Jamie Morningstar: Having a Gosh Darn Good Time Biking to Work!

Jamie Morningstar is enthusiastic about commuting to work. Photo:Stephen Morningstar.
Jamie Morningstar is enthusiastic about commuting to work. Photo:Stephen Morningstar.

By Lou Melini

This month’s commuter profile features Jamie Morningstar from Orem, Utah, my first commuter from Utah County. I first “met” Jamie when she asked me a question regarding “studs”, that is, studded snow tires. So with that introduction, let’s hear what else Jamie has to say.

Cycling Utah: Jamie, tell me a little about yourself and your family.

Jamie Morningstar: I am blessed with an active and adventurous family. I work full-time as a product manager at an internet software company. My husband and I have four amazing kids, ranging in age from four to 12. Our lives are full!

Our home schedule is pretty flexible because my husband is primarily a stay-at-home dad, working two days a week outside the house. We make it a point not to over-schedule our lives. I hate rushing from place to place regardless of the mode of travel!

Sometimes it’s tough to make the time to bike, although now that I’m in the habit it’s just what the family and I have come to expect. Biking is my de facto choice for the daily commute to work.

Admittedly, there are mornings and afternoons when I feel pressure to wrap up what I’m doing, change into my bike gear, and hit the road on time. But only a few minutes into my ride that stress just melts away and new thoughts take over: I’ll get there when I get there! The mental and emotional vacation is part of what I love so much about bike commuting.

C.U.: Tell me about your cycling background. When did you start cycling, when did you start commuting?

J.M.: As a kid, I enjoyed riding and owning bicycles, but I was never “serious” about riding (even now, I’m not serious compared to the “really serious” folks). I certainly didn’t consider myself any kind of cyclist before I started commuting to work two years ago.

Before I started commuting, I had a traditional mountain bike that just wasn’t comfortable. I rarely rode, except for family outings with the kids. I had expressed interest in getting a newer-style, multi-speed upright commuter bike. In April 2012, my husband got the hint and surprised me with a shiny new bike for my 33rd birthday.

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to buy gear for outdoor activities, I immediately bought a rack, a bag, and of course some cute cycling clothes. Once I started riding to work, I was hooked! Without following any specific training program or attempting any long rides, I clocked over 2,300 miles in 2012.

Although fresh air, exercise, and saving the environment are important to me, they aren’t my primary motivations for riding. As a mother of four and a working professional, there are very few moments in a day when somebody doesn’t need something from me. But when I’m on my commute, riding my bike, it’s just me and the road; no phone calls, no demands from co-workers or employees or kids. It’s just a great time for me to decompress. Maybe not everybody needs that kind of time, but for me, it’s a lifesaver!

C.U.: Has your commuting been an “evolution”. In other words did you start by riding a day or two per week in nice weather and then expand or did you just jump into commuting full time.

J.M.: Honestly, once I started I just didn’t stop! I dove straight into full-time commuting. I wouldn’t say daily commuting was a conscious choice or even a stated goal; it’s just what happened naturally because I enjoy it so much.

C.U.: Tell the readers about your commute.

J.M.: I commute daily about 20 miles round-trip from Orem to Pleasant Grove. Last May, the opening of the Murdock Canal Trail definitely improved my commuting experience. Catching the trail adds 1.5 miles each way to my commute, but it’s so much more pleasant than dealing with cars on the surface streets that it’s well worth the extra distance.

Riding from State Street in Lindon to the Lindon-Pleasant Grove exit off of I-15 is definitely the least pleasant part of my ride. There are heavy trucks, lots of dust, and the road isn’t in great condition. But that’s only a mile or so, so it’s no big deal.

I ride daily. It’s unusual for me to not ride. I ride in all weather, although if it’s super duper windy I may think twice. Most of the time in Utah a rainy forecast means that there will be intermittent showers. I can avoid them by leaving a little earlier or later, so I don’t let a forecast of showers stop me from riding.

