The Path Less Pedalled

Winter is nearly over and I feel like I can officially say that I made it.

Almost one year ago I decided to start commuting to work by bicycle. At the time, I didn’t even consider the option to commute through the winter. I live in Manitoba, Canada, where we typically see cold temperatures, high winds and lot’s of snow.

Fall came and I started to realize that if I wanted to keep commuting by bike, I needed some better equipment. Studded tires seemed like a good option, maybe some fenders too. Clothing-wise, I had no idea.

The first snowfall feeling overly excited.

This was an odd winter to start commuting by bike. The snow started before November and didn’t disappear. December was extremely cold and it never seemed to let up. Along with the extreme cold, the winds were often gusting up to 50kmh. Luckily, it was often a headwind on the way to work and the tailwind would propel me home.

What did I learn

You don’t need a fancy bike or special clothes. There weren’t that many other “crazy people” like me out there, but the ones I saw were typically wearing old ski suits, riding old junker bikes. Now that I’ve made it through winter, I can see the toll winter takes on ones bike.

— Studded tires aren’t necessary, but they help I splurged on a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, thinking it would be necessary. Though I see now that they weren’t, when the roads became hard-packed with snow, the studs definitely helped me stay upright and give you considerably more confidence.

— Fenders are a must Though I regularly changed at work from my commute, fenders were a lifesaver and helped reduce the amount of maintenance required. They don’t look great, they’re pretty noisy, but they work and keep you and your gear clean.

Bonus points for fender flaps.

Storing your bike inside is crucial. Even on the coldest days, snow and salt accumulates on your bike. If you let your bike sit outside in the cold, you’ll find yourself with nothing more than a bike-cycle when you try to leave for home.

— Regular maintenance is necessary. Within the first month of commuting in winter, my bike was making all sorts of squeaks and sounds I wasn’t familiar with. The build-up of grime got so bad that my rear derailleur seized up and I had to bring it to my local bike shop for a tune up. After this experience, I purchased a weed-sprayer and would fill it with hot water and spray/wipe down my bike at least once a week.

— Get a good headlight/tail light When the sidewalks aren’t plowed, your only option is to bike on the street. When the sun only comes up after 8:00am and sets before 5:00pm, you want to be as visible as possible. Make sure your headlight is bright enough so light the path ahead, at least 450 lumens. When it’s dark, it’s hard to see any bumps in the snow, or patches of ice.

Early morning frost on this mornings commute.

Final Thoughts

There were only a handful of days that I recall being discouraging, mostly because of the wind and not the cold. I actually wish that there would have been more days with snow. Snow is easy to bike in unless people have walked all over it and their footprints have frozen in place.

I felt so confident about biking through winter, I sold my car and now solely get around by bicycle. My wife still has a vehicle we get around on, and I do still take it out in the evening if I need to quickly pick something up. We really haven’t felt the inconvenience of only having one car, and our bank account is also much happier for my choice.

Commuting through winter certainly isn’t for everyone, and I’m fortunate that my job allows me to do so. Though I did find winter to be much easier than I initially thought, I’m looking forward to warmer weather and putting my new gravel bike to good use.

Canadian Winter by Bike

Lately I’ve been dwelling a lot on simpler times from when I was younger, riding bikes around all day, pushing the boundaries of my curfew, sleeping in without any place to be, other than to meet my friends at the skatepark sometime before lunch. The only thing that really mattered was that my bike was ready to ride all day.

I’ve grown up, I have a career, a wife, a house, a child… and these things take up time. I understand that. One thing I’ve noticed that eats up a lion’s share of my time, that wasn’t present in my early year, is my cell phone. I mean, I had a cell phone, but all I could do was call and text. Now, our phones are our life, they contain our calendars, emails, reminders, news, books, video games, social media, activity trackers…. distractions!

How much more time would we have without these devices in our lives? How much better would our relationships be if we put down our phones at the diner table? While watching television? While out for a family walk? While playing with our kids?

Switching how we use our phones

Here’s something that I’m trying out that you can try to. Delete everything on your phone except for the stock apps. Go ahead, give it a try. It sounds easy, but it’s a lot harder than you thing. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried this and weeks later found myself with a home screen full of time wasters.

It’s only a matter of days until I realize that I’m not present in my relationship with my wife and daughter, I give myself a shake and start the whole process over again. It’s not a change that can happen overnight, we’re addicts, but slowly over time you’ll find yourself requiring fewer and fewer apps, and find yourself more and more present in the moment.

My Home Screen

Every app on my phone lives on my home screen. I have a single folder that contains a few select apps that Apple still doesn’t let me delete or hide, otherwise here is what I see:

Nice and simple. I try to use the stock apps, as it syncs well with the apps on my MacBook, but Fantastical is worlds ahead of Apple in regards to the calendar app. Notifications are all off, other than from work & family phone calls or text messages and I have to manually refresh my email. Distractions are limited, and slowly but surely I can feel myself breaking the phone-reflex we all have where we needlessly check our phones.

The weather was the last thing that really required me to check on a regular basis. My reason for deleting it was simple: I’m biking to work regardless of the weather, and I always carry my rain gear on me anyway, so what does it matter if it’s going to rain or be +30, or if we’re expecting a blizzard, I’m always pretty well prepared.

