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  1. #1
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    9 mile one-way commute - need advice - beginner

    Hi,

    I'm really wanting to get back into shape, and I've decided to take up bicycling in order to help accomplish that goal. Additionally, I find it silly that I'm driving to work when it's ~ 9 miles, dealing with traffic/road closures (thank you SA), and in general making the 9 miles in 30 minutes via car.

    Now, I do have a MTB, a Trek Fuel EX 5.5, which I realize is not ideal for a commuter. That said, it'll probably cause me to work harder to commute, so health-wise, it might work out for the best.

    So, on to the questions.

    #1 - Here's a link to the approximate commute (used even street numbers, it is the internet, it works out to ~8.1 miles when coming from/to exact addresses.) http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=e...,0.160675&z=13

    Is this something reasonable for somebody who is ~20lbs overweight, but in generally decent shape? Would this commute, both to/from, 4 days a week be a relatively decent bit of exercise? Is there a better online tool to map out routes for bicyclists? I suppose I could go buy some maps and do it by hand, if it came to that. Also, please feel free to tell me to shove off with the questions, I do realize without having done the ride/seen those roads, there are a lot of variables (incline/etc) at play. I honestly don't know myself, I'm thinking about giving it an attempt tomorrow during the day - which brings me to the next question.

    #2 - I work 10pm - 9am, four days a week. So, I'd be traveling at those times (+/- commute time). With a decent light on the front, decent light on the rear, and proper safety gear - assuming I'm not riding on any unlit streets, is it safe? This is a question for the experienced commuters who have put some years into it, I think that's really the only way to get a feel for the "safety" of certain actions.

    #3 - Do you have any suggestions for an absolute newbie? I won't bike when it's raining - worst case scenario will be a sudden thunderstorm so I'll get wet on the way home, but I'm not worried about that - it's nothing a shower can't fix.

    I really appreciate any advice/input you can give me!

    Cheers,
    David

  2. #2
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    Sounds like traveling to work at night may be an issue. I would invest in a really good light and anything that helps you to be seen at night.

    I assume you have knobbie tires on your Fuel? I would swap them out a decent slick that shold help reduce the effort of your ride.

    I am a newbie as well and the tires really made a big difference. I ride 10 miles to work and it was a piece of cake. The only problem I have had is after I get to work, I am hot and sweaty and getting cool and clean is tough.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe-Joe
    Sounds like traveling to work at night may be an issue. I would invest in a really good light and anything that helps you to be seen at night.

    I assume you have knobbie tires on your Fuel? I would swap them out a decent slick that shold help reduce the effort of your ride.

    I am a newbie as well and the tires really made a big difference. I ride 10 miles to work and it was a piece of cake. The only problem I have had is after I get to work, I am hot and sweaty and getting cool and clean is tough.
    I plan on riding trails fairly often, so swapping tires won't work so well - well - unless I figure out how to get new wheels that'll work on my bike with different tires. That said, I'm after health initially, efficiency is secondary.

    I'm mostly worried about the night aspect, myself, so I'm really hoping some people who've done commutes at night will have some good feedback for me.

    Cheers,
    David

  4. #4
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    If I was going to be riding at night, I would try to stick to residential roads as much as possible. I am not sure from your Google map if the majority of your route is a major thoroughfare, but that could be dangerous at night.

    Get some reflective tape for your bike, helmet, and pack as well as some really good lights. Check out some Illuminite clothing line - their clothes are made to be reflective. WHATEVER you can do to be seen will be beneficial! If you take the proper precautions and purchase the proper gear, you should be fine.

    Change tires to semi-slicks!

    Do you have a shower at work? A place to keep a change of clothes? If you use a rack instead of a backpack, you can avoid sweating so much. Take a few changes of clothes to work once a week so you don't have to transport stuff each trip.

    Good luck!
    Matt

  5. #5
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    #1: It'll work out to a little more than 1 hour of cardio per day you commute. If you supplement this with a little bit of weight training you'll be buff in no time.

    Looks like you've chosen some major roads to ride on. I'm not familiar with the route nor the streets but in general, you want to ride on roads with speed limits less than 35 mph. It doesn't look feasible looking at your route but there are alot of little paths that google doesn't show on my route so I'm sure there might be some on yours as well.

