Commuter Story: Kansas City Startup

Noah from the suburbs of Kansas City –

I started working downtown in July 2006 and quickly discovered the Johnson County transit system. I used it to get downtown several days per week. The bus stop is about three miles from home, and many people do the park-and-ride thing. Other days, I’d drive downtown for the convenience of having quick transportation in the city.

My car started acting weird back in August of 2006. Although I’m great at fixing stuff, the part was on national backorder. I joked about getting a bicycle. After all, 10 years ago, in my high school days, i loved bicycling. It didn’t take long for the joke to make a lot of sense. 3 miles isn’t really that far on a bike, even for someone like me, who traded a six-pack figure for a keg right out of high school, and eventually put on an extra 100 pounds.

Completely uninformed and under-budgeted, I picked up the cheapest new mountain bike I could find. I looked around, but couldn’t afford $400 for a good new mountain bike. After all, a bike is a bike, right? Not quite. I had a lot of fun and gained a newfound passion for cycling. I also found out that having a bicycle downtown is a much more convenient and fast way to get around than traveling by car. Bicycles also have free and instant parking pretty much anywhere. Over lunch, you’ll fight for a parking space in your car, then you’ll still get stuck coughing up between $2 and $5 just to use the space for an hour. What a rip-off! My bike-shaped toy lasted a mere six weeks under my heavy weight and abusive riding style.

While a new bottom bracket cartridge, freehub-style rear wheel, and a seven-speed cassette would have likely nursed my broken bike back to life, I cut my losses, sold the remnants of my BSO to a kid on craigslist, and checked out used bikes at one of the bike shops near home. I left with a $100 6-year-old front-suspension mountain bike with quality components, already equipped with slick hybrid tires – perfect for commuting.

A few weeks later, I picked up another bike, an 8-year-old rigid mountain bike with knobby tires and much to my dismay, a weak rear wheel. I pro-actively threw down the cash for a freehub rear wheel before I rode it. Since it was lighter with a slightly higher gear ratio, I swapped the wheelset with the slick tires onto it, as a hybrid. Then, I put the knobbies on my mountain bike for off-road fun and bad weather commuting.

I used the mountain bike through some of the nastiest weather Kansas could throw at me over the winter, and it didn’t complain even once. It handled glare ice without letting me fall once. It took a constant beating in sub-freezing temperatures, and was frequently abused in snow thick enough to bury the hubs and cranks, which it happily trudged through in its lowest gears. It never let me down going over icy boulders, riding in -3 Fahrenheit arctic blasts, or even bouncing over snowy single-track and debris from the road crews.

In 2007, I am stepping the game up even further as the weather gets nicer. While I still use the bus to bridge the 30-mile gap between home and work, I will often take the bus to places that are intentionally further away from home than needed. The second week in April 2007, I one-upped myself and rode home from downtown using only my bike. I don’t plan on making a regular habit of it, as it was a somewhat stressful and very long ride, but I know I can do it. I’ve fought through the criticisms of my co-workers, through weather, through the stupid drivers around here, and even through my own doubt.

I started with baby steps 9 months ago, so I’m still a relative newcomer to bicycle commuting. I’m on my way to riding more than 300 miles per month, and I’ve lost close to 25 pounds since I started cycling. I sleep better at night, I feel more alert at work, and I feel stronger and healthier now than I have in seven years, even though I weighed 25 pounds less than I currently do in 2001.

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