months later I was upping the average, but not dramatically, hitting 15mph more often. Then I stopped for the winter.

When I started again in March 2007, I pretty quickly got back on pace and after about a month was getting some 15mph/16mph. From there I gradually improved. I'm not going to bore you with the 5 year breakdown here, but I tracked it all using We Endure if you want to go through it day by day (you can click any day for my comments).

However, speed is not time when it comes to commuting. You can go the same speed but get to work a full 3 minutes later due to stoplights. Plus, you'll have a lot of accelerating and decelerating. You'll eventually get a good time you find hard to beat due to catching the lights certain ways. When I moved I changed my commute from a 6 mile commute to a 7 mile commute yet my average time improved because I plotted a new route with less lights and longer stretches where I could go at a constant pace.

Where am I now? Well, I am 20ish pounds lighter and on a sixty mile ride through very hilly terrain I've averaged over 18mph. So I'm no racer but I am definitely speedy and enjoy riding very much! I ride year round. I do sweat when I ride to work, but that's because I like to try and go fast. If I wanted to go 14-15 mph I'd sweat a lot less and still get to work only a few minutes later. When I started I wore my work clothes but switched to changing at the office for increased comfort when riding.

20 minutes for 6km is entirely reasonable in theory but in reality it depends on your traffic lights. If you really want to track this sort of thing, get a bike computer that tracks both total time and the time you spend actually moving.

Rain will slow you down a bit if you're not used to it. So will cold.

If you can, budget a couple of extra minutes so you can just sort of coast around the parking lot after you get to work. You'll feel a bit better afterwards with this sort of cool down period.

Eat a banana after your ride. Very restorative.
posted by mikepop at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here. I'll just reinforce these recurring ideas:

1) having a mechanically sound bike helps a lot. Hitting all your gears will help you, especially for the hill. Properly inflated tires will reduce drag. A correctly positioned seat will help your body and improve your performance.

2) be realistic. This is a commute, not a race. Have the proper mental framework. Your ultimate goal is getting to/from work safely. Plan for riding at a comfortable pace (not your 'best time'), allow for obstacles/delays* and you'll arrive at work minimally sweaty. Allocate time accordingly and measure success around that goal.

* Honestly, how I hit lights impacts my overall time more than how 'hard' I bike.

Some direct answers:
What is the best way to prepare for the commute so I am faster on my first day of work. Should I ride the route 5x a week, or should I take rest days?
Leave earlier on your first day of work. Same advice if you were travelling by car, bus, or helicopter.
Given my current sweatiness quotient, I am going to bike in workout clothes (not work clothes but not hard core cycle clothes). Is it tacky to show up on the first day slightly sweaty and ask to be shown to the washroom to change?
That really depends on your workplace. I'm inclined to say it's ok, but I'm the type of person who is inclined to say it's ok.
posted by mazola at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2012

IME, you need a few weeks on the bike to start seeing noticeable results. That first week back on the bike, you're going to be so sore and tired. Your body won't have had a chance to build capacity in three days. Capacity building is a like healing a wound. It takes days or weeks to happen.

When you fix your seat and get your front gears adjusted, think about buying a cheap cycle computer as well. They run less than $20, and can record your speed and times. That way you can race yourself day to day and see immediately how you are doing. If you were 20 kph on one section, can you do 21 tomorrow? An in-shape commuter will do 12 kph on a commute, including time spent stopped at lights, slowing to turn corners and so on. A good target number for an average cruising speed on a hybrid on the flat is 20 kph.
posted by bonehead at 10:37 AM on April 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice.

I have been to the office 4 times already so I know the lay of the land. Also they walked me around to pop in and say hello, and I've talked in depth with 6 different people on staff. It is a small office, 50 people, and the CEO took up cycling one time up the local mountain. They own the building, they are the only tenants, they have secure underground car parking that I should be able to adapt to bike parking with u-lock and cable. Otherwise it is lugging the bike up the stairs. I saw the washroom and I might be able to go in quickly and change after a sympathetic receptionist lets me in (she is a nice lady). Unfortunately I am sharing office with my direct report (another story) so I won't be able to hang up gear there, hopefully there is a closet I can use (or hope it won't stink in my bag). Also assuming it's not raining I might be able to go slow and just wear work attire the first day, I will just put a jacket over tank top after I get into the office and hope that's good enough.