The End Goal

My cell phone is my main office phone, so I know that I’ll always need one as long as I’m in this line of work. Having email is super convenient when in a meeting and I need to quickly pull up a message from the archives. The ability to take notes and sync them to my computer, or check a shared list or calendar with my wife is great. I don’t think I’ll ever get away without a phone completely… but if I could get home, plug my phone in and just leave it alone until the alarm app wakes me up in the morning, I would be happy with that.

The phone as a tool

Another year, and my blog is still surprisingly here.

2017 was a great year and I really felt like I really took a few steps forward. I began reading more than I ever have before. My diet was on point and I setup a great little home-gym and was maintaining a simple training regimen, which led to me losing almost 50lbs. My mornings were focused and filled with purposeful meditation, devotional time and journaling. I gave up a number of distractions, one of the big ones being Instagram…

Somehow in November, everything started to fall apart. Work was busy and I think I signed myself up for too much, and somehow Instagram found it’s way back into my life. The FOMO ( fear of missing out ) is real.

My morning routine has unraveled, it’s unfocused chaos. I often catch myself sleeping in until 6:30, wasting those precious morning hours before my wife and kid get up. I feel like I’ve become unorganized in every area of my life. I’m still committed to biking to work, though it’s made it difficult to make it home at lunch for my mid-day workouts. My nutrition plan is shot and I can feel that I’ve gained some weight.

I’m not worried though, spring is here and I can feel my motivation building again. The days are getting warmer, and I’ve already managed to log a few hours on my squat rack during lunch hours. It’s funny how the seasons of life can change.

This year, my focus is to put together a more manageable routine. Something that is attainable to achieve when next winter inevitably comes around. A nutrition plan that isn’t crazy, like Keto, but is something I can maintain as a lifestyle. A workout plan that’s focused on mobility that requires less equipment so I can do it from anywhere, anytime.

A new year

Ego comes in many different shapes and sizes.

When I began my journey simplifying my life, I was excited and I loved to talk about it with anyone willing to listen. Often times I would express how worldly people were, how much they cared about their “stuff”. How could they not realize that my way was the right way?

My ego was there.

I’ve never been wealthy, but the money I have had has often gone into nice cars, clothing and a lifestyle that made me appear more successful that I actually was.

My ego was there.

Last year, I realized how I was defining myself by these things and decided to make a change. I reduced my closet down to the essentials and traded in my nice new car for an older, bare bones model. At first it pained me to be seen is such plain, boring car, wearing clothing from a lack lustre wardrobe, but eventually I learned to accept it.

The problem I found myself with was I was now humble-bragging. I found myself gloating about my ability to give up all of these things, and I couldn’t understand anyone who couldn’t do the same.

My ego was there.

When I started commuting by bike last year, I was so excited about it, every day I would cruise to work with the biggest smile on my face. I would exclaim my excitement to every person I met, often times encouraging them to do the same as me. When anyone would question my decision to commute by bike, I would get defensive and argue the benefits until they would “see things my way”.

My ego was there.

I’ve never thought of myself as egotistical, but after reading through Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy, I’ve realized that maybe it is something that I do struggle with, but I’m happy to have it brought to the light so I can take steps towards being more humble.

How is ego playing a role in your life?

Ego is the enemy

Back in April of 2017, I made a weird decision; I decided I wanted to try commuting to work by bike.

My history of bikes

A lot of the best childhood memories took place on two wheels. Country gravel rides with my dad on a quest to see who could tackle the biggest puddle. The feeling of freedom to explore the city and visit my friends whenever I wanted. Custom building my first BMX bike. Touring Western Canada with 14 other teenagers stuffed into a van.

After a big accident, I realized that this might not be something I could do for the long-term. I hung up my BMX and picked up a road bike. Though I enjoyed the feeling of the open road and going fast, it wasn’t for me. I swapped my road bike in for a murdered out beach cruiser and never looked back.

The beach cruiser is so simple to maintain with next to nothing that can go wrong. My wife was donated a similar cruiser from my grandma, and they’ve treated us great.

Spring commute

I can’t recall what sparked my desire to take my bike to work, as it was still early in spring with snow on the grounds, but I decided to mount my bike and make my short 15-minute commute. The cold air hitting my lungs felt amazing, even though it was a little uncomfortable, but the sunrises were beautiful and worth it. Soon, the days became longer and the rides were more and more enjoyable.

Gearing up

One thing I forgot about biking was how windy it gets in Manitoba. My single speed beach cruiser just wasn’t cutting it anymore for the long open stretches of road. I needed some gears to make the commute a little easier and keep me a little less sweaty when wearing my work attire.

Coming from a BMX background, I wanted something I could hop curbs, bomb down hills and abuse a little bit; something that could take a little abuse. I called up a few bike shops and connected with a few acquaintances through Instagram and they all pointed me to a good “starter bike”.

Pro Tip — Get a bike with rack & fender mounts for commuting. The rainy season hit and having a wet back sucks. It’s amazing how much fenders help fight off the water.

Winter Commuting

It’s something I didn’t think about when I started commuting by bike, but winter is here. I can’t guarantee that I’m going to stick through the winter riding my bike, but I think I’m going to give it a try, or at least ride as long as possible.

After some encouragement from other local riders, I decided to swap out my bikes slicks and replace them with some Schwalbe Marathon Winter (700 x 2.00″) studded tires. I also ordered up a bright headlight and taillight to keep me visible for the days the sidewalk isn’t cleared and to light up the bike path on the days that it is.

Check back in Spring for the results!

The simple joy of riding a bike