2019 was a lifestyle altering year where I committed to bike more than I drive. The seed was planted in 2017. We moved from the Four Corners to Houston Texas, purchased a home, flooded and re-built. Due to Hurricane Harvey it took us longer than expected to settle into a normal routine, but when we did I soon realized how much I missed the regular occurrence of outdoor adventures with nearby and active friends. It wasn’t long before my mind was racing on ideas to fill the gap. The quick and easy answer was to sacrifice family time and go out and do my own thing. I could travel back, see old friends, and carry on with Western biking, boating and hunting adventures. That would have been great but I couldn’t bear to leave my family each month. The kids are developing quickly and it was already hard traveling for work as much as I did.
The next best option was to figure out how to integrate the outdoors into my local daily life. In the Four Corners we kayaked, mountain biked, and played team sports over lunch so why not try to bring that to Houston. I tested out biking to work a few times and realized that was a better option than floating the Buffalo Bayou at lunch or driving to a far-away sports complex.
We live in the energy corridor, a community built on oil and gas, so I took some extra time to define a biking goal that was specific, measurable, and time-based. The goal would be to bike more than I drive in 2019.
At the time I didn’t know any colleagues, neighbors, or friends commuting by bike, but after testing it out a few times I found that it was doable. We had an empty bike rack at work and there was a pedestrian/bike route along the bayou that reduced the risk of a car collision.
As the first of the year rolled around, I parked the truck in the garage and fully committed to using my bike. During the first few weeks I learned how crazy friends and family thought I was. I also learned the internal pressures that I previously thought would be easy were actually difficult to overcome. I thought it would be a relatively simple habit adjustment, but changing habits are not easy. My mind would think of every excuse in the book to hop in the truck rather than the bike. Multiple mornings in the first few weeks I exhausted my day’s worth of will power by 6:45 am.
It took about 3 weeks to mentally and physically get over the hump of biking everyday but when my mind and body accepted the new routine the weekdays smoothed out, but the weekends were still rocky. My wife in driving mode and I in biking mode began to have significant disagreements over which situations were bikeable with our family of five. I initially tried to win the battles by taking a family vote, knowing full well our kids would want to bike in any situation. (I can picture my mother’s face of disgust as she reads this). Luckily I married a very selfless, patient and loving woman. Sarah allowed me to fail in honoring her in this situation so I could come to the realization that I was placing an unfair burden upon her. She wanted me to succeed, but she was not ready to make a similar commitment. With the understanding that this was mostly a personal challenge, we adjusted the goal to biking more than I drive in 2019 when the decision was mine alone. Now without the battle and the unfair expectation, my wife could choose to participate and find joy in the ride. This pleasant outcome I had not foreseen, and we ran errands by bike much more because of it. This mid-goal adjustment made for a stronger marriage, and a more active family lifestyle.
Alongside the mental and relationship challenges I learned a few bike commuting tricks. After 3 months I began to ask the right questions. What type of lunch, work clothes, and repair kit should I carry? What outerwear was best and how could I transport three kids to school and on time?
The Packed Gear
This revolved around what fit in my available Osprey Comet backpack. My wife found tupperware that stayed sealed (woops) and I figured out how to fold a classy shirt and slacks at optimal widths to minimize wrinkles and leave just enough room for lunch and shoes. A few items like cowboy boots have since become dust catchers. The ancillary tools I chose to carry were a Topeak Alien II multi-tool, chain quick link, large allen wrench, small pump, spare tube, valve stem, Stan’s tubeless tire goo, and a stem remover (all which were left over from my mountain biking days in the Four Corners).
This took a bit more time to iron out than the supplies I packed. Initially I thought I should be thrifty and keep to bike shoes, short sleeves, and a wind jacket year around. Being in Texas it never really gets cold, right? Wrong! A crisp 30 degree rain freezes you to the core. After bearing through the winter cold spells I pulled out some old bike gloves and invested in a waterproof Eddie Bauer Cloud Cap jacket and pants for next winter. Investing in my outerwear set me up to enjoy the ride every day.
Biking with Kids
The last piece, and the most rewarding, was figuring out how to transport 3 kids to preschool. This wasn’t a daily occurrence, but when I could, I did. The solution was swapping my 2014 Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike for our vintage 1990’s Trek 800 Sport. It had the necessary quick release skewers on the back axle which allowed me to hook up a dual child chariot. I then combined the chariot with an Osprey Poco backpack and we were off to the races. If you have ever tried to take a child somewhere, you know the hard part is getting the kid ready to go. My kids take anywhere from 5-30 minutes to put on their shoes and helmet and then I could only bike at about 60% of the speed I was accustomed to. So I learned quickly how much extra time I needed to build in to our commute.
The Reward – Camaraderie
By June I was fully dialed in and it started to get fun, so it seemed only natural to have others join in. Nick, a new friend on LinkedIn, joined me on the challenge and then Joshua, Adam, Shafiq, Kevin, Brenden and John followed suit. It transitioned from a crazy lifestyle experiment to a rewarding movement that included sunshine, exercise, fuel savings, and now camaraderie.
As we encouraged each other through the last half of the year some months were wins and some were losses. As the year ended, four of us tallied more miles ridden than driven. I managed to bike all but 2 days to work, totaling 1870 miles ridden and 942 miles driven. The full HIT team finished with 6612 miles driven, and 4581 miles biked/ran which translated into 229,000 calories burned and $2,657 in vehicle expenses saved.
Not only were we saving money by keeping our vehicle in the garage, but we were learning to be satisfied with where we live and the lifestyle that accompanied it. Improving my happiness in Houston allowed me to continue working as an engineer, which saved the cost of a move, a potential salary cut and career change. Finding contentment and keeping our family’s savings rate high will continue to shorten our path to financial independence.
Have you penciled out a goal lately? Do you have a goal to be healthier, earn more or spend less? If you do, I’d like to hear about it.