I try to time my rides so I don’t ride in complete darkness. In winter, that means I must leave work around 4:30 pm, but thankfully I can usually arrange my schedule to accommodate. And I always carry lights just in case I end up leaving a little late and don’t make it home before dark.

C.U.: I have heard about the Murdock trail. What’s it like to commute on?

J.M.: The Murdock Canal Trail is great. It’s a beautiful paved trail through neighborhoods, schools, and parks. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. In winter, it’s not crowded at all 🙂 but mornings during the warm summer months get a little busy. Folks are respectful of the trail and its many uses. I use a bell to announce myself when passing joggers or other cyclists – it helps me avoid startling others who may not see me coming.

The trail is less than a year old, so it’s in awesome condition. There are some road crossings on the portion I ride, but still far fewer crossings than if I took surface streets. The length of the entire trail runs for 21 miles from Orem to Lehi. On my daily commute I ride about one mile to get to the trail, then six miles on the trail, and then another three miles to get to the office.

The trail is quite level since it’s actually on top of the now-enclosed Murdock Canal. There’s a climb from the valley to the trail and another climb in Lehi, but that’s not a part of my commute. On my way home, I have a medium-hard hill to get from the office to the trail, but by then my workday is over, so I don’t mind pedaling hard and sweating a bit.

C.U.: What was the biggest challenge in your initial weeks of bike commuting? What advice you can give to a new commuter?

J.M.: Don’t over analyze – just try it. People hem and haw over so many things: Should I buy a new bike to begin commuting? What should I wear? What bag should I buy? But if you just dive in with what you have, you will discover tips and tricks and your own preferences along the way. Just try it. What do you have to lose?

The biggest challenge in my first few weeks of commuting was finding a route I liked. I would print out Google Maps, pore over my options, and try a new one every day until I found “my route.”

Lots of people see wardrobe as a tough part of bike commuting. That has not been a huge obstacle for me. I bring in four or five outfits when I do end up driving to work or I get my husband to drop off a few bags of prepared mix-and-match outfits every couple of weeks when he’s running errands. Then I wear those clothes for the next two weeks or so, mixing and matching the pieces. It works out marvelously. The guys at work like to tease me about all of the wardrobe options and shoe choices that I store at work, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because they’re jealous.

Hair was a challenge for those first few weeks. I felt like my hair was always in a ponytail and it drove me crazy. I decided to just cut it all off. Now I have a short-and-messy style. When I get to work, I dampen my hair, scrunch the curls back into place, and I’m good to go. I like it so much better than a ponytail.

C.U.: What bike do you commute on and how did you choose that bike?

Jamie Morningstar's Civia Bryant complete with racks and bamboo fenders is a solid commuter bike. Photo: Jamie Morningstar
Jamie Morningstar’s Civia Bryant complete with racks and bamboo fenders is a solid commuter bike. Photo: Jamie Morningstar.

J.M.: I now commute on a Civia Bryant – a nine-speed belt-drive bike. I rode a Trek Allant WSD for my first year. The Allant was great, but I got the chance to upgrade and took it. I definitely didn’t need to upgrade, but I do love my new bike.

When I was considering upgrades, there were a lot of factors to weigh. After spending a year on the Allant, I was very comfortable on two wheels. I thought I might enjoy the reduced wind resistance of a road bike frame. And I figured if I was getting something different that I’d be riding in all types of weather, I might as well go all out and get a belt drive! I tried lots of different belt drive models and the Civia Bryant ended up capturing my heart. And since I could pair it with bamboo fenders (which I love)… well, I was sold.

C.U.: What essentials do you always carry with you?

J.M.: A rear rack and panniers are a must – I hate the feeling of riding with a backpack. I carry a lock on my bike just in case I need to run errands on my way home. At work, I keep my bike inside a rarely used office so I don’t need to lock it during the day. For the occasional times I leave too late and get caught in the dark and for dusk/dawn riding, I always ride with my lights on. I figure I can never be too visible!

