By Lou Melini – I first met Seth when he attempted to accompany me on an overnight bike tour in 2018. We rode together for quite a bit but due to a number of factors he had to turn around and go home, missing out on the camping. However we chatted about bike commuting, bikes, and everything associated with enabling one to ride to work with a smile. So more than a year later I get to chat with Seth once again.
Cycling West: Seth, tell the readers a little about you and why you commute to work by bike.
Seth Parsons: I’m a dad, a husband, a teacher, and a bike commuter.
I bike commute now because it keeps me sane. And to be honest with you, I kinda like the look I get from my co-workers when I show up on my bike with icicles in my beard.
There was a time not too long ago when I really struggled with anxiety and depression. I started medication and therapy but nothing really got better until I really committed to commuting by bicycle in February 2018. Now my wife tells me that I need a bike ride when I get a little squirrely around the house. That’s her code that I’m going crazy and annoying her.
C.W.: What was it that made you decide to commute by bike?
S.P.: My “how I became a bike commuter” story is not brief. I think I first tried to get to work by bike in 2009. I was stationed at the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. My wife was trying to get into green building and we were in a town that was very conscientious about its environmental impact. So, I guess I wanted to be “greener”. That didn’t last long and I put the bike away.
I played around with commuting to work at every job I’ve had since, but I really committed to it in 2018. That’s when the Subaru in our driveway became a “rolling storage shed” and we became, for all intents and purposes, a one-car family.
C.W.: Tell me about your current commute to work.
S.P.: I recently changed jobs. The new commute is a bit longer, but I think way more fun.
For the last two years for my previous job, I commuted from Sugarhouse to American International School of Utah in Murray. It was about a 7-mile commute, each way. I got a lot of use out of the S-Line trail, but it was a super short part of my commute. From 800 E, I’d take the S-Line to 300 E, then head south in the mornings.
Probably the worst part of my commute would be the four blocks I spend on 3900 S in South Salt Lake. It’s loud. There’s lot of traffic. I also got “doored” on this route going home one afternoon. But I guess that’ll happen to you if you ride your bike enough.
My new commute will takes me up near the international airport, about eight miles each way. It’s a great ride, flat and fast with a little time spent on the Jordan River Parkway. That’s probably my favorite part of this route. I’m not a big fan of riding along North Temple to the fairgrounds. There are a lot of stoplights that I’d like to avoid so I’m thinking about heading north a block or two, then west.
C.W.: I enjoyed watching you ride your folding bike. Tell me more about it.
S.P.: Ever since I unofficially committed to commuting by bicycle a year and a half ago, I’ve had every intention of riding every day…regardless of the weather. My commuter bike is a Bike Friday Pocket Llama. It’s a folding bike built by Green Gear Cycling in Eugene, Oregon. I had it custom built for me so it has a sweet placard with my name on it. I had been messing around with commuting before on an old Trek 4900, but I wanted a steel bike and I wanted a custom built bike and I didn’t want to spend a fortune. I met a lady in St. George once who was planning to ride across the US. She came to a World Peace Gardens gathering with this tiny blue bike with itty-bitty wheels to tell her story. That was my first exposure to Bike Friday. And when I started my new bike search, the small wheels kinda hung out in the back of my mind for a while. The hard part was finding one to try out. I eventually found a bike shop in Kentucky that had one in my size for a test ride. I rode it and ordered one of my own later that week.
The bike itself is standard Bike Friday. I added some fenders, lights, a rear rack and a bell. The thing is a workhorse and an absolute joy to ride. I’ve played around with various pannier and messenger bag combinations, but my current set-up is to ride with one waterproof Arkel bag clipped on the rear rack.
I carry everything I might need on a ride in that one bag. I always have a mini-pump and a spare tube with me. Additionally, I have a tube patch kit and a Leatherman for any minor repairs or adjustments I may need to make on a ride. Honestly, I’ve found the patch kit and Leatherman to be more helpful to people I meet on the ride than to me, but I’m glad I have it with me.
C.W.: Do you also ride through the winter? If so what tips do you have?
S.P.: I do ride throughout the winter. And I have every intention of doing it on my new commute as well. The trick to year-round riding is layers. You have to have a few nice pieces of clothing to act as a base layer. Then you can add to it. I’m a big fan of wool everything. I have a nice winter weight wool jersey I bought from Wabi Woolens that I really like. Under that I’ll wear a long sleeve merino shirt and maybe a pair of wool leggings if it’s cold enough. For shoes, I love my Timberland boots. They’re waterproof and look good enough to wear with dress pants to be business casual at my work. I typically wear my work pants during my ride just because I don’t like changing at school. If it’s super sloppy outside I’ll stuff my work clothes in the Arkel bag and roll to work wearing a pair of snow pants and my wool jersey.
If the weather is absolutely garbage or I just don’t feel like riding one day I’ll take Lyft. The advantage of having a folding bike is that it fits in any trunk. Most Lyft drivers are pretty amused to watch me fold this bike down into a pile of interconnected parts that could fit in a suitcase. Last year, there was about a week in early December that was bitter cold and I wasn’t feeling it, so I Lyfted it a few times to work. Then in January, I had an injury unrelated to cycling that kept me off the bike for about three weeks. I Lyfted it at that time as well.
I have recently added a Cleverhood rain cape to my collection and I love it. It covers my legs when I ride and it’s a super nice alternative to plastic rain jackets that I find just don’t breathe very well.
C.W.: You are close enough to remembering your start as a bike commuter. What words of wisdom can you pass onto others that may want to start commuting by bike?
S.P.: If you want to start riding to work, I’d say do it. Grab your bike and go. You’ll run into so many great people also on bikes that are willing to help you out if you have any problems. You don’t need a fancy bike. Google maps have bike direction settings so you can find a nice route to wherever you’re going. Also, remember that bike commuting uses energy, sometimes a lot of energy. You’re going to be hungry. You’re going to be tired. Just listen to your body or Lyft it on days you need a break.
Finally, the last thing I’d say is to have some fun. You get a different view of the city on a bike and a different sense of your place in it. Soon you’ll be passing cars full of unhappy looking people frustrated by traffic and sedentary in their seats. Give them a wave…remind them that life is worth smiling about.
C.W.: Seth, it has been a pleasure to catch up with you. Good luck with the new job. The use of Lyft with your Bike Friday sounds like a great “Plan B” for commuters.
If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, especially from Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, W. CO, and N. AZ, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected]