The bike path in September is like the gym in January

Single red maple leaf isolated on white.

And I’m trying to be supportive.

If you’re a person into fitness and physical activity, you likely get competing feelings when lots of people want to do what you’re doing. We all joke about how crowded the gym is in January and how empty it will be again a month or so later. We are both unhappy that there are line ups for all the equipment and happy that more people are joining in. Later, we’re happy the crowds are gone and sad that they didn’t stick with it. We all wonder how we could make the gym more welcoming and supportive for new people.

That’s the same set of conflicting feelings I have every September. For students and professors, September 1 is our January and we play it out, not at the gym, but on the multi-use pathway to campus. This will be the year that I won’t take the car/bus. This is the year that I’ll bike/walk to campus. Just watch me riding/biking. And the fall really is the very best time of the year to ride. See Reasons to start riding in the fall and There’s a certain chill to the air and The Joys of Fall Riding.

But I also know that in a few weeks they’ll be gone. The first rainy day will take some of them out. The first morning frost will be too much for others. Once it starts to get dark early you need to buy lights to commute. Come late fall I’m riding in and home again in the dark. And like February/March in the gym, I’ve got mixed reactions. First, wheee! Zoom! I’ve got the path to myself again. Second, where are you? What stopped you? How can I help?

The best program I’ve seen to get people riding to university was in Australia. (Of course.) As a regular commuting cyclist you got paired with someone near you who wanted to ride to work. You signed up and committed to ride with them for a week. You got to answer questions about bike storage and about what to wear. At the end of the week the university cycling program bought you both breakfast at the campus cafe most often frequented by regular commuting cyclists. I was still getting used to riding on the left then so I didn’t volunteer but it struck me as a great idea.

What kind of support do you think beginning commuting cyclists need most? What would help you?

7 thoughts on “The bike path in September is like the gym in January

  1. Interesting. As a pedestrian I find the multi-use pathway to be sort of scary sometimes all through the summer as well. Lots of cyclists blast past with no warning. I have taken to walking very far over to the right edge or even on the grass. But is it quite the same as the gym in January now? I mean a lot of people are quite explicit that they are walking or riding only in good weather. I walk a lot but probably won’t continue through the cold and dark of most mid winter mornings. I would be even less likely to ride. Winter riding is not for everyone and I don’t think it’s a comment on someone’s commitment if they don’t opt to do it. Having said that, the Australia program sounds great.

    1. Yeah, I get that not everyone rides into the winter. But I’m always shocked at how soon the morning riders go away. The path clears out pretty much completely by October. I also hear you about speed. I keep myself to the speed limit and ride below 20 km/hr very deliberately and I get passed a lot. Zoom! My beef with runners and walkers in the winter in the dark are earbuds and lack of reflective gear. I’m slow and cautious and I’ve nearly hit people who can’t hear my bell and are dressed in all black!

  2. I never picked up biking mainly because people drive crazy where I live, and for biking paths there actually making an effort there were barely any bike paths before. Though they still cut off eventually and you have to navigate on the road. At work there’s also no place to park it except for where cars park and the mentality of people here they would just move your bike so they can park their car haha

  3. The biggest thing for me is proper snow clearing. We are finally starting to get decent cycling infrastructure in Ottawa, but the paths aren’t cleared in the winter, and the bike lanes on roads, marked only by paint, become the dumping ground for snowplows. I cycle as late as January, but once there is significant snow on the ground, I switch to walking and busing until Spring.

    1. I’ve bought a fat bike this year so I can ride on snow. Will report back on how it goes!

  4. I admit that I am one of those people when it comes to using the commuter rail to work. The problem is that it takes enormous effort and loads of time to take bus to subway to commuter rail to walk to office– 1:45–2 hours each way. Yuck! So I try it a few times each fall, and then realize it’s just too much trouble, even though I dislike the one-hour drive each way. I suppose if I kept it up, I would get used to the time expenditure (yes, I can work on the commuter rail– 45 minutes each way).

    The Australia program, though, is a way to help people get acclimated to the less-pleasant features of bike commuting, and encourage them in moving through that process.

    Maybe there’s some middle ground here. I’m doing the bike/subway/train commute because I have dentist appt downtown. I’m riding the Brompton to the subway and seeing how having my bike with me the whole way to and from goes. Making change incremental and pleasurable in some incentivizing ways is a good thing, but sometimes a tall order.

  5. For beginning commuter cyclists, it helps that someone accompanies them to become familiar with several different bike routes. Try it out on weekends.

    I’ve been fortunate for Vancouver during 2 different commuter bike routes for 2 different employer locations at different times of my life, my partner was highly motivated as a retiree, to get out of bed at 6:30 am and cycle with me for 1 hr. into Stanley Park..before I parted going to workplace. This was quadrupling distance route to get some fitness. For another route, he cycled and met me halfway near an LRT station where upon my return, I got off the train and got my parked bike in a paid bike locker at the station and the 2 of us rode the remaining 10 km. home. I had very long complicated bike commuter route to a major construction engineering site out in the suburbs that included cycling, getting onto commuter train with bike, getting off and parking at bike locker, then transferring to bus. Then I walked 15 min. to construction site. It took over 1.5 hrs. 1 way. Thankfully only my work contract lasted only 3 yrs!

    When living in Toronto, Vancouver I usually left home on bike early for work when bike path/pedestrian traffic was low. Often returning home, it was a busier in certain sections. Some of my commuter bike routes were approx. 80% bike path and rest on road. Distances ranged from 8 km. to 32 km. round trip, depending on where I lived and employer’s location.

    For the occasional alertness on busy sections of a bike path at certain times, it’s small negative compared to big benefit of distressing, overall fitness ….for nearly free except for cost of minor bike maintenance and some cycleable clothing.

    For newbies, experienced cyclists might overplay the bike path busyness (and I live in cities over 1 million people each time) if one reschedules if possible to start work earlier and end work earlier. I start work at 7:30 am at my desk and finish at 4:00 pm. I’ve negotiated this with 90% of my employers. No problem. Your sell: reduce traffic congestion. Because City of Toronto and Toronto Transit Commission beg of this to residents and employers!

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