    #2: Riding at night is great. I feel that I am at least 100x more visible at night than I am during the day. I use a dinotte 600L and a dinotte taillight. I have my bike and helmet plastered with reflective tape and use tires with reflective sidewalls. I've been told my bike looks like an UFO by co-workers at night.

    My lighting system is probably overkill but there are parts of my commute that are pitch dark and the worst parts alternate between pitch black and a streetlamp. It's usually just enough to mess up your nightvision. If you have plenty of street lamps, you can probably get away with a much dimmer light if you want.

    #3: I would buy a dedicated commuter bike for alot of reasons. Mountain bikes suck on the road. You can't put proper fenders on a mountain bike. You have a really nice mountain bike that will scream: "STEAL ME!". The added effort to get to work as extra exercise is great but remember that you can ALWAYS add more miles by changing your route. It's alot harder to shorten it if you need to.

    Look for an older steel touring bike from the 80s in good shape. There are always some on craigslist. I wish I did this to start instead of burning all kinds of money on newer hybrids and road bikes.

    Riding in the rain is actually kinda nice. Just make sure wash off road debris and relube as soon as you can. Full fenders help alot to make riding in the rain enjoyable.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Industrial
    #1: It'll work out to a little more than 1 hour of cardio per day you commute. If you supplement this with a little bit of weight training you'll be buff in no time.

    Looks like you've chosen some major roads to ride on. I'm not familiar with the route nor the streets but in general, you want to ride on roads with speed limits less than 35 mph. It doesn't look feasible looking at your route but there are alot of little paths that google doesn't show on my route so I'm sure there might be some on yours as well.

    #2: Riding at night is great. I feel that I am at least 100x more visible at night than I am during the day. I use a dinotte 600L and a dinotte taillight. I have my bike and helmet plastered with reflective tape and use tires with reflective sidewalls. I've been told my bike looks like an UFO by co-workers at night.

    My lighting system is probably overkill but there are parts of my commute that are pitch dark and the worst parts alternate between pitch black and a streetlamp. It's usually just enough to mess up your nightvision. If you have plenty of street lamps, you can probably get away with a much dimmer light if you want.

    #3: I would buy a dedicated commuter bike for alot of reasons. Mountain bikes suck on the road. You can't put proper fenders on a mountain bike. You have a really nice mountain bike that will scream: "STEAL ME!". The added effort to get to work as extra exercise is great but remember that you can ALWAYS add more miles by changing your route. It's alot harder to shorten it if you need to.

    Look for an older steel touring bike from the 80s in good shape. There are always some on craigslist. I wish I did this to start instead of burning all kinds of money on newer hybrids and road bikes.

    Riding in the rain is actually kinda nice. Just make sure wash off road debris and relube as soon as you can. Full fenders help alot to make riding in the rain enjoyable.
    Thank you for all the input! I actually didn't "choose" those roads, Google did. I think I'm just going to have to order some "real" maps and manually map out a route. Hopefully I can find a way to do it to keep the roads 30mph or less by in large.

    Will def. take the rest of your comments into consideration!

    Cheers,
    David

  7. #7
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    9 miles is not too bad. I wouldn’t do anything to the bike for now…just ride. Lights are another story. You need them to help others see you more then to see where your going. I use night rider lights because that is what I have for night time trail riding however they are a little pricy. There are many alternatives when it comes to lights including some cheep functional diy’s. A reflective vest or jacket will also help others see you. Then a rack to carry the work necessities can be found inexpensively and that clamp on to the seat post for easy installation and removal for those of us who’s bikes pull double duty. Access to showers and lockers are helpful but there are alternatives. I have a lot of gear that I need for work and there is no way to carry it all on my bike and the lockers at work are not large enough either so I park one car at work and commute on my bike. If the weather turns, I need my car, or I do not feel up to the ride home I just load the bike and drive.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by gnslr
    9 miles is not too bad. I wouldn’t do anything to the bike for now…just ride. Lights are another story. You need them to help others see you more then to see where your going. I use night rider lights because that is what I have for night time trail riding however they are a little pricy. There are many alternatives when it comes to lights including some cheep functional diy’s. A reflective vest or jacket will also help others see you. Then a rack to carry the work necessities can be found inexpensively and that clamp on to the seat post for easy installation and removal for those of us who’s bikes pull double duty. Access to showers and lockers are helpful but there are alternatives. I have a lot of gear that I need for work and there is no way to carry it all on my bike and the lockers at work are not large enough either so I park one car at work and commute on my bike. If the weather turns, I need my car, or I do not feel up to the ride home I just load the bike and drive.
    I actually don't need to tote anything to/from work, with the exception of the occasional lunch bag, which I'm sure will fit in my camelbak hawg (along with any other random thing/paperwork i might have to tote.)

