Rode the ol’ Bike Today

There was a time, not that long ago really, that I spent many hours each week on my bicycle. It was my primary transportation; so much so that I had to get a little trickle-charger for my car’s battery, because it would be weeks between times I needed to drive it.

Every once in a while, I would poke my leg and think, “I didn’t know I had a muscle there!” It was silly how well-defined my skinny legs became.

Then… I stopped. The reasons are uncertain, but it may have been about time. The 30-mile round trip added an hour to my commute time each day. (The amount added varied greatly, based on traffic, but when I was at my best the bike round trip was never more than 2:15, and the car commute varied from 1:00 to 1:45 or occasionally much worse).

Time. It was probably a work crunch that did me in. I remember thinking, not long before I stopped, that I could not imagine going back to commuting by car. And then I did.

Mondays were good days back then. I called them “Monday legs,” the way I felt after two days’ rest. I’d scoot to work and feel full of life, a feeling that lasted all day. I used to say, “The first 100 miles each week are easy.”

I have tried and failed — more than once, now — to recapture those days. I am trying again. There was so much good about that time. I even, really, truly was in a conversation with someone about hippie shit and he said, “Well, I drive a Prius, so…” to which I could honestly reply, “I ride a bike.” One of the greatest moments of my life.

Another great moment was when my liveroligist said that my enzymes looked good. I am of the body type that puts fat on organs. The bike fixed that.

And when I am on the bike, I can just think for a bit.

So here I go again. If any others who read this use Strava, please help me out by connecting with me and pushing me forward. Hold me accountable. Talk trash. I’m known over there as Jerry Seeger.


A Lifestyle Choice Pending

It’s time for me to decide whether I stay on the “get a haircut every few years and donate the harvest” schedule, or switch to getting a haircut every few months like a normal person.


So, the Bike

I’m a hippie at heart, and not ashamed to be one. I’m also a cheap bastard. People seem surprised sometimes that a fiscal conservative can be a social liberal, but to me that spells ‘rational’.

I formulated a simple plan: get a decent-but-not-too-expensive bike, emphasizing durability over performance. After all, a heavier bike means more calories burned. Ride that bike to the train station each day, where a company-sponsored shuttle will scoop me up and take me through the worst of the traffic. A few calories burned, about 10kg of greenhouse gas avoided (minus the 100+g I emit while pedaling), and lower blood pressure when I sit down at my desk. Before long the bike pays for itself.

Well, unless you get big eyes at the awesome family-owned bike store and spend far more than you planned. I bought a really nice bicycle that cost more than I have spent on all other bicycles over my entire life. But dang, it’s a treat to ride.

For the curious, I got a Giant Escape 0, and paid thirty of the smartest dollars of my life for a cushier seat. After all the accessories (on-bike pump, home pump with gauge, helmet, water bottle cage, water bottle, big-ass lock with extra cable, rack, bags that attach to the rack, and I’m sure there was more) I was looking at more than $1300. It’s going to take a while to pay that off in savings.

In my defense, I could have spent a lot more. My “really nice” is another person’s eye-roller. No suspension? No disk brakes? Pf.

Greatest fear: plunking down all that lovely lucre and having my knee veto the whole plan.

I bought the thing on a Saturday, and rode it home from the store. I took a test trip Sunday to the CalTrain station and back, to get an idea how much time I should budget in the morning to get where I need to go. Monday and Tuesday I was a bicycle commuter, logging a sweet 13 miles each day.

My legs were pretty tired after four straight days in the saddle, and when I got up the next morning I recognized that I could ride, but that I probably shouldn’t. I gave myself a rest day. This is an offshoot of the “don’t be stupid” part of the plan.

On that topic, that day while driving to work I saw a kid on a bike do something stupid and get bumped by a car. He wasn’t hurt, but his front wheel didn’t work anymore.

Repeating the note to self: don’t be stupid. Left turns at large intersections are the most important times to heed that mantra.

I’ll leave my discussion of fitness apps for another day. There are a lot of apps. But if you’re into the whole social media thing, we can hook up at

My knee has been quiet, but I try to remember to ice after each ride. I have an ice pack at work and more at home. I think the fact I forgot to ask for toe clips is actually good for my knee; the part that gets sore feels like it would be unhappy when I pulled up on the pedals. Unscientific, but if my knee is happy, I’m not changing a thing.

So now I’m three weeks in, almost 200 miles logged, butt and knee not complaining. I’ve driven to work four times, and ridden all the others. Ten more miles will go on the bike today, as I ride it over to Ye Olde Bike Shoppe for a free tune-up (and to buy some more accessories).

So far, so good.


One Damn Mile

We all know that turning off lights in unoccupied rooms is not only economically smart, it’s good for the planet. Lightbulbs use electricity. Electricity costs money and its production harms the environment. Turning off lights is a simple win-win.

But here’s a thought experiment for you: How much does your car’s mileage change when its headlights are on? Is it even measurable? Even when your car is idling?

Let’s do some quick math. Based on sources I cite here, a gallon of gas is considered to be the energy equivalent of 34kWh of electricity (34.02, actually. You know this ridiculous false precision is the result of politics, but this is the number that MPGe is based on.) That’s the amount of energy needed to light 340 100-watt incandescent bulbs for an hour.

But to make the comparison fair, we have to factor in the energy required to get the gas into your tank, and the energy lost to bring the power to the socket in your wall. The math I used in the previous episode resulted in a gallon of gas requiring 5 gallons of gas to reach the pump (refining takes a lot of energy), while it takes 2kWh of additional electricity to bring you the 1kWh you burn. We then divide the gasoline energy by six, and the socket electricity efficiency by three, and that brings us to a slightly-more-honest conversion factor of 68kWh of wall-socket electricity per gallon-in-tank of gasoline. Let’s call it 70 to avoid any pretense of false precision ourselves.

That number will move violently depending on where your gasoline and electricity comes from. 70kWh/gallon is just some wild-assed number based on broad averages, but it’s a number less false than most.

Let’s say, to keep the math easy, that you drive a car that gets about 30 miles per gallon (most of us don’t). That comes out to about 2kWh per mile. Roughly speaking, all the lights in your house, on all night, is about the same as driving one mile in your car (if your car is relatively efficient).

One damn mile.

Unless, of course, you’ve converted to compact fluorescent and LEDs in your home. In that case one damn mile could light your house for a week.

Let’s look at things another way, as long as we have our calculators out. The question: how much energy do I save if I choose a car that gets one slim mile more per gallon?

Of course, that depends on how much you drive. But let’s say you tune up your car and inflate your tires and your mileage improves from 30 to 31. And entirely doable scenario.

We’re going to have to go to unsupported decimal points here, so the numbers that pop out are only valid when compared to each other.

70kWhpg/30mpg = 2.33 kWh per mile
70kWhpg/31mpg = 2.25 kWh per mile

Savings: 700 Watt-hours per mile

Improving your mileage from 30mpg to 31 saves about as much energy as you use burning a 70w incandescent bulb for ten hours, every damn mile you drive. Improving from 20mpg to 21 saves more than twice that. Have your checked your tire pressure lately? That simple act could mean a lot. All your other good-energy-citizen choices are dwarfed by your choice of car, and the way you maintain it.

The takeaway here is simple: Yes, please do buy energy-star appliances. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Be smart. But don’t go the extra mile. Not in your car, at least.