Conversations with a Fat Biker (Um…Commuter on a Fat Bike)

There are so many interesting stories within the bike commuter community, that we felt it was important to give different perspectives and learn more about why all kinds of people commute by bike to work or school.  We’ll be calling this series “7 Wheels of Separation” as a way to show that we’re all connected.

I (Joe) will be meeting and learning about all kinds of commuters all over the world.  I know Shelly through a mutual friend and I felt that her story would make a great introduction to this series. In fact, as I write this, I’m realizing that her story is familiar, yet so different and I think that’s what makes for a great community.

Commuter on fat bike
Meet Shelly, a year round bike commuter.  She exclusively rides her fat bike in the winter months.

Shelly is a bike fanatic, to her very core.  The welcome mat to her apartment has a bike on it. The books on her side table are all about biking and most of the artwork in her apartment depicts a bike in some way or another.  She’s decorated for the holidays stringing lights on her Linus commuter as it hangs from the ceiling. The Linus will remain as delightful decor for the winter, while she rides her fat bike to work.

Linus bike lit up for holidays
Shelly’s regular commuter Linus is hanging from the ceiling and decorated for the holidays. She exclusively commutes on her fat bike in the winter.

Shelly works three days a week, riding to and from work and nearly everywhere else she goes. The only time her car gets started is if she has to pick something up or if there isn’t a secure place to lock her bike at her destination.  Her route includes a few city streets but she primarily travels on trails because the streets make Shelly nervous.

“I’m scared on the road”, she told me. She explains that her hearing is very sensitive and cars “feel” a lot closer, so she sticks to community trails.

It wasn’t always this way for Shelly. After many years of racing mountain, road, and time trial bikes (she’s got the champion’s tattoos to prove it), Shelly has given up the world of skin suits, aero bars, and speed for a more leisurely pedaling pace. A few years ago she crashed on the velodrome, suffered a serious concussion and gave it all up. And that was a big deal for her because as I mentioned, cycling is intrinsically part of who she is.

Commuter on fat bike with bike lanes
Shelly sticks to cycling lanes and community trails when she rides to work. She just feels safer that way.

But the truth is she couldn’t give it all up.  When a family member asked her whether she would get back on her bike again, she responded with “hell ya! I have to. I need that”.

She needed to feel the pedals under her feet and let the wind blow loose hair out of her face. She needed the mind-clearing, heart-pumping, freedom that only a bicycle could provide her. Shelly had been riding to work on a 3-speed Linus during warmer months, but after her crash and after visiting her doctor for some advice about her mental well-being, she was prescribed a fat bike.

Yes, she actually received a hand-scribbled note for a fat bike! And she filled it! Her Doctor recognized that she needed to get out, get fit, and improve her mental well-being through physical activity, but a traditional gym wasn’t right for Shelly.

Still suffering concussion symptoms, the loud music and busy spaces at a gym, just wouldn’t do. She needed a calm environment to get her exercise. For Shelly’s doctor, a fat bike was the obvious choice in Canada, in the middle of winter, for a cycling enthusiast. (If you want to learn more about why I ride in winter, I wrote about it here)

 

Happy bike commuter
I think it’s safe to say that cycling just makes Shelly happy. You?

It was at that point that she began to commute in all kinds of weather. When I asked her what her co-workers thought about her riding through the snow, she said, “They think I’m nuts”.

When she arrives at work, she gets a lot of “You rode today?” But this is exactly what Shelly needs to stay happy.  Of course she still has (cold, rainy, wintery – insert the adjective of your choice) days where she needs to truly convince herself to ride to work; but she knows how she’ll feel if she doesn’t. And for Shelly all it took was the fat bike and a few extra layers to get herself to work. She told me commuting is a rebirth.

“This is the change of life cycling is for me. To be able to just get on my bike and ride”

Cyclist in bike filled apartment
Shelly’s space screams cycling everywhere. The piece of art is something she created and the break in the 2 canvases symbolizes a shift in her way of thinking about riding bikes.

If you’ve got a great commuter story to share and want to be part of our “7 Wheels of Separation” series, we’d love to hear from you.  Share in the comments below or reach out to me.

Have a good ride!

~ Joe

Instagram | @joe.meissner

5 thoughts on “Conversations with a Fat Biker (Um…Commuter on a Fat Bike)

  1. Shelly is an amazing example of how a simple bike ride can balance one’s mental state and improve your overall well being. We are inspired by her determination to never give up on something you love so deeply…even after it puts you in the hospital. It takes guts to get back on the horse. We are proud of you Shelly! High Fives and smiles!

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  2. What might help is noise cancellation. I’m autistic and since I’m also sensitive to noise, I use ear plugs and earmuffs when the music is playing at work to concentrate. It should help in noisy gyms too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the helpful feedback Han-Lin! It is great to hear to hear that you’ve overcome obstacles in your own commuting life and the helpful tips and inspiration. We appreciate your insights! Commute safe!

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