    No showers/lockers at the current place, but I could probably bring a change of clothing in my bag and just go that route.

    Thanks again, everyone!

    David

  9. #9
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    Just do it, do it, do it....you're soon gonna be wondering why the HELL you drove all those years! I sure do...

  10. #10
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    Your route looks a little...

    on the risky side. Major roads with lots of businesses, shopping centers etc. in a couple of places. These are danger areas for a commuter. High traffic volume and lots of motorists making turns into parking lots. Try to avoid them, route around them if you can. Minimize your time and distance on busy streets whenever possible. Google Maps is actually an excelent resourse for planning a commute route. Instead of using just the plain map, use the sattelite photo map feature. It gives you a pretty clear picture of what lies along your route as far as business types etc. Shopping centers, factories, etc. are readily visible and identifyable. Another plus of the sattelite map is it shows or gives hints of trails and paths that may be useable to you that the regular line drawn map won't show. This may allow you to shorten your route or avoid some high risk areas. Something else to consider on your route for the 10pm portion of it are bars and other "night spots". AVOID THEM LIKE THE PLAUGE!!! I'd go 5 miles out of my way to avoid a street with a bar or two on it at night!

    For lights. Don't go cheap on the front light when commuting at night. Especially if your route has unlighted or poorly lighted areas that you must ride through. While the primary purpose of lights is to let others see you, it is ESSENTIAL that you be able to see the road ahead in poorly lit areas. A good rechargeable high output light designed for riding off road at night works great. Yes their expensive, but they are one of the best investments that you can make if you need one. You have to be able to see potholes and other obsticals to be safe. The cheapy AA battery operated head lights won't be bright enough. If your route is well lit then they work fine, but other wise get a serious head light. For the rear a good bright battery operated red LED with a flash feature is all you need. They are bright and annoying when in the flash mode, but this is good as it attracts attention. Reflective tape and birghtly colored clothing are also very good ideas as well. As stated previously, anything that increases your visibility (whether it's dark or full light) is a plus.

    As for route planning, you can plan with google or a map until your old and gray, but the best way is to ride it. Otherwise all you've got is a route that you "think" will work. Ride the route on the weekend and see how it works. Keep in mind though that if your route passes through an industrial area it won't be even 1/4 as busy as it will be during the week.

    And finally, don't go into it with the idea that the ride to or from work is going to be a "work out". It won't be for the most part. Yes it's good for you, but it won't get you in the best shape of your life or anything close to it. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a route that has no intersections, traffic, etc. you won't be able to ride with the intensity that is needed. Yes it will get you in better shape, but you'd be better off actually seperating the "work out" from the commute. The things to key on are fun, saving money on fuel costs, and getting there and back again safely. Your attention needs to be focused on what is going on around you and obeying traffic laws, not keeping up a cadance so your heart rate doesn't drop! Ride to work because you love to ride. You'll lose weight and be in better shape for it. Just don't make that the primary reason for the commute. Plan work outs at other times.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Good Dirt
    "I do whatever my Rice Cripsies tell me to!"

  11. #11
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    There`s a lot of good advice here, OJ. I have a few things to add- Squash is right about needing good lights and trying to avoid the bad spots by other methods of route planning, but good lights don`t really need to be expensive. Look at the homebrew lights in the "bike lighting" forum and maybe you can put one together. And I second what Doggity says too- get yourself prepared as much as possible, then go for it. Maybe it`ll work out for you, maybe not but you`ll never know until you try and if you spend too much time thinking about it you`ll never do it. About the tires and the bike yeah, there are more suitable bikes for the job, but any bike will be capable. Try it for a while on what you already have and see what you think. Later, maybe get another or get a second wheelset. One thing nobody brought up yet is that you don`t have to start and ride both ways every day right from the get-go. If it`s rough the first time, try ridint twice a week on nonconsecutive days, then three times, then every day. Or keep riding just a few times a week. See how it goes. Good luck! Hope you like it.

