making the cycling habit

I’ve talked before about my grand plan to cycle to work regularly, and how hard it’s been. I’ve gone on and on about it for something like a year now. All kinds of excuses have risen their ugly heads: it’s raining today, it’s raining too hard today, it’s too hot today, it’s too cold today, I don’t particularly want to crawl out of bed and face that mountain again. (To be fair, it’s a totally daunting mountain.)

Well, wait no longer — my plans are becoming reality. I’ve trained up a bit over the past month, and am now regularly cycling in to work at least twice a week. While I haven’t yet done it three times in a single week, I have no doubt at this point that I could do it and not die, and I certainly will do it the first time my schedule allows.

The hardest part of doing this — and this is totally one of those stereotypical Motivational Speaker Moments, but I’ve found it to be true — is just getting out the front door on my bike. Once I do that, the remainder is a challenge, but I’m committed to do it (at least that morning) and find the physical resources to do it. I’ll get to that one bend in the road halfway up the mountain and feel like something’s gonna burst and wonder oh ye gods why did I decide to do this again and then I’m over it and I know everything’s gonna be okay. It’s getting out the door that’s the decisive moment.

And the dividends? It’s still an effort, but it feels like it’s been getting easier, meaning I can challenge myself more — pushing harder, using higher gears. The way I took last year — going along Northbourne Ave to Adelaide Ave to Cotter Rd — was long, exposed to loud and annoying traffic, and generally not too pleasant. I’ve moved house since last year, so my new ride is about 21 km (13 miles) long each way, and I’ve got the round trip down to less than two hours, about half an hour shorter in total. Here’s the new route, which uses bike paths along Lake Burley-Griffin; it’s shaded by trees about a third of the way, it’s quiet, it’s quick, and I get to see birds!

By doing this I build about two hours of solid cardio (and some strength training for those quads) into my day from the start. It sounds like a lot of time, but it’s only half an hour more than if I commuted by car (50 min total) and then worked out at home (30-35 min), which seems eminently doable from a schedule point of view. It might seem like a luxury, but it’s not entirely academic — high blood pressure runs in my family, and I’m trying to make sure mine stays as low as possible for as long as possible before middle age wins.

I definitely find myself waking up substantially earlier, and with more energy, than I used to. Less inclined to stay up till 2 AM working on physics stuff, but I get that time back by working much harder and better in the earlier parts of the day than I used to. The last time I remember having this kind of get-stuff-done mentality was in the last year of my Ph.D., which isn’t surprising since I was in thesis mode and therefore savagely focused. On the other hand, I was cycling at least 10 miles round trip to/from work 3-4 times a week. Coincidence? Mmmmaybe. You decide.

Finally, cycling twice a week also cuts my petrol use and costs by about 40%, and it’ll be 50% on average if I can cycle three days (MWF) every other week. So now I can go have drinks with my numerous friends (mostly Emily’s friends) in Australia’s Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency with a cleaner conscience than I might otherwise have. (But let’s face it, we all still use resources, and we use a lot of them. It’s a matter of doing the best we can with what we have.)

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About Richard

I'm an American scientist who is building a new life in Australia. This space will contain words about science and math, but also philosophy, policy, literature, my travels, occasional rants, all sorts of things I find strange and awesome. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer at the time (currently University of Sydney), though personally, I think they should.
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