Lexington, KY – In early April, Alex Meade woke up and peered though his windows to evaluate the weather outside as he does every morning. It was pouring the rain. His response to these inclement conditions was normal. “I’d better get my rain jacket out,” he said, unfazed.
But for many people, the rest of Meade’s proceedings were anything but normal. He packed up his work clothes, threw on some bright colored clothing, strapped a helmet to his head, grabbed his rain jacket, of course, and wheeled his bike to the curb.
If Cal Ripken, Jr. is the “Iron Man of Baseball,” Alex Meade deserves a similar distinction for bike commuting. This May marks the 20th anniversary Meade began making his daily pedal to and from LexMark on Newtown Pike, a tradition that began on Bike-to-Work Day (an annual event held on the third Friday each May) in 1990.
His dedication to this mode of transportation is nearly as unflappable as the unofficial United States Postal Service creed.
“The only days I don’t do it is if it’s icy, but that’s very rare around here,” he said. “If it rains, no problem. If it’s cold, no problem. If it’s snowing lightly, no problem. If there’s snow on the ground and the roads are white-over with packed snow and ice, then I won’t ride. But I think we only had five days like that this winter. Maybe six.”
Meade’s commute from the Ashland Park neighborhood to the LexMark campus is just under 4 miles (“3.75 miles, to be exact,” he said.) and takes him about 20 minutes both ways (“If I really push it, and I’m lucky on the lights, 13 minutes.”).
Along with being a good form of daily exercise for the rider, there are countless other community benefits involved with incorporating a bike commute into an employee’s routine: less motor traffic, reduced energy consumption, reduced environmental impact -
the list goes on. For Meade, who says these are all critical points to consider, riding his bike each day to work borders on a spiritual, Zen-like experience.
“All of (those aspects) are important,” he said, “but I just feel better. I get out in the air. I see people and experience the neighborhoods, the smells and the sights and the sounds and the temperatures. I arrive at work having already experienced a little of the world along the way.”
In the course of the two decades Meade has been bike commuting, he’s seen changes in his standard route and in the public’s (i.e. motorists’) regard for dedicated cyclists.
Due to the heavy traffic on Lexington’s major arteries, Meade cruises neighborhood roads on his route. Gradually, as cycling became more and more vogue as an alternate mode of transportation, other cyclists began to naturally drift to these side roads for convenience and safety.
At first, Meade says, he was regarded more as a curiosity with motorists because there weren’t many other cyclists on the road. Now, as more and more bikes are taking to the street, their presence is much more apparent on the roadway.
“We’re not so much of a curiosity anymore. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The bad side of it is, when you’re not a curiosity, when there’s so many of you, you become a nuisance. So instead of being a curiosity, I’m ‘another damn cyclist,’” Meade joked about the stereotypical animosity between cyclists and motorists.
For the most part, Meade has experienced very little adversity through the years of cycling. He concedes that there are always going to be horror stories, but by incorporating conscious and considerate decisions into his ride, road rivalry has been kept to a minimum.
Meade recommends finding routes where cyclists aren’t going to be an impediment to motorists, which in turn lowers the risk of getting hurt for the rider while traveling to work. Rarely will a route you would travel by car be the logical route for a bicycle. Safety equipment (helmets, bright clothing, properly functioning bicycle) is paramount for any cyclist, whether they are commuting or not, and if at all possible, try to team up with another cyclist who is traveling to the same vicinity.
Test runs are a very good idea as well for beginning commuters. They can give the cyclist a good idea about how much time the trip takes and what to expect along the way.
Debra Hensley, who has an office on Nicholasville Road, recently started commuting to work by bike. She agrees that a test run is a good decision to make. “What may appear to be a flat road might not actually be a flat road,” she said.
She said that her decision to begin cycling has a two-prong benefit -
along with getting more exercise and reducing her carbon footprint, she’s also a much more cautious driver.
Especially for a cyclist just starting this style of commute, busy roads (such as Nicholasville Road, which she has to traverse, if only briefly, to get to her office) can be very intimidating. Hesley said that more conveniently placed bike lanes would help build her confidence as a cyclist and lure other people out on two wheels.
Meade agrees that using bike lanes are a very good device to get riders more acclimated to riding alongside motorized traffic, but as the rider becomes more experienced, their dependence on a designated space diminishes.
As a veteran rider, there isn’t much that could transpire to make Meade’s commute anymore enjoyable, except maybe adding a few miles between his destinations.
“It’s pretty darn convenient and pleasurable as it is,” he said. “Honestly, I should just make my ride longer. I should figure out a way to extend it. I have a very pleasant commute.”
May is National Bike Month and to celebrate, Bike Lexington in collaboration with Pedal Power Bike Shop will reward businesses whose employees rack up the most mileage commuting to work by bike.
Companies and employees will be awarded in four categories: small business (two – nine employees), medium (10 – 25), large (26 – 100) and extra large (100-plus). The business with the highest percentage of commuting trips on a bike between May 2 and 28 wins its category.
The winning commuters will be announced during Bike Lexington 2010 on May 31 (see the following page for an extended schedule of events throughout May), and each winning company will be featured in this magazine’s sister publication Business Lexington in the June 11 issue.