  12. #12
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    Hi,

    I have a relatively inexpensive Cygo brand light that's plenty fine for commuting and even trail riding and we have one each of an inexpensive city bike and old bike with not so knobby tires. It is the way to go in terms of anti-theft, economy and a bike pleasant to ride.

    I used to commute just shy of 14 miles one way and now I work from home or commute much shorter distances. In the days of longer commute I'd wear bike clothes and then sort rinse and freshen up myself once at work.

    An inexpensive bike for general utility and errands is really worth considering because it keeps my wife and I burning more food and less gas too.

    Good luck.

  13. #13
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    Ride a route.

    Determine all the potential hazards.

    Mitigate each and every hazard.

    Approach from a particular direction, stop and wait, stay on sidewalk here etc.

    Once you have that route figured out start on an other route.

    I would suggest it will take you most of the summer to get three or four routes in the bag.

  14. #14
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    Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful advice. I'm taking it all under consideration. I'm going to pick a few routes from the map that look good, then go bike. From there, I'll figure out what will/won't work, and cross those bridges when I come to them.

    Again, thank you kindly, lots of wonderful advice, that'll go a long way for me!

    Cheers,
    David

  15. #15
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    Your challenges are getting under 281 and accross the I10/410 connundrum.

    Google comes up with a good route to start with.

    One thing that I would change from the start is I would avoid riding on San Pedro. From Basse you can turn north on McCullough then left onto Jackson Keller. Easy.

    Another thing I would try to avoid is riding on Wurzbach. But this will be trickier.

    You could take Callaghan across instead of Wurzbach, and Horizon Hill, zig zag the back way to Datapoint.

    But also look at the Google Map. Find Loop 410 exit 16. This is Cherry Ridge, it allows you to cross 410. It will be less busy than Jackson Keller/410. There are countless ways to get from Jackson-Keller to Cherry Ridge. You will have to find a street that crosses the railway tracks (or put that Trek 5.5 to use and ride over them, looking both ways first of course)

    From there you can take Pinebrook to Callaghan, across IH10. Right on Horizon Hill...

    This way will be longer, but will keep you off the main arteries.



    The fact that you are riding at off-hours is to your benefit. And saying on some of the more busy streets (like Jackson-Keller) may be better.

    Get a good headlight and a couple of strong blinkies.
    aLaN AT BikeMojo DOT com

  16. #16
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    Check out www.MapMyRide.com. It lets you choose which roads you want, calculates the distance, and shows you and elevation profile. Pretty cool!

    Matt

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by robbmatt
    Check out www.MapMyRide.com. It lets you choose which roads you want, calculates the distance, and shows you and elevation profile. Pretty cool!

    Matt
    Nice find! Thanks!
    Trying to win hearts and minds, but willing to stomp them if necessary.

  18. #18
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    I commute during the night and I use a front and back blinky and that is it- though most of my route is well-lit and/or decent pavement quality. The only time I almost got hit was because a guy ran a red light, so I'm pretty sure nothing would have helped. I have a lot more close calls when biking during the day. I think the biggest thing is to learn basic traffic patterns for your route. People driving take the same routes day after day and develop habits; memorizing potential problems will make the trip safer. Don't be scared of traffic and plan ahead. Uncertainty causes a lot of problems

    I think you can plan on taking longer than 30 minutes one way. As in, plan on 45. Do a test run during the weekend.

    Some of this stuff had been beat to death, so make sure to make good use of the search function.

  19. #19
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    To the original poster:

    In addition to good head and tail lights, I'd recommend investing in a couple bright flashing LED type signal lights. They are really eye-catching, and you just can't be too visible.

    A helmet mounted light is good because it shines where you look.

    Do you have somewhere you can store clothes at work? A guy I used to know that cycle commuted to an office job just kept all his work clothes at the office. He'd drive once a week and re-supply/pick up the laundry.

    I looked at that map you posted. It looks like there are some more direct routes that also take advantage of what appear to be residential streets. In my opinion, what you want are quiet streets and safe crossings of busy streets. Do some scouting on your days off.

