By Jamie Morningstar — Scott Larsen is a forty-something software engineer who work for Provo-based Qualtrics. Scott recently discovered the joys of commuting by bike, in part because of the strong cycling culture at Qualtrics.
Here’s what Scott has to share about why he chooses a bike for his 14-mile round-trip commute.
Cycling West: When did you start cycling?
Scott Larsen: My cycling story is probably pretty similar to that of a lot of commuters out there. I really like my cycling commute, but I don’t even remotely consider myself a cyclist.
When I was young, I played lots of soccer, ran the hurdles, and have wonderful memories of running in the rain at night. But in my youth I shattered both of my calcaneus (heel) bones taking an unexpectedly high fall during a nighttime game of hide and seek and was told that I would spend most of my life in a wheelchair.
Eventually I healed enough that I was able to walk again, but any exercise that involves impact is still strictly forbidden.
In college, I had a friend that enjoyed mountain biking. I went with him a few times and it was a nice social thing. But I didn’t share his love for mountain biking (in fact, I was a little intimidated by it) and stopped riding when he graduated.
CW: What caused you to rediscover cycling?
SL: My feet still keep me from running, but I have a lot to be grateful for. Between a job that I love and my 8 children, whom I love spending time with, there isn’t a lot of time left over for hobbies.
One year ago, I took a job at Qualtrics in Provo. Shortly after moving to Utah Valley from the east coast, my daughter and I decided to hike Mt. Timpanogos. It was a pretty big hike, and I realized “I’m getting older faster than I want. It’s time for me to grow younger instead!”
In the process of relocating cross-country, I had sold my old commuter car. On that hike, I started to wonder what would happen if I bought a bike instead of another car. I live seven miles from work, and had no idea if I could ride that far! Remember, it has been 20 years since I had ridden a bike, but I was game to find out if a bike would help me get in shape and save us some money, so I thought I’d give it a try.
That was 10 months ago and I’ve ridden to and from work pretty much every day since.
CW: Wow! What keeps you committed to your commute? What do you like about it?
SL: By car, my commute costs 30 minutes (15 minutes each way). By bike, it costs 60 minutes (30 minutes each way). So I see the “cost” of cycle commuting as the incremental 30 minutes each day it takes me to commute by bike.
But I get so much back from that 30-minute investment! I get 60 minutes of sharpening-the-saw time. Sometimes I listen to podcasts. Sometimes I actually stop and talk to random people on the trail. Sometimes I ride hard, and sometimes I let go, sit up straight, roll my shoulders back, and “smell the flowers” along the way. I love riding in the rain, and the snow and ice are nice mix-ups to my day.
Almost all of my seven-mile route is on the Murdock Canal Trail, a multi-purpose trail that runs for 20 miles north-to-south through northern Utah County. The trail is wide, level, and well-maintained – they even plow most of it in the winter. I love it that I don’t have to worry about cars except at a few easy crossings.
The bottom line is that my time with my family and time at work are both better because of my time on the bike — it’s good for my soul. And, yes, now I’m getting younger faster than I’m getting older!
CW: How do you deal with the practical considerations of a longer commute? What about the weather?
SW: I ride nearly every day to and from work in basically any weather: rain, snow, sun, whatever. I’ve learned the value of carrying a bag with a flat kit and a pair of waterproof pants.
I picked up some TorrentShell pants from Patagonia and they’ve been a lifesaver. I also have a similar rain jacket. I carry them most days and I just pull them on when it’s raining hard enough that I’d have wet clothes at work. They’re comfortable pants and I haven’t found them to be hot even though they’re waterproof – after all, I come from the East and would rather bike in the rain then in the desert any day.
In the summer I bring an extra shirt to change into when I get to the office. In the winter I take off my base-layer during the work day and leave a pair of work shoes in the office. I don’t bike with cleats, but in the winter I wear a pair of hiking boots that are too heavy and hot to wear around the office.
CW: What do you consider essential commuting gear?
SL: I started with a stock midrange mountain bike: a Cannondale Catalyst. Over time as I got familiar with commuting and as the weather turned colder I added fenders, a rear rack, and a bunch of lights. I purchased some wind breaking gloves, and a base layer to block the cold winter wind.
To carry my computer and work essentials, I started out with a backpack. Unfortunately, I hadn’t padded my laptop well and bruised my spine, so I transitioned to a pannier bag. That worked wonderfully until one particularly cold January day when one of the plastic clips got too brittle and broke when I went over a curb. So for now I’m back to the backpack again, which is working fine now that I’ve properly padded my laptop. I’ll choose metal pannier clips next time!
CW: What was the biggest challenge in your initial weeks of bike commuting?
SL: When I started, I was too worried about how long my commute would take, so in the interest of time I pushed too hard and strained my legs. It took several weeks of going really easy to recover, and then I eased in more gently after that. Now I’m comfortable with my performance and have learned to just enjoy whatever the day’s commute is going to bring.
CW: How has working for a cycling-friendly company impacted your commuting?
SL: A bike-friendly office makes all the difference. If I have a flat on the way in, I don’t have to worry that someone’s going to give me grief for getting in late. If I need a shower when I get in, no problem, there’s a shower in the office gym. I can store my bike in a special room with high-quality racks. The room is only open to cyclists in the company, and has proper surveillance – I don’t even use my lock anymore when I store it inside. Plus, there’s a good cycling community at work and people are always happy to share advice, experience, gear reviews, and tall tales.
CW: Has your love for cycle commuting translated into recreational riding?
SL: Not really. My children have started riding around town, and they love it – but we haven’t done any bigger family rides yet.
There are a lot of people at Qualtrics who ride, and many of them are pretty serious. Recently I was invited on a Saturday training ride and I thought to myself “why on earth would I want to do that?” So I’m not sure I’m a real cyclist, and I don’t know if I ever will be. There are so many things in my life that are more important to me than spending more time on the bike. On the other hand, I’m finding that my daily commute by bike makes all other aspects of my life so much better, so who knows where cycling may lead me!
Note: Jamie and Scott both work at Qualtrics, a Provo, Utah based software company.
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