The Ride, Issue 124
"Because of the open-mindedness of the UNH cycling club, I was allowed to race my recumbent Rans V-Rex in their fall cyclocross series," reported Thomas Smart. However, the rest of the 5,000 miles he averages every year are traveled on the road.
A native of Portsmouth, N.H., Smart started commuting by bicycle regularly in 1984. Most commutes were 10 miles one way. "For about the first ten years, I confined myself to April-October," he said, "and then reverted back to full-time automobile dependence." His current daily journey is somewhat shorter, at only 3 miles one way on good roads.
A typical child, Smart learned to ride with training wheels, and was weaned from them by a parent pushing him along. "I would like to say that when I ditched the training wheels, I never looked back. But I was so normal. I lost interest in bikes when I became a teenager. I was in my early thirties when I got my first adult bike.
"I didn't think much on my own about being year-round bike commuter. But because I saw other people cycling in the dead of winter, I felt that at least I could give it a try," said this 56-year-old.
"Think about it! People go zooming up and down ski slopes all day when it is extremely cold and they pay fifty or sixty dollars for the privilege."
A machinist, Smart works for Chadwick & Trefethen, a company with only 5 full-time workers, where he is able to park his bike safely inside. And his work peripherally benefits the bike industry.
"The main product of the company I work for is the adjustable reamer. These are very often used by bike mechanics to fix distorted or corroded frame tubes. A typical example is when the seatpost no longer fits in the seat tube. Because the C&T Reamer can be precisely adjusted, only the minimum amount of material needs to be removed to get the seatpost back to its normal fit."
"I don't know this for sure," he continued, "but I would think that frame builders would have a real use for the tool, since welding and brazing can distort tubing dimensions."
Besides commuting, Smart takes part in a lot of long distances rides, including centuries and some of the Boston-Montreal-Boston brevet training series.
"When I got into recumbency, it seemed possible to ride all day long," Smart declared. And on three occasions, he did just that. He traveled from his home, then in West Hartford, Conn., to visit his parents in Portsmouth, N.H. "That car trip can be pretty harrowing, especially in summer. But then there's enough light so that a 15-mph rider like me can do the 170 miles in daylight.
"The last time I did this trip was to attend my high school reunion. I was talking about the summertime traffic gridlock with one of my classmates from Connecticut. She said it took her 5 hours to get up to Portsmouth by car. It took me 13-14 hours to make the trip. That is a lot slower in one respect, but on the other hand, I did this with a 30 pound machine and about 1/100 of the horsepower."
Now living again in his hometown, Smart has struggled some in the season's snowy weather. He usually takes advantage of a bike bridge over the Spaulding Turnpike. "It has been a great improvement since it was built," Smart said. "But so far it looks like there is no plowing of this route. Without this bridge, bike travel north out of Portsmouth is just impossible."
Smart wonders why more people aren't enjoying the pleasures of commuting by bicycle. He cited suburban sprawl, which has increased the length of the average commute, and the perception that bikes are unsafe. "After getting accustomed to biking all over the place, I actually feel more secure on a bike," he said. "At least there is no gasoline tank to worry about in the event of a rear ender!"
Referring to a recent story about the boot company Timberland offering cash to its 6,000 employees towards the purchase of hybrid cars, Smart sees little improvement.
"If by tomorrow, every gas guzzler on the road were replaced by Priuses, we would still have the same gridlock, accidents, deaths, injuries and the same pressures to put more asphalt, strip malls and subdivisions. If Timberland is offering $300 to buy a better designed auto, what would be the value of someone going cold turkey and giving up the car completely?"
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Planet Bike honors the silent hero of the Revolution: the bicycle commuter. A supercommuter rides through every season, in all types of weather, day and night. Choosing the simplicity, health and pleasure of bicycling, a supercommuter isn't necessarily against automobiles. They simply prefer to ride a bike to the grocery store, to work, to a concert or the cafe.
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