In winter, my Bar Mitts are an absolute necessity. Those things are magic! I wear full liners and then use my Bar Mitts. The combo keeps my fingers warmer than any other glove I’ve tried.

C.U.: Belt drive seems like a great way to go on a commuter. How do you like it? Do you want to say any more about the Civia, given that it “captured your heart”.

J.M.: The big negative for belt drives is the price. Also, there are fewer gear choices because of the internal hub. But, for a commute and almost any ride, except for long and steep hill climbs, my internal nine gears are plenty. Removing the rear tire can be challenging because of the hub, but with the bomber Michelin City tires that came on my Civia, I haven’t had a flat yet, so I haven’t had to struggle with a mid-commute wheel removal.

Candidly, the main reason I chose a belt drive is that they’re so gosh darn cool. The ride is silent. The drive is clean. No grease! For commuting, belt drives are great because they cope with wet and grime and dirt and salt better than a chain. I also love that I can shift anytime, even when stopped. You don’t have to be in motion to shift with an internal hub.

The belt drive is also theoretically maintenance-free, although I had a problem with one of the cogs in my hub stripping. The part was covered by the manufacturer (The Gates Corp) so the shop fixed it all for free, but it was lame that I had to ride my back-up bike for a few weeks while my belt drive was in the shop.

As for the Civia, she was everything I wanted, all in one off-the-shelf package – belt-drive, drop handlebars, steel frame, great commuter tires, and just gosh darn beautiful. I added a bell, bottle cage, bamboo fenders, kickstand, and a rack, and I was ready to go! I searched tirelessly to find a solid commuter with drop handlebars and a belt drive off-the-shelf…and Civia delivered.

C.U.: Bamboo fenders! I’ve always had plastic but bamboo sounds interesting.

J.M.: Here are pics for your viewing pleasure: http://morningstarhappenings.blogspot.com/2013/06/civia-bryant-full-tour.html

The rack and fenders are both designed by Civia. The rack has a bamboo inset, so it coordinates with the fenders. Silly? Yep! In all the right ways! The bamboo is fully sealed, so it’s fine in rain and gunk. I love using renewable resources. But honestly, I went with the bamboo fenders because they look so gosh-darn cool. I spend a lot of time on my bike, so it’s important to ride a bike that feels unique and lovely.

C.U.: Where did you buy your bike and do you wish to give them a plug?

J.M.: Saturday Cycles is the best! When I was shopping for a belt drive bike, I researched several brands and visited a bunch of shops to try them out. When I walked into Saturday, I knew I was home. They have lots of steel frames, funky accessories, beefy commuting tires, leather saddles, and great bags. The owner, Mark, was super patient and knowledgeable. He answered all my questions and left me alone when I needed to consider the myriad of options before me. Saturday Cycles totally gets cycle commuting and are all about city and around town riding and touring. Thank heavens that the shop isn’t closer to my home or I would probably go broke 🙂

C.U.: By the way, how did the studded tires work out? Were the studs all that you dreamed about!

J.M.: The Nokian Hakkepilitas work and feel great when there is an inch or two of snow (packed or otherwise). I felt very secure and stable. Ice is ice and is slippery even with studded tires. I slid out once on a large patch of ice under a trail underpass. Who Knew? My Nokians are commuting tires so they only have studs on the center of the tire, not on the sides. So through thick slush the tires get a bit skittish. Overall I like them.

C.U.: Sounds like a gosh-darn good product. Anything else you wish to say?

J.M.: 2013 was my first year subscribing to Cycling Utah. I want to thank you for the great commuting articles. I read all the articles and every issue cover-to-cover. But as a female bike commuter, my favorite articles are those written just for me! Thanks for working so hard to write articles that meet everybody’s interests.

Keep up with Jamie on her blog: http://morningstarhappenings.blogspot.com

If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected].

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