Pedaling down Lincoln Avenue in Waukesha, Wisconsin, just after seven in the morning, I pass a line of truck trailers parked at the back of a vacant lot where an old foundry once stood. Just ahead, a two-block long brick factory dominates one side of the street, on the other is one of the city’s last operating foundries.
The asphalt on which I ride is pocked with patches to repair damage from the 18-wheelers that muscle their way in and out of the docks of the industrial buildings on a street that dead-ends at a bike trail. That’s my destination this early March day on the inaugural ride of my ninth season as a bicycle commuter.
A half-mile ride on the trail, cross a six-lane highway, cut through the lots of two car dealers, cross another six-lane highway, a half-mile ride through an industrial park, and I’m at work.
There are no shoulders on the highway that I take when I drive to work, so this cobbled route is the best that I can do for my bicycle commute.
I have two routes to choose from, depending on the weather and the time of the year. One has a hill that I don’t like to go down in the rain, and the other passes through wetlands that can be blocked by geese in the late spring and early summer. (They are not to be messed with when they are nesting. Believe me.)
I can also choose to add a loop in the morning or a ride on the bike trail after work, if I want to put in some miles. I try to add variety to keep the ride interesting, but even if I fall into a routine, there are certain aspects that I always enjoy ¾ a left turn made at full speed and popping through a curb cut after sprinting across six-lanes of traffic are a couple of favorites.
My bicycle commuting started in the summer of 2010, when my oldest daughter needed a car to drive to her classes at Marquette University. My wife and I owned two cars at the time; she drove one to work and I used the other to get to my job.
With two cars and three drivers, my options were limited. We could spend $5,000 for a car that was only needed for the summer, or I could stop talking about riding to work and actually do it. Family economics made the choice clear — I was a bicycle commuter.
I had planned to ride through the summer, and then I’d be back to four wheels. But something interesting happened; I preferred bicycle commuting to driving. Instead of quitting at the end of summer, I rode into November, when it became too dark and too cold to continue.
The next spring, my daughter was living on campus and didn’t need a car to get to her classes. It didn’t matter. My car stayed in the garage; I was now a bicycle commuter. It’s been that way ever since.
I can honestly say that riding to and from work is the best part of my day. The weather is undependable, and I have tangled with car drivers more than once, but the commute is better on two wheels. So, I ride.