    Lastly, if you do this and stick with it, I agree you should just get a basic bike for commuting. An older road bike, or an older mtn bike with slicks, will just be a more fun ride.

  20. #20
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    Commuting on a FS XC bike aint bad at all. I commute 18 miles round trip everyday on my FS Kona.

  21. #21
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    I think everyone that says "commuting on a FS mountain bike is okay" has never tried a road bike. My $165 1986 Univega road bike is faster, more comfortable and more practical than my $2000 FSR.

  22. #22
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    Hello from the Jefferson area.
    I commute into downtown and I know how bicycle unfriendly our drivers are.
    I grew up in the area of some of your commute.

    I took the liberty of mapping the way I would try 1st.
    The only sketchy part is up the hill on Callahan.
    It looks like a fun, challenging commute either way.
    Just leave 2 hours early your first time and of course, be careful.

    D'oh:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=e...,0.036435&z=15

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by elvez
    Just leave 2 hours early your first time and of course, be careful.

    I used to work in the Med Center, and live in the same area as David.

    One day I was driving home, and two guys on bikes passed me, as I sat at waiting to turn left at Callaghan/Horizon Hill. I waited through two lights. I passed them on Callaghan, then they passed me back as I sat at the light on Jackson-Keller/410....

    Long story short... we kept playing cat and mouse like this, and in the end, they beat me to Alamo Heights.

    I was slow (in afternoon traffic) and they were hauling a$$.... but they were faster than me.


    While it is wise to allot extra time the first few trips, in the end the commute should take 30-45 minutes.
    aLaN AT BikeMojo DOT com

  24. #24
    viva la v-brakes!
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    Bikes are like shoes. You get tough hiking boots for a day on the trail and a pair of sandals for keeping your feet cool and hanging around town. You have your MTB for the trail, now get a dedicated bike for commuter duty.

    For a cheap bike go with an old 27" wheeled road bike. Swap out the clapped-out old wheels for new 700c wheels and get some long reach BMX caliper brakes for the stopping. Or if you can afford it, get one of those fancy-pants street bikes many companies are making now, it will be a bit faster and more fun to ride. Don't ride a slow FS MTB in order to get a better workout. A faster/more fun bike will keep you motivated to ride, even on days when you might be tired. If you need a challenge take the long way home or stop by the grocery store and haul 40 pounds of groceries back to your abode.

    Be prepared for foul weather, you WILL get caught out in the rain so add fenders and have a spare pair of clothes available at work just in case.

    Get a rack and pannier or rack bag to carry your. Taking the weight of gear off your back will make you more comfortable and will reduce the sweaty-back syndrome on warm days. There are many companies making commuter specific panniers and such, couple one with another large cargo pannier for the other side on those days you're going to go do your grocery shopping after work.

    A lot of people have commented about getting lights and reflectors. My specific advice is to get a 1/2 watt LED flashing rear light like the Planet Bike Superflash for the rear and something in the range of a 3-watt LED for the main front light. A 1 W light mounted to your helmet will shine light wherever you look (such as at cars approaching your route from cross streets) and will act as a back-up in case the main light runs out of juice. As for reflective stickers, get the stuff you find at truck stops, auto parts stores and farm equipment stores, it is brighter and cheaper then the crap you find at bike shops. Cut it up to fit your needs. Ugly reflective stickers on your bike is another reason to have a second bike just for commuting.

    Welcome to the ranks and good luck.
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  25. #25
    You only have five bikes?
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    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, get some of that good 3M reflective tape and get it on your bike as well as your helmet. A good blinkie front and back, and reflective accents on your clothing. I feel as if I am more visible at night than during the daytime. I also run a headlamp on my helmet. Mine cost about $90, uses rechargeables, and last about a week of riding while on full burn.
    I rode a mtn bike for about a year, and have changed to an old road bike. I get through town much quicker with the road bike.
    Good tires, Armadillos or something similar. Lots of bad junk on the roadside. Schwalbe makes great reflective tires that last forever.
    Again, a rack and a pannier, or do as I did, a $15 dollar suitcase bungeed to the rack. It works, and no heat from something on your back.
    I almost always carry a rain coat of wind jacket for the ride home.
    Stick with it, and you will gain strength, as well as loads of respect from many coworkers wishing they had the guts to do what you are doing.
    Burnsey
    Stumpjumper Pro

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