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Here’s a special treat for you…a commuter profile of the mastermind behind the really cool website BikeHacks.com. Matt has been serving up funky, cheap and downright crazy DIY solutions for cyclists for several years, and BikeHacks is a longtime friend of ours. Let’s see what Matt can tell us about his commute…read on!
Name: Matt, only my Mom calls me Matthew.
How long have you been a bike commuter?
I guess you could say I became a “hardcore” commuter in 2004 shortly after moving to New York City. I grew up on the west coast and did ride my bike to work occasionally when living in Oregon and California, but you could say I was a “fair weather” commuter. I used to participate in lots of recreational road rides in the spring and summer and to stay in shape I would commute to work occasionally in order to get in mileage.
How long is your commute?
My commute right now is about 5 miles one way. It’s a decent distance, enough to get a workout at 10 miles per day but not enough to really be considered an extreme workout. A friend of mine once lived 20 miles from work and would commute 2 or 3 days a week – I would call that extreme commuting, or something.
How does Bike Commuting help you with your lifestyle (economics, health, relationships)?
I travel a lot and really notice how much commuting by bike is part of my life when it is missing from my daily routine. Riding my bike helps me to relax and it is nice to have a workout built in to my day. Many people I work with schedule time in the day to go the gym and often don’t make it, but my gym is my bike and I don’t need to worry about scheduling a time to work out.
I also listen to podcasts in one ear while I ride (shout out to One Good Earbud – http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/2011/11/one-good-earbud-post-2-magic-carpet-ride.html) and am able to stay up on news I like to follow. I am constantly amazed at the social aspect of commuting as well. For example, the other day I stopped to get a bagel and a guy saw me in my helmet/gear and started to talk to me. He said he used to commute by bike all the time but got a job that was too far away to allow him to ride. He said he really missed it.
A few days later a guy saw me parking my bike at night and I have tons of lights and he stopped and started to talk to me about how cool he thought the lights were. Random conversations associated with commuting are cool.
What do you do for a living and in what city do you bike commute?
I just moved to Boston after living in New York City for 8 years. Moving to New York was liberating in many ways, one of which was being able to live comfortably without car ownership. I hope to be able to go without owning a car in Boston, but I did get a Zipcar membership recently which offers the benefit of being able to drive when necessary but not having to own.
As far as what I do, I am a lucky guy – I have basically never left school my whole life.
What kind(s) of bike do you have?
I currently have two bikes. I purchased a used Cannondale R900 road bike back in 1996 and I actually got a free bike from Specialized a few years ago. I run a blog, bikehacks.com (http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/),and rather than running a bunch of ads promoting some new bikes, Specialized decided to give bikes to a bunch of bloggers and have them write about their experience for a few months.
I had an awesome time reviewing the bike. One main theme of bikehacks.com is to personalize your bike and a new bike was a blank canvas. I wrote close to 30 posts and documented the transformation. It was funny actually because many people said that I ruined the bike. You can judge for yourself from this recent photo.
When I entered the contest to win the right to get the bike I said the first thing I would do was to give the bike a healthy scratch. Yes I want a bike that performs well, but I also don’t want to obsess over keeping a bike in pristine condition.
I kept my promise and used a key to put a healthy sized scratch on the seat post tube when I picked it up. The guy at the bike shop looked at me like I was crazy and I just smiled. Over time I did things like paint the fenders bright orange, cover the frame in stickers, and hang a discarded air freshener that I found on the street from my seat.
One bummer is that bikehacks.com got hacked and all of the posts documenting what I did to my bike are locked up in a WordPress archive file right now. Eventually I hope to post them all again but the transfer to Typepad did not go as smoothly as I had hoped.
Riding in New York City definitely changed my attitude toward the appearance of my bike. Part of the game in NYC is making your bike less appealing for people to steal. Thus much of the “hacking” was aesthetic (uglifying) but there are also lots of little security hacks I deployed as well. My Cannondale was “factory” when I moved to NYC, but now you can see the appearance is far from what it looked like when I got it. Once I started hacking I simply could not stop.
Any funny or interesting commuting story that you may want to share?
One funny thing happened a few years ago. I was riding on a bike path in NYC and came upon a pannier that someone had dropped. How it fell off without the rider knowing was a mystery to me but I picked it up and took it with me. When I got home I opened the bag and found a receipt with a guy’s full name on it – no email, phone, or physical address, but a full name. The pannier was filled with some pretty specialized tools and a bottle of top flight alcohol and I know that if I lost what was in the bag I would want it back.
