Whether it’s for fitness, for fun or to save the planet, there’s plenty of reasons to bike to work. There’s also plenty of excuses not to.
This week, The Smoky Mountain News sought out two people who make biking to work part of their lifestyle and asked them how they do it. Turns out, they have a perfectly good solution to excuses laid on by the rest of us — and some extra benefits we hadn’t thought of.
Odell Thompson is one of the few bike commuters with long-distance fans.
While sitting in his architect’s office in downtown Sylva last Friday, an email popped up from his parents in Texas who caught a glimpse of Thompson riding into work that morning on a web cam trained on Main Street.
“We saw your yellow bike go by on the web cam,” they wrote.
When Thompson started biking to work almost five years ago, it changed his life in ways he didn’t expect. Initially his impetus was exercise. Thompson’s bike ride from Cullowhee to Sylva takes about 30 minutes, compared to a 10-minute drive. But the extra time on this bike three days a week is what he should be spending on exercise anyway. Thompson likes to think of it as killing two birds with one stone.
“I am getting to work and getting home, and by the way I am getting an hour of exercise a day,” said Thompson, 49.
But what surprised Thompson was how much it added to his outlook on life.
“Riding to work gives me a good way to clear my mind before the day starts. At the end of the day when I need to decompress, riding home gives me the period of time and physical exertion to leave work at work and take care of myself mentally,” Thompson said.
Thompson doesn’t mind riding in the rain or in the cold of winter. It’s all about the right clothing, be it rain gear or warm layers. He carries his work clothes in a satchel on his bike and changes at the office. On hot days, he freshens up by taking a washcloth to his face and neck.
A common excuse among non-bikers is that they need their car during the course of the workday. While it is indeed a deal killer for some, Thompson knows ahead of time what days he has appointments out of the office and what days will be spent at his own desk, and therefore schedules his rides accordingly.
While it’s impossible not to worry about cars when riding a bike, Thompson takes several precautions to reduce the risks.
“My bicycle is very visible. I have yellow bags and yellow fenders and flashing lights all over it. I feel like I am visible enough and the cars will see me, but you are always aware,” Thompson said.
As an added perk, Thompson likes the fact he’s not using fossil fuels, especially last summer when a gas shortage led to long lines and high prices.
“I would pedal by and just look at everyone in line at the gas station and smile,” Thompson said.
Thompson believes he is doing his part for a more sustainable society.
“We need to adjust our thinking about everybody being able to drive everywhere in their own little hermetically sealed capsule, in particular here in the mountains because there is not a lot of flat land to build new roads,” he said.
Thompson said while saving the planet is a worthy cause, exercise remains his top motive.
Thompson’s final piece of advice: commit yourself for at least a month before throwing in the towel.
“The first time your butt will be sore and you will say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore. That sucks.’ But if you do it religiously two times a week for a month, after that you are hooked,” Thompson said.
“Mast Transit” style
When the Mast General Store launched its “Mast Transit” program last year, offering a bonus of $4 a day to employees who biked to work, the timing couldn’t have been better for Jay Schoon.
Schoon, who works in the outfitters department of the Mast Store in Waynesville, was already contemplating a “bike to work” New Year’s Resolution.
He had a dilemma, however. He lived about 20 miles away from work in the rural Fines Creek countryside. The distance wasn’t an issue, nor a killer climb along the way. Schoon’s problem was the narrow country road with no shoulder during the first part of his ride.
Until a solution dawned on him. Why not drive half way, park his car at a roadside truck stop and bike the rest?
“I was being stubborn about living too far away,” Schoon said. “It just dawned on me I could drive part way.”
Mast compromised and gives Schoon $3 a day instead of $4 since he is still using his car some.
He actually applies the $3 to a life insurance policy that he probably would cut from his monthly budget otherwise.
“It pays for my life insurance in case I do get run over.” said Schoon, who’s 39.
As an added precaution, Schoon has a rearview mirror on his sunglasses to keep an eye on cars behind him.
He also stumbled upon a lovely shortcut that departs from the road and follows a newly created greenway from Lake Junaluska into downtown, making the majority of his ride very pleasant and car free.
“I love my bike ride,” Schoon said.
Schoon would recommend the drive-part-way, bike-part-way solution to anyone facing a similar stumbling block.
“Find a killer route, even if it is not on your way,” he said.
Schoon doesn’t wear special bike attire. Working at an outfitters store, a fleece sweatshirt and hiking pants are accepted work apparel, and ideal for pedaling in to work as well. Schoon is a self-described “lifestyle biker.” He’d always ridden his bike as a preferred mode of transportation — including on his first date with the woman who’s now his wife — and didn’t like giving it up just because he moved to the rural countryside far from town.
The time on his bike in the morning and afternoon has made a world of difference in his life.
“I was missing something. Part of my lifestyle was not quite right,” said Schoon.