Peter Drinkwater – Embracing the Hour Long Bike Commute

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By Jamie Morningstar — Peter Drinkwater is a forty-something software product manager, father of five, proud Utah Valley resident, and newly-reborn distance cycle commuter.

After years of cushy 2-mile commutes, Peter’s employer, Ancestry.com, recently from Provo to Lehi. The office move increased Peter’s commute to almost 20 miles, but rather than giving up the benefits of his bike commute Peter embraced the chance to try out a long commute by bike.

Peter riding from Orem to Lehi on the Murdock Canal Trail. Photo by Mary Drinkwater
Peter riding from Orem to Lehi on the Murdock Canal Trail. Photo by Mary Drinkwater

CU: Tell us about your cycling background.

PD: I learned to ride as a kid. Back then it was all about riding around the neighborhood with a pack of wild boys, making jumps to ride off, and hanging out with my friends.

My life as a cycle commuter began during my college years at Brigham Young University. I didn't have a car and I lived 6 miles from the university and 4 miles from my job. So, for my high school graduation my parents gave me a bike. It was an early mountain bike, a Schwinn Sierra, and I rode it to and from classes and then to and from work most days. I rode through all kinds of weather and all year long and I really came to enjoy the cycle commuting experience. It was great to start the day with some exercise and I liked the feeling of getting to school feeling awake and ready to learn. I also enjoyed seeing the change of seasons up close and personal.

Later I got a car and shifted gears to recreational mountain biking. Over the years I've commuted to work and ridden around town, sometimes consistently and other times infrequently.

Over the last 10 years I had settled into a pretty good routine of riding to work almost every day. Work was only a few miles from my home, but a couple of months ago my job moved out to a new office in Lehi. I decided to give the longer commute a try and so far it has worked out well.

CU: You’ve enjoyed both mountain biking and commuting over the years. What are the unique benefits of each style?

PD: Commuting was really where it started for me. I didn't have a car of my own until I was in my early twenties, so a bike was a good way to get school, work, friends houses, or wherever I needed to be. For me, biking on the road has nearly always been about utility and getting from point a to point b. Commuting on the bike is good for the world and it's good for me.

Mountain biking, on the other hand, has always been about recreation – spending time outside and with friends, seeing beautiful places, getting away from it all, and pushing myself to climb or come down something difficult. I really like them both commuting and mountain biking, but I think of them pretty differently.

CU: What’s your new commute like?

PD: My commute is almost 19 miles each way of mostly flat riding. I ride from Orem to Lehi, near the Point of the Mountain between Utah and Salt Lake County.

The best part of my ride is that 34 of my daily 38 miles are on the Murdock Canal Trail. The Trail is flat, smooth, away from traffic, and just a delight to ride on [CU: For more information about the Murdock Canal Trail, see the July 2015 Issue of Cycling Utah online at cyclingutah.com].

My goal is to commute by bike two or three times each week. The rest of the days I work from home or from another office in Orem, so on a good week I don't drive out to Lehi at all.

So far, the weather has been excellent for the long commute, so I'm still waiting to see how I'll do with the longer commute in dark, cold, rain, and snow this fall. I’m pretty well equipped to ride in most weather conditions, so I'm hoping I can ride almost year-round.

CU: 38 miles is a serious commute! How do you cope with the logistics of a long ride before and after work?

PD: My daily commute takes me just about an hour each way. I'm lucky to have a casual office where I can roll in sweaty and out of breath and just start working. Once I cool down a bit, I take a shower and change for the day.

The bike storage room at Ancestry.com’s new Lehi office. Photo by Peter Drinkwater

The new Ancestry.com office is well equipped for cycle commuters. The office has secure indoor bike storage, nice showers with towels, shampoo and soap available, and some excellent free food and refreshment options. There are a fair number of people who ride to the new office and it’s an honor to hang my bike next to theirs.

To carry my essentials for the day, I use a pannier attached to a back rack. I carry my lunch, my clothes for the day, bike tools, and anything else I might need for the day. I prefer a pannier so I can avoid carrying a backpack – packs can get pretty sweaty and unpleasant on a long ride.

I recently rigged up a clothesline under my desk using some strong magnetic hooks so I can hang things up to dry during the day. Luckily, my coworkers are very understanding – one is even a fellow cyclist who has a commute very similar to mine.

CU: How has the transition to a longer commute been?

PD: It took a few trips to get the legs used to the longer ride, but it’s been pretty smooth.

The hardest adjustment has been the commitment of spending an hour each way commuting and the resulting reduced flexibility in my schedule. With my former short commute, I was pretty spoiled. Now I can't just pop home for lunch or to pick up something I left or run out to something at one of the kids' schools. Before I leave home every day, I have to make sure I have everything I need for an eight-hour workday plus two hours of riding.

CU: What bike do you commute on?

PD: I have several bikes, but for this longer commute I've been using a Diamondback Haanjo Comp. It's a combination road and gravel bike that I found on sale when I needed a bike for a long-distance ride I did with some friends. It’s very sturdy, but still fairly light. It has good tire clearance and came with some wider, knobby tires which may come in handy once winter comes. The only changes I've made to the stock setup are adding a rear rack and putting on road tires that I can run at 120 psi. My bike handles the commute very well, though I haven’t fully adjusted to the drop bars and often think about switching them out for something flat.

CU: What advice do you have for readers who want to make their lifestyle more bike-friendly?

PD: I guess I’d just say, “do it”. Grab a bike, hop on it, and ride somewhere. You can start out small, riding around town with your family. We ride to the store, church, the park, the library, and other places around town. Sometimes we all just hop on our bikes and head off somewhere, typically with the soft glow of the sunset gently coloring the western sky and lighting up the mountains to the east as we enjoy the evening

If you want to try out cycle commuting, just do it. If you haven't ridden much, talk with someone who can help get your bike set up to fit you right, and then just get on it and ride. See what works, what doesn't, and then adapt.

This is a great time to be a commuter. There are so many good resources out there and such great equipment available. Just get out there and find something that will work for you.

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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