Bike commute right in my wheelhouse

bike-old2Finally rode my bike to work on Thursday — just a man and his trusty iron steed.

We’re a couple of old-timers, he and I. Combined age: 84. He’s about 33, so that makes me what, 29ish? And though I am pretty sure we weren’t the oldest man-cycle combo to saddle up for Bike to Work Week, my vintage Peugeot mountain bike could’ve been a contender for creakiest contraption on the mean streets of Portsmouth and Newington that day.

At least the creaks, rasps and groans emanating mostly from the crank case drowned out the softer sound of my own knees grinding (though fortunately not yet “bone on bone” as my mom is quick to inquire).

Ever since I ditched my Boston commute to join what is pound-for-pound one of the finest media organizations in the entire Fourth Estate, I’ve been periodically flapping my gums about riding my bike to work … one of these days.

Experts say cutting the distance one must travel to “bring home the bacon” has a direct therapeutic impact on one’s mental and physical well-being, with additional benefits for the psyche, super ego and soul.

The same is true of bicycling. Good for the heart and lungs, digestion, complexion, muscle tone and, of course, the pancreas. And it significantly reduces the risk of a range of maladies including but not limited to rickets, shingles and premature withering. (Sadly, reports of a more robust and satisfying sex life remain unconfirmed.)

When I worked in Boston, a bicycle commute just didn’t seem feasible. Sure, I could’ve rolled down I-95 to 128, jumped on I-93 south, zipped across the Zakim Bridge and made it to the newsroom just in time for …; the end of my shift.

But I was eager to escape the Beantown rat race. (Don’t get me started on Massachusetts driving. Horns and hand gestures, angry faces on blithering idiots, close calls with the clueless. Ah, those weren’t the days …)

Now, from my humble homestead in downtown Portsmouth, the drive to my post at Pease International Tradeport is a mere 8 to 10 minutes, meaning there are few excuses not to make the commute by cycle.

My discovery that this would be Bike/Walk to Work Week set in motion a date with two-wheeled destiny — a knobby-tired, no-petroleum day of car-free karma.

So Thursday was the big day … to make my carbon footprint small. Part of the thrill of the round-trip from Market Square to Pease and back is the presence of a very special pedestrian bridge right off Woodbury Avenue that allows walkers and two-wheelers to safely traverse the highway right at the traffic circle.

The bridge was erected around 1999, back when money could still be spent for the public good — long before a bunch of powerful jerks decided that investments in stupid stuff like education and human health was anti-American.

Thanks to this awesome little bridge (find details on it and other local cycling information at seacoastbikes.org) we two-wheeled types can steer clear of the highway.

Of course, I was hoping to see some wildlife. I’ve spotted deer and turkeys at Pease while driving my horseless carriage. So, surely — freed from the confines of my 2006 Honda Metal Box — I would spy a couple flocks of federally protected bald eagles, maybe a beaver or a porcupine. This is a rich habitat for birds but, truth be told, I probably wouldn’t know an upland sandpiper from a pied-billed grebe.

I took it casual and made it to work in about 22 minutes. Felt super all day long and I highly recommend the experience to everyone.

For those who’d like to try it but fear you may have forgotten how to ride a bike, it is, as the saying goes, “like riding a bike.”

First, use a damp cloth to wipe most of the cobwebs from your vehicle. Next, pray that the tires have enough air. (They won’t, so add some. Don’t worry about mixing 1994 air with 2013 air. And if you don’t have any air at your house, you can usually buy some for 50 cents at a gas station.) Third, grasp your “handlebars” and assume the position. Once aboard the velocipede — shove off, old sport. Place your feet on the “pedals” and begin moving them in a circular-type motion.

This should cause the bicycle to begin moving. Do not panic. Instead calmly utilize the handlebars to steer yourself in the desired direction, harnessing your innate sense of balance to avoid tumbling onto the pavement and cracking open your face and/or skull.

Contrary to the example set by cycling legend Lance Armstrong, it is not necessary to gobble down fistfuls of steroids or to siphon off your own blood and replace it with higher-octane plasma.

For additional tips on bicycling, check out my new worst-sellers “Road Rash: Friend or Foe” and “Does This Spandex Make My Butt Look Ridiculous?”

(Bonus points for anyone who rides my childhood dream bike — a green Schwinn Sting-Ray with a banana seat, slick rear tire and five-speed stick!)

On the ride home, I opted for a quicker pace and made it back to Market Square in just 15 minutes. Enhancing my exhilaration, just as I was leaving Pease, a rambunctious jackrabbit bounded across my path, just feet from my front tire. (Wildlife sighting: Check.)

Now I’m not the best spokesman for the spoke-wheeled commute — not looking to proselytize the pedal-powered experience. But if biking to work sounds like fun, my advice is do it. And let neither crunchy knees nor creaky derailleurs derail you.

— John Breneman

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