A Commuter Story: Part Of Who I Am

This is a guest blog prompted by the question “What is your commuter story?” Read more of Robert Grunau’s writing at http://robertgrunau.com/

The choice to commute on a bike was a financial one. My first commuter bike, cost me $250, or thereabouts, which happened to be the cost for a parking pass for the semester. There was the small fact that at twenty-four years old I weighed a hundred-eighty-five pounds. Forty pounds over my High School running weight. Beer, too much food, and a lack of physical activity was to blame for the extra weight.

My girlfriend at the time, who was tall beautiful and slim, was calling me fat, a fact that could not be denied. I wanted to get trim again, which is why I bought the shitty Mongoose mountain bike from a big box sports retailer. I can’t remember what possessed me to make the six mile trip to work on my bike one day at the beginning of August 2003.

I rode mountain bikes through High School, along with running running cross country, so I was skinny and fit once, getting it back shouldn’t be too hard? No? That first ride was awful. It was humid and I lost what felt like my body weight in sweat (one could dream) and I rode the sidewalk the whole way into Downtown Cleveland.

There was something about the how hard it was that made me want to do it again. This time in the street, where it was faster, and surprisingly safer. I decided on a two week trial run, to see how feasible this plan was. Those two weeks were in August, but somehow figured those two weeks would be a good barometer for what a year of commuting would be like.

Winter was a wake up call. Cleveland winters can push the mercury as low as negative ten. With a newer, faster, fixed gear commuter I managed to survive. My relationship didn’t.

By the spring I was nearly militant about my riding. I still drove from time to time, sometimes to get groceries, or to go out to the bookstores, but all trips within ten miles became bike rides. I love commuting by bike because of how it made me feel. I love how it changed my view of the city I grew up in. I no longer cruised through town encased in a steel and plastic bubble. I became an active part of my city. I found roads I never knew existed. Roads still made of brick tucked away graveyards in the heart of the city, and my favorite, a church built before the civil war. I also loved it because it set me apart from all the people who paid for parking passes. I was special, because of the bike.

Ten years down the road most of my trips are still done by bike. But what’s gone now is the feeling of being apart. My bike commuting is no longer something that makes me special (especially here in Portland), but has become something I just do. A normal part of who I am. Which is better than being set apart.


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