The reason I wanted speed improvements on the way to work is that my departure time is fixed and I cannot leave earlier. I have to drop my daughter off at school and wait until the bell rings before I can go. Since her school starts late (8:57 AM) it is a somewhat late arrival time.

I don't really feel like buying a cycle computer because the Map My Ride app on Android seems good enough - it shows the route, overlays it on map, tracks time, and shows splits of miles. I can see that I am averaging 10-11 km/h on flats. Unfortunately Map My Ride doesn't show the time I actually spend stopped.

I was hoping to see speed improvements only in the hill climb, I thought that would buy me some time. I guess it won't buy as much as I had hoped - there is a lot of fixed cost at stop signs/lights that I cannot avoid.

Since I can't expect dramatic improvement in a week, I will take some rest until I fix my bike (or maybe just buy a new bike) - I don't want to hurt my knees/back. I called a bike shop and new commuter bikes are not as expensive as I thought. I did yoga today and my back feels way better. Probably stretching the hamstrings/opening hips helps a lot.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:47 AM on April 26, 2012

Response by poster: Also if anybody is still reading this - is there a safe way for me to signal a left turn while going downhill? Oncoming traffic does not stop.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2012

Turning left at speed:

First, take the lane, i.e. put your bike in the middle of your traffic lane, blocking the cars behind you. This controls the traffic behind you.

Secondly, assess on-coming traffic.

If safe to turn, signal BEFORE starting the turn, while moving in a straight line. Replace left hand on bars, brake if you need to, then make turn.

If not safe to turn, stop, standing over bike, left arm extended to indicate turn. When safe, remount and proceed to make turn.
posted by bonehead at 12:51 PM on April 26, 2012

And brake early, as you lose a lot of your braking ability when signalling. This would be multiplied if you're 200lb. Personally, if I had to brake on a (steep?) hill to turn across oncoming traffic & with impatient tailgaters behind, I'd consider changing my route.

The signalling is, of course, 100% for the benefit of the cars behind you; the oncoming ones don't have any reason to care, so the earlier you can let the people behind you know your intentions, the more time they'll have to change lanes, or at least mentally prepare themselves for the fact that they'll be slowed down for a while.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:37 PM on April 26, 2012

Another alternative: make a box turn left instead if you have 4 way lights. Stay in the right lane as you go down the hill and:

If your light is green: proceed to the other side of the street, then turn your bike so you can proceed on the cross street.

If your light is red: brake at the red, check for traffic, then cross your current street at the crosswalk. When the light changes, cross to the opposite corner, turn left, and proceed along the road.

I turn left in the left lane most of the time, but if I'm going at speed down a hill and there is no dedicated left turn lane, I will switch to a box turn if I feel crowded or suspicious of the drivers behind me.
posted by maudlin at 3:21 PM on April 26, 2012

Yeah, you're going to be doing this every day so you have to absolutely reduce your risks - even a vanishingly small 0.1% chance of accident would mean you're going to get hit within 3 years (or hit in half that time if it's a risk both directions), you really want to pull out the stops on safety.
With that in mind, any intersection that's dangerous, I get in the habit of turning pedestrian every time and walking my bike across, (in my case, usually at crosswalk/lights, since the tricky areas around here are multi-lane major intersections).

(In some intersections, the crosswalk gives better odds of getting through earlier too, but it sounds like in your case it's a minor sidestreet, so maybe there's no crosswalk)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:30 AM on April 27, 2012

Those cross traffic turns can be nasty on a busy road. particularly at speed downhill. Most of the time I will make a box turn as I just don't trust the cars behind me to notice and respect that I have the right to block traffic.

Its better to be cede the point and stay alive in this circumstance I think.
posted by mary8nne at 9:52 AM on May 1, 2012

Response by poster: Here is the resolution to the problems. I got my commute down to 10 min. I moved closer to work and bought a new bike. From my new location, I have just a couple of short steep hills. Now that I have a bike with a proper granny gear, I can now spin up the hills and I can make it.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:02 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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