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Monday, September 14, 2020

Your Go-To Route

Once committed to commuting by bike (see prior post Commit), the next step is to find a go-to route. One route to go to work. One route to go home. They may be the same, but not necessarily.

You may have many, many options. You may have only a few. But seek that go-to route. And find it now before the weather turns cold. By then you'll be ready to take on the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge. Icy Bike Challenge.

Riding to work on a quiet fall morning along the Rapid City bike path.
That's the southwest side of M-Hill in the background.

Start with safety. Part of the magic of bike commuting for me is the relaxing ride into work in the early morning, my favorite time of the day, and the decompressing ride from work, to leave work at work. This magic has a chance to happen when the route is safe.

So, I look for a go-to route that carries little to no traffic. That probably won't be the most direct route and almost certainly won't be the one you drive. Absent a bike path or lane, look for wide shoulders, good sight lines, lower speeds, lower volume, well controlled intersections, and minimal driveways to parking lots and houses. If there's any traffic on your route, you want to be able to see it and hear it, especially at intersections. Assume no driver sees you.

Avoid routes that lead directly into low sun, which blinds everyone. If needed, change routes with the seasons, or change your time of day on that route. Do what it takes to avoid riding into that low sun.

My path home. Memorial Park looking west toward M-Hill.
Yes, that's a white concrete "M" on that hill, representing South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

My most direct, car-driving route to work is less than 4 miles, mostly on a busy 4 lane road with 50+ mph traffic and a narrow shoulder. The rare occasion I bike commute on that road is not all that relaxing or safe. Over the years, drivers have buzzed me, swerved toward me, honked at me just as they're passing, screamed at me, and even hit me between the shoulder blades with a thrown soda. Most drivers are fine, but all it takes is one. I don't ride that road very often.       

However, if I'm running late, riding in before traffic, or facing particularly nasty weather, I may ride that road, or a portion of it anyhow. Typically, after about 1.5 miles, I jump onto a bike path for most of the remaining 2.5 miles. That takes the edge off a bit.

My go-to route is longer, more like 6 miles, but much more relaxing. And that's some bonus time on the bike. Here in Rapid City, a bike path follows Rapid Creek through a continuous ribbon of parks spanning the width of most of the city. From home, I meander through quiet neighborhoods for over a mile in the wrong direction before eventually hopping on the bike path. Then I ride the well-maintained bike path winding all the way to downtown.

My go-to route is embarrassingly easy and safe: mostly bike path, separate from traffic, relatively short, flat, protected from the worst of the wind, and scenic. The city even plows the bike path promptly after our frequent snow storms. I really don't have a reason not to ride every day.

Detour on some skinny dirt roads on Skyline Park right by downtown.
I took this picture one day taking "The Long Way Home."

Of course, I don't ride the same route every day. I've found many alternatives, including some stretches of gravel alleys and limestone paths. Also, with M-Hill and Skyline Park right by downtown, I can catch some amazing single track on my ride home. And there's always Skyline Drive for some fast, curvy pave, if you're willing to climb a bit. (see prior post The Long Way Home).

In any event, all those alternatives come with time. The starting point is finding a go-to route to get to work, ready to work, and a go-to route to get home, dropping work along the way.

First, commit. Then, find your way.

Getting ready to roll some ridge line pave on Skyline Drive on a "Long Way Home."

Addendum for those with a "too long" commute:  It doesn't have to be all or nothing. That is, if your commute is too far to ride your bike, create an alternative. One way is to drive some and ride some. For many years in Denver, I enjoyed a 27 mile one-way commute that I would ride on occasion. Typically, however, I drove 10 miles of busy roads to a public transportation park-n-ride, where hundreds of train commuters parked their cars all day. From there, I rode on a bike path winding 16 miles along the South Platte River, leaving but a mile in traffic across downtown Denver. Find your way.

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