My First Two Tucson Commutes

Bike Shop Hub moved to Tucson, Arizona over the weekend. While my co-workers moved five big truckloads of inventory and office equipment, I was entrusted with delivering our rotted and weathered picnic table.

Tucson Commute  1

I commuted by truck with this precious cargo more than 250 miles in our company’s gutless Mazda, and brought them both safely to their new home.

Bike Shop Hub Truck
Mission critical

So this week I begin my extended stay in Tucson, Arizona, which means…

I’m starting from scratch as a bike commuter in a new city, which means…

It’s an opportunity to experience the apprehension of many people who come to this site because they want to try bike commuting for the first time — but hopefully not make the rookie mistakes.

Bike Shop Hub Company Truck
I’m not scared… much.

It also means that my commute has been lengthened from 1.7 miles to… Well, I measured it yesterday when I drove the truck to our new location from the house where I’m staying. By car, it’s 9.7 miles.

Tucson Commute  2

The bike I chose to bring to Tucson, is the Critical Cycles single speed with the E-Bike Kit. (Voted by readers two-to-one over my Murray Monterey.)

Like a good first-time bike commuter, I spent some time planning.

The night before, I looked at my routing options on Google Maps.

The shortest route was 9.9 miles, mostly on surface streets with bike lanes. The longest route was 12.4 miles, mostly using multi-use paths along the Rillito River (part of Tucson’s “The Loop“).

Tucson Route Options A & B
Options A & B

Although it’s 2.5 miles longer, the route along the river sounded so much more pleasant. So I decided to be ambitious.

In the morning, I did a more thorough inspection of my bike than I would have done back home. (Because back home, I often walk to work anyway; I don’t really care if I have to push the bike. But with a 12-mile commute, I do care. I care very much.)

Critical Cycles Bald Tire
Uh oh.

This bike belongs to Pete Prebus, who reviewed it as a fixie — and from the looks of the rear tire, he did some fixie skid stops, including one really impressive one.

I decided to risk it.

(Mental note: Ask Pete Prebus what the hell he’s been doing with this bike.)

I strapped on a saddle bag loaded with a multi-tool and a patch kit, and moved my tail light to the back of the battery bag. I realized my mini pump is 250 miles away.

Battery Bag and Saddlebag
Getting kind of crowded back there.

At 7:15 AM, I clipped in with ample time to get to work, and then hit the road.

Ted's Foot
Just kidding about the “clipped in” part.

Just getting to the river path was as long as my old commute. I mingled with traffic, signaled my intentions, and made frequent use of my helmet-mounted mirror.

Once on the path, it was glorious. No cars; just people on bikes, roller skates, runners and a beautiful morning.

I just followed the path, and enjoyed the ride. I hardly used the electric assist at all. The path went under almost all of the street crossings.

The Loop: Rillito River
And the view. Did I mention the view?

After about half an hour, I figured I might be halfway to work, so I started watching for Flowing Wells Drive, which is where I would need to emerge and mingle again with motor traffic.

My mental map of Tucson is pretty weak, but I just had to remember Flowing Wells Drive. I pedaled on.

Flowing Wells Drive? Where are you Flowing Wells Drive?

I-10 & River Road, Tucson
Seek and find: a live bird, a dead bird, a bike, a lost blog editor.

I reached the end of multi-use path. Hmm…

I hopped onto River Road, and continued going west, still looking for Flowing Wells Drive.

I reached Interstate 10.   I knew I was officially lost.

The bike lane on River Road had disappeared. The motor traffic was noisy and menacing.

I rode on the sidewalk. God forgive me.

I paused under the Interstate overpass to collect my thoughts. I tried to use my phone. The battery was dead.

Lost in a strange city with no cell phone. The horror.

I remembered an African saying I learned in the Peace Corps: A man with a mouth is never lost. Find a local and ask directions.

But currently all of the locals were speeding by in metal machines going 40 mph.

My instincts told me to go to the West side of the Interstate and see what was there. I was pleasantly surprised to find another bike route, which I followed south.

Way up ahead I saw some cyclists using the path. I had a hard headwind. If I wanted to ask for directions, I’d have to catch them. I pushed on the electric assist and held that sucker on full throttle — which maybe helped me to go 18 mph instead of 13 mph.

I couldn’t catch them — they were roadies in aero mode. But I came across a couple of slowpoke cyclists and they gave me directions.

The Bicycle Loop
Shipping Container Bike Shop: Tucson’s Bicycle Loop and Helpful Slowpokes

Further down the path, I came across a post-apocalyptic looking bike shop in a shipping container, called Tucson’s Loop Bicycle Shop. Even on this side of the freeway, with the helpful slowpokes and the minimalist bike shop I was not alone. It made me feel good about Tucson.

If you are keeping track, I’ve made two or three rookie mistakes.

  • No ability to repair a flat or call for help: I should have had either a mini pump or made sure my phone battery was fully charged — preferably both.
  • Failure study my route in advance or bring a map: It turns out that the name of the street I was looking for was La Cañada Drive. The Google directions told me so, if I would have read them. The name of the street changes to Flowing Wells Drive further south.

By the time I made it to the office, I had traveled 19.8 miles.

Let me repeat that: I had a 19.8 mile bike commute today.

