Sunday, May 31, 2015

Not caring I didn't make 500 miles

As of 7:30 p.m. on May 31, I have ridden 463 miles this month. I have no plans to ride anywhere in the next couple hours, let alone 37 miles. That's not what I do. That's not why I ride.

I do not ride to go touring. I rarely ride for charity, except to marshal rides so others can. I do not ride in the woods, other than on a trail that happens to be along where I planned to travel anyway. I often enough ride for social reasons, but really all that is is a transportation ride that just happens to be where several (hundred) others are going, too. No, I am first and foremost a commuter, a utility rider. If there's somewhere I need to go, and it makes sense to do it by bike, I will.

Ages ago, it seems, I grew disaffected with cars. I've mentioned many times before, around 1990 I had four cars on the road, and often all four cars moved in a single day, certainly in the space of a week. Keeping all this rolling stock in acceptable mechanical repair was costing me a fortune. Two died in two years and were not replaced. A third was taken out in a wreck, but I consciously chose not to replace it, as I discovered public transit was a viable, if difficult option. But from 1995 on, we were a one-car household.

Simply put, the money saved in maintaining one car instead of four allowed me to get a Masters degree, pay off the house eight years early, and put away a sizable amount for our kids' college. But that was transit savings. Bikes were not in the picture yet.

Enter a long period of unemployment. Every dollar got argued over. Every nickel was squeezed until the buffalo howled. I carefully tracked every expense that wasn't a utility bill. Quickly I realized gasoline was the most controllable expense. The bus was a simple, annual expense already built into the budget, but fuel was not. A $25 fill-up was inevitable, but every 10 days or every 15? Could I stretch it to 17? 20? I could if I began replacing non-commute trips with a bike. (She worked, I didn't, and it simply was not possible to make her trip by bus.)

The more I tried it, the more I realized it was possible to get around by bike. I shared what I knew on the Bike-Pgh message board with other kindred souls, and learned from them in return. When job possibilities did materialize, I found that the trip to and from could actually be done, many in not much more time than it took for the bus to get me there. By 2009-2010, I was trying a bike commute in the winter, and on the occasional weekend shift when the bus just wouldn't work.

By 2012, I was tracking mileage, and was thus able to see my mileage build up over time. That year, I racked up 1,900 miles. My downtown job made bike commuting as desirable as the 2011 transit service cuts made it necessary. Access to changing facilities, as in the 2009 job, made it easy to clean up after a sweaty trip in. In 2013 I rode 2,554 miles. An analysis of my bus riding habits, as tracked by Twitter, showed I would only have used $1,200 in fare, but I paid in $1,600.

By 2014, I'd learned much more about cyclists' road rights, and exercised them. This opened things up ever so much more. With a clear move away from transit, I now regularly racked up 300-mile months, with occasionally 400-mile months. By year's end, I had over 3,500 miles under me. But 500 miles a month seemed unreachable.

Come May 2015, I was commuting by bike as a matter of course, the weather was amenable to riding both ways, and of course, very few trips by bus. Every day I could bike both ways was $7.50 I didn't spend, and those savings add up. As of today, I only used $30 in bus fare all month, as compared to the $146/month the bus pass would have cost me.

The point is, transit is still very much an option. I do ride when the weather is crappy, and also when I need to work on something, usually a reading or writing project. Practice for speeches is often done on my walk to or from the bus, which makes it worth the trip.

Yet 500 is itself not a goal. It's a barometer, not a milestone. I don't "need" to "reach" a 500-mile level. If I do, it's because my riding has reached a level where that's now what I do, not the other way around, to want to hit 500 so I ride more.

Maybe next month. Maybe there will be one more group ride. (I didn't do the 15-mile Critical Mass ride trip on Friday.) Maybe there won't be a missing work day (Memorial Day). Maybe I'll go somewhere on a Saturday, when I rarely go more than a half mile from the house. Maybe I'll pick up some evening meetings to attend, which usually add a few miles to the daily tally.

In any event, 463 is still a personal best, eclipsing the previous PB by a couple dozen miles. I'll take it, and have no regrets.