Back then I had a personal blog so on a whim I posted an entry with the guy’s full name and noted that I found a pannier and thought that perhaps someone would stumble upon the post that knew the guy. Funny enough, about a month and a half later I open my email one morning and there is a message from the owner of the bag. He said his Mom had Googled his name and stumbled upon my post. As it turns out he lived in Connecticut but had been in the city riding. We ended up meeting for breakfast a few weeks later and I was able to return the bag, sans the bottle of alcohol that was in the bag – it was just too tempting to pass up and its consumption was the finder’s fee =)
Another thing I love about bike commuting is some of the cool stuff you run into and get to see. One example is the graffiti shot from earlier in the post (taken in Harlem). Riding on a bike gives you the opportunity to see things you might not see in a car, and if you did see it in a car, you might not be able to stop. For example, check this picture out –
One morning while riding to work I saw something swoop out of the sky and land in a tree. I jammed on my brakes and looked up and got to see that Red Tailed Hawk consume a rat for breakfast. Who would have thought that a scene from Wild Kingdom would play out on a bike commute in New York City?
What do people (coworkers, friends) say when you tell them that you are a bike commuter?
It’s safe to say that most people I work with in Boston and used to work with in New York City react to the fact that I commute year-round with bewilderment and incredulity. The first reason is pretty typical – most people can’t fathom riding in what they consider to be extreme weather conditions. The other reason is the simple danger of riding in an urban environment with so many vehicles to contend with.
I don’t mind riding in different weather conditions and although if I had a choice I would much rather not ride around motor vehicles, I have to be honest and say that I find it kind of exciting. I don’t skitch (http://www.instructables.com/id/How-To-Skitch-on-a-Bicycle-Grab-onto-a-moving-Car/) or anything crazy, but there is a certain adrenaline rush I get at times when riding with/in traffic.
How about bicycling advocacy? Are you active in any local or regional advocacy groups?
When I first moved to New York City a friend invited me a Critical Mass ride. For a few months Critical Mass was a total blast. The cops were non-confrontational and even assisted with the rides. It was not that the cops planned to help or were connected to the rides, but once the rides got going it was not unusual for a few cops on scooters or in cars to spontaneously ride/drive along and help with traffic and just hang out as the ride went along. It was freaking awesome and very chill.
Then the proverbial crap hit the fan when the Republican National Convention came to town and just happened to coincide with the last Friday of the month – the day Critical Mass happens. As the mass went by Madison Square Garden all hell broke loose and the cops arrested people in mass and tossed them in a warehouse overnight. I was out of town the week it happened and missed it, but several friends got caught up in it. From that point forward the city declared war on Critical Mass and as many might know, there have been many court battles fought over whether cyclists can ride in mass in NYC.
For me Critical Mass was fun at first, but after the crack downs started I did notice that a lot of people I knew that did not ride began to associate me with the image in the media of an “outlaw” cyclist hell bent on disrupting traffic and causing the police grief. I was far from an outlaw; I just liked riding my bike to work and did not want to get into trouble for doing so.
I supported some friends that engaged in a legal battle with the city about their arrests and seizure of their bikes for riding in Critical Mass, but I was dissuaded from further participation because of all of the negative attention the rides were getting. You could say that I do not oppose Critical Mass, but I also think there are possibly better ways to draw attention to cycling as an alternative form of transportation.
For now, you could call running bikehacks.com my own little piece of the bicycle advocacy pie.
Anything else that you want to share with us?
Part of the fun of running bikehacks.com is definitely the people I get to meet and interact with. For example, when I first started the site I contacted the Bicycle Tutor and asked him if he was interested in an interview. He agreed (http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/2011/10/interview-the-bicycle-tutor.html) and sometime down the line business took me to Vancouver, B.C. where he lives and we got together and had a beer. It was a cool to get to know someone in that somewhat random way.
We get reader submissions from all over the world and if readers of this post are interested in submitting ideas for mass consumption on the site, our email box is always open (http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/submit-your-hack.html). And if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you might enjoy our Dictionary of Bike Commuter Slang (http://www.bikehacks.com/bikehacks/2010/03/dictionary-of-bike-commuter-slang.html). I started it a few years ago as a lighthearted look at those on two wheels and most people that have run into it have enjoyed it and in many cases contributed to it. Others seem to be a bit to serious and call me/the site out for ridiculing others. I currently or previously fit many of the descriptions and am willing to laugh at myself – others not so much.
Other than that, ride safe and hack that whip!
We’d like to thank Matt for sharing his words and photos. For the rest of you, there’s still time to submit yourself to the glory of minor Internet stardom. Drop us a line at ghostrider[at]bikecommuters[dot]com and we’ll send you the details about sending in your own profile!