I’ll be taking the short way home — via local bike shop to replace that tire, ’cause it’s about to blow.

UPDATE 4/17/13:

Critical Cycles Blown Tire
Critical Cycles’ Critical Injury

I said it was about to blow. It blew.

I was about 1.7 miles from work, and I walked the bike another 1.7 miles to the nearest bike shop, Trek Bicycles of Tucson. Funny how that 1.7-mile thing keeps coming up — as if to remind me that this new commute is multiples of what my commute was back in Flagstaff.

I had the bike shop put on the new tire and tube, and I bought a new patch kit. The whole experience cost me $45 — because I bought a really cheap tire. Sorry, Pete.

That price also included a locally made Julie Bar — which was delicious. I also picked up two maps of the area. I still need to get a frame pump. If I owned this bike, I’d probably get an extra couple of tubes to bring with me.

Today I made it to work without getting lost. There was serious headwind all the way in, and I used the electric assist a lot.

Julie Bar
Mental Note: Eat more Julie Bars

Two roadies drafted me for about five miles. That’s never happened before — because I never had a commute like this before, I suppose. I realized why some people find it so annoying. But I realized that either (a) they knew I had an electric assist and drafting me meant they too were “cheating,” or (b) that they thought that older guy on the single speed is really kicking ass. When I split off, one yelled, “Thanks for the ride!”


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17 thoughts on “My First Two Tucson Commutes”

  1. kw says:

    Tucson is a great bike city, enjoy! I used to live there and rode EVERYWHERE.

  2. Dan says:

    Here’s a good bike map:

    You can get a large version of this at most bike shops in town. Welcome to Tucson!

  3. listenermark says:

    God has a special providence for small children, drunks, and Ted. Glad you made it in safely.

  4. David says:

    Welcome to Arizona. I ride in all but the coldest of weather (about 1.5 hours south east of Tucson, significantly cooler).

  5. Mike Wilkinson says:

    You found Us! Next time you get lost. Stop into the shop and say Hi!

  6. Jim Tolar says:

    Welcome to AZ. I’m a little jealous that you’re in Tucson because it’s a prettier desert city than Phoenix, but it’s hard to beat the commuting weather.


  7. Brian says:

    Long ride on a fixie. I love the idea of the shop in the shipping container. Next time I get up to Tucson, I’ll have to check it out.

  8. Charlie says:

    Current Tucsonan – but not commonly a commuter. Shortest route from my home to work is 23 miles. I do the round-trip 15-20 times a year. But I guess I’m one of those “roadies” up ahead.

  9. Kyle Boggs says:

    A few years ago, I made the very same move you just did, though my commute only increased by a few miles. Moving here in August – the most beautiful time of year in Flagstaff, to the worst time of year in Tucson, this opposition required me to reverse my routine. So in Flagstaff, I road a cyclocross in the winter because of the extra stability but also because I could carry a lot more comfortably – a place to store extra warm clothes once I got to my destination…maybe water proof pants, different shoes…etc. While in the summer, I road a fixie. Here I’m finding that I do the opposite. In Tucson during the summer, I’ll take the fixed gear on short trips when I don’t have to carry anything, but for my normal commute, I choose the cyclocross. I’d rather ride with panniers that will carry a change of clothes, water…etc…a sweaty messenger bag on a fixie when it’s 110 out is the worst. The single speed throughout the winter is perfect though.

    One of the first things I noticed when riding in the heat is that you don’t really start sweating until you stop pedaling. But once you start, it’s really gross…arrive early and bring extra cloths. I like to drink a lot of water before I leave, then fill up when I get there.

    Also, on longer commutes on gridded streets, it is easy to zone out. In Flagstaff, I was always weaving in and out of traffic, up hills, around corners…the longer straight roads here tend to bore me after a while and I catch myself zoning out a bit…which is likely why I was hit by an escalade last week (the dreaded right hook). You’ll also notice that most of the streets in Tucson are in dire need of repair…long commutes on skinny fixie tires, over bumpy surfaces can take a toll on your body…but there are lots of nice multi-use paths if you can make them work for your commute. Mountain Ave is probably the most bike-friendly streets in town. Maybe more advice than you wanted!

  10. Randy says:

    Welcome to Tucson, indeed. There are a significant number of confusing street name problems in the Tucson metro area. I’ll give you a just sampling of the chaos so you’ll be aware that you probably aren’t crazy, this town is.

    You discovered Flowing Wells / La Canada.

    These streets are straight and continuous, and change names for no reason when they cross I-10:
    Ruthrauff Rd. / El Camino Del Cerro
    Grant Rd. / Ironwood Hills
    22nd St. / Starr Pass Blvd.

    Here’s a tiny sample of more that just change names out of the blue:
    Pima St. / Elm St.
    Third St. / University Blvd.

    There are myriads of streets with two names that are on the same alignment but don’t run thru because of some obstacle. Here is just a sample:
    Golf Links / 36th St.
    Escalante / Ajo Way
    Sweetwater / Roger Rd.

    There are also a bunch of roads that transition from one street and become an entirely different street at a curve. Here’s just a few of them:
    Saint Mary’s / Anklam
    Wilmot Rd. / Tanque Verde Rd.
    Kolb Rd. / Grant Rd.
    Sunrise / Skyline / Ina
    Magee Rd. / Cortaro Farms