Bicycle Commuting vs Bicycle Touring

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve crossed the line from bicycle commuter to bicycle tourist and back several times over the last decade, and yet I am still struggling to integrate both into my life. Let’s take a look at why.

Twins Separated at Birth
Bicycle commuting fundamentally is just riding your bicycle to and from work. Short distance or long, once a month or every day, you start at home, hopefully enjoy the ride (or else you’re doing it wrong), and then go about your business. Repeat the other way-round at the end of the day. You might tailor your bike with lights, fenders and even fat studded winter tires depending on your climate and length of commute. You might even choose to move your home and work to be more bicycle-commute friendly, with amenities such as agreeable weather, cycle paths, bike lanes, secure parking and even showers depending on what you value. At some point, if your commute is long enough, what you bring along every day to handle contingencies like inclement weather, injuries and mechanical breakdowns might start to look a lot like what you might bring on a bicycle tour.

Never the Twain Shall Meet
If your commute is long enough, not only are you packing most of the supplies you’d bring on a bicycle tour, but also you’re physically conditioning yourself for bicycle touring. If you’re like me, you’ve had an “a-ha” moment when you decided you could handle that bicycle tour you’ve been noodling about for so long, and you do. At some point you’ve spent enough that you decide you’d feel more secure with more savings, and you stop touring to work. If you still have the urge to continue your tour at some point then things get interesting. Depending on the length of your tour, you may have chosen to maintain a household, and maybe even your job. For short cycle-touring vacations, this is the case, and returning to “normal” is easy: you just go back to it at the end of your vacation and start dreaming about the next cycle-touring vacation. For longer cycle tours, this may not be the case. If you’re like me short cycle-touring vacations only fuel the desire to make life more cycle-touring and less vacation from work. Maybe you got rid of your stuff, including your car and house or apartment, to generate savings and reduce expenses. Then going back to “normal” isn’t so easy, but you aren’t really concerned about “normal,” you’re just looking for a brief interlude to build up your savings. You’re now looking for the specific combination of short-term work and short-term housing, and it becomes an exercise in optimizing for maximum income and minimum expenses. In my field and home town places offering short-term housing tend to be in the city, while places offering high-paying short-term (contract) work tend to be in the suburbs, outside the range of public transportation. Making matters worse, the climate means winter bicycle commuting to those places requires a very winter-specific bike, and you may not find much for bicycle-commuter-friendly amenities (even secure parking and/or showers) when you get there.

That sucks. Now what?
The obvious answer is “Don’t Do That,” but stop to work somewhere with a milder climate. (Or maybe just “Don’t Do That There in Winter.”) Or, if you really insist on doing that there, buy a property you can live in when you’re working, storing your winter bike there and renting out the living space when you’re touring. Huh. To be continued…

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