By Jamie Morningstar
Eric Nelson is a recent transplant to Utah from the Pacific Northwest. He’s a pastor, husband, father of two toddlers, and a cycling racer-turned-commuter.
C.U.: Tell us about your cycling background: When and how did you start cycling?
E.N.: I’ve loved bikes since I was a kid, but I really got into road cycling in my early twenties. I was a broke college student and the thought crossed my mind that I could save a little money if I commuted around town on a bike. I shared this desire with an older guy at my church and he told me he had an old bike in his garage that I could have for free. That was the beginning of my love for road cycling; little did I know how much money that free bike would cost me in the long run when I got hooked on cycling!
My interest in cycling grew rapidly. First I set a goal for myself to ride to the end of a certain road near my house. I did it and it was a good feeling. So the next day I set another goal for another road. I did it and it was a better feeling. Then I got some spandex – that’s a big step for anyone! Eventually I set more goals for more roads, more climbs, and more miles and the feeling after each of those accomplishments was very satisfying.
Eventually I got the shoes and, yes, I fell over once at a stop sign in front of lots of cars. I then began to fall in love with the gear. I bought a new bike, matching kit, and a new computer. Now I could track my progress and see results significant improvement in my stats and my body. I had more energy, felt healthier, and had met so many great friends along the way. I was hooked. I joined a club and then a team and then started to upgrade through racing categories with a few wins along the way.
I was still riding an entry-level bike at this time. I remember sharing with my uncle, who loves cycling, my new-found love for the sport. He told me, “Life is too short to ride a bad bike.” He helped me upgrade to a full carbon machine and paid for a professional fit. If you haven’t had a pro fit, I highly recommend it. A fit is one of the most effective things you can do to gain comfort and performance on your bike.
C.U.: How did your love for cycling evolve into a commitment to commuting by bike?
E.N.: I started commuting out of necessity. I wanted to ride more, but there often isn’t time to get a road ride in on a work day, so I commute. With two young kids, I can’t stick to a training schedule like I used to. Commuting is my way to get in a good ride, go hard, and maintain a little fitness. I use my commute as a workout. This gives me the training and feel of a weekend training ride without spending extra time away from my family.
C.U.: Tell us a little about your commute.
E.N.: We recently moved from the Pacific Northwest to Lehi, Utah and I have loved the change of scenery, the new roads, the sun, and the mountain climbs. Moving to a new area is hard on a cyclist; in the PNW I knew every road, every stretch of pavement, and every group ride. In my new city, I know very little.
The first time I commuted from Lehi to Draper, I took the frontage road and got passed by more than a dozen semi-trucks. When you’re new to an area, sometimes you have to learn by making mistakes!
On my second Utah commute I discovered another route to work. The good news is it has beautiful views, less traffic, and a wide shoulder. The bad news is it takes me up and over Suncrest mountain with a few miles of 5% uphill grade. I have a significant climb on both directions of my commute; this route adds about 15 minutes more than the frontage road but it’s worth it. In total, it takes me about 45 minutes to get from Lehi to Draper and I get a nice challenging hill climb in twice a day.
This month we are launching a new church campus called South Mountain Community Church in Lehi. That will change my commute significantly. Once the new church opens, rather than commuting up and over Suncrest I’ll take my Bianchi single-speed. This will force me to adapt my training schedule again, but that’s ok. The ability to adapt a training schedule is crucial for most people who have demanding lives outside of cycling. I’ll have to get really creative and really flexible to get midweek rides in. Sometimes I’ll head in early and ride at lunch. Sometimes I get off early and take the long way home. Flexibility and creativity are key to getting in those training miles.
C.U.: How do you deal with the practicalities of a long, tough commute, such as showering and changing clothes?
E.N.: I don’t commute every day; it just isn’t practical given the length of my commute. Some days I have meetings around the city and eating lunch with a guy in spandex is awkward. Just kidding, I leave a pair of shoes, pants, and a few shirts at work that I can wear on bike commute days. This allows me to pack lightly for the ride, with just the essentials in my messenger bag. I usually just change and wash up in the bathroom once I arrive.
One of the benefits of commuting to work is I arrive energized. I find I am more alert and more productive on days I commute.
C.U.: What essentials do you always carry with you?
E.N.: I like to travel light. My office is big enough that I can park my bike inside. I wouldn’t want to leave it out front anyways. If my bike is in good working order before I head out the door, then I shouldn’t expect a large mechanical problem on my commute. I carry a CO2 cartridge, a tire lever, and tube. I always have a backup GU in my saddle bag for the days I didn’t eat right during work and need some extra energy.
C.U.: You said you’re a roadie first and a commuter second. Can you tell us a little more about that?
E.N.: In my mind, a roadie loves to ride hard and fast. They like to suffer up climbs and bomb fast descents. They track their miles, watch their diet, follow pro racing, and maybe even shave their legs. For a roadie, cycling is a way of life. In my mind, commuters aren’t necessarily this committed to all things cycling. So for me, I’m not a commuter at heart. I am a roadie who needs a regular commute to find the time to ride and train. As a Dad with young kids, my commute is a chance to ride hard and fast. By incorporating my commute into my weekly training goals, I can maximize my fitness and my time. Since I commute for fitness, I don’t mind the big effort it takes to get up Suncrest – twice – every day that I ride to work.
C.U.: What is your best advice for a commuter who doesn’t consider themselves a roadie or a cyclist?
E.N.: If you consider yourself a commuter and not a cyclist then you might be missing out on the potential that cycling holds for you. Don’t worry, you can still be a commuter, but I dare you to try out cycling in a different way than just commuting. Rent a MTB, demo a light road bike, challenge yourself up a mountain, or jump into a group ride. Some of the fastest roadies I know were first commuters. For them, commuting was the gateway into new aspects of the joy of cycling.
C.U.: What is your advice for a road cyclist who doesn’t commute?
E.N.: Adding one extra ride a week to your schedule can be very beneficial for your training regimen. Your commute could be a rest day or even an interval day. If you use commuting to throw in one or two more days of riding mid-week, you’ll be free to use your weekend for some big fitness gains. Give bike commuting a shot and see if you start to drop your weekend buddies on that next climb.
C.U.: What bike do you commute on and how did you choose that bike?
E.N.: If my commute is more than a few miles then I commute on my carbon 2015 Cannondale Supersix with the new 11 speed Shimano 105 build. I love Shimano’s new stuff.
I also have a Bianchi San Jose single-speed for shorter commutes. I love the feel of a steel frame and the single-speed is so reliable. It also has full fender mounts and fits large tires. I have raced cyclocross on it before, too.
I go back to that quote from my uncle when I consider a good bike for commuting, “Life is too short to ride a bad bike.” Get a bike that’s fun and inspiring. We need all the help we can get to stay committed, so get something that invites you to ride it often. My Cannondale is the perfect blend of comfort, stiffness, and weight with a geometry that fits my body. When all those elements come together, you know your ride will be a good experience.
I love having options, too. The old rule of thumb for the number of bikes you should have makes sense to me: n + 1 where n stands for the number of bikes you currently have. I am always thinking about what I might get next. If I find myself feeling unmotivated to ride it is nice to be able to take out a mountain bike, ride a single-speed, or enjoy a steel frame. Each bike I have provides a different riding experience and so each bike provides a different kind of fun.
C.U.: The Northwest is known for great cycling opportunities. What has your cycling experience as a recent transplant to Utah been like?
E.N.: There are more people on bikes in Portland than Utah but the cycling culture is different. Portland is full of hipster coffee shops, cycling kits, messenger bags and really expensive handmade cruisers. Utah is full of people who ride their bikes up big mountains. Portland has a culture of cycling while Utah cycles. After all, Utah hosts an incredible pro stage race, I can’t say that about the Northwest.
The Northwest is full of rolling hills and green countryside while Utah has some of the best climbs I’ve ever ridden. Some days in Utah, I miss the mellow options Portland offers and other days, I can’t believe these mountain climbs are in my backyard. I also can’t believe how many people you might see on a weekend going up Emigration or American Fork Canyon. To put it simply: The Northwest leans towards quantity, Utah towards quality.
C.U.: What are you cycling or racing goals for next year?
E.N.: I hope to join a team for next year and try out the Utah racing scene. Utah also offers some pretty epic rides and races like LOTOJA, Crusher in the Tushar, and the Ultimate Challenge. I’d like to train for one these big events.
C.U.: Any, final thoughts for us?
E.N.: My favorite cycling quote is: “It never gets easier you just get stronger.” Think about that while you commute and push yourself to treat your next commute as a training ride.
Cycling has taught me a lot about life. There are low points in life and this quote has given me a healthy perspective into life’s struggles. When you deal with life’s difficult moments remind yourself, “It never gets easier you just get stronger.” Then head out for a ride.
Eric Nelson recently moved to Utah from the Northwest to Pastor South Mountain Community Church’s Lehi Campus. He and his wife Carrisa have been married for six years and have two kids, Nora (3) and Jack (1). He’d love to connect with you and go for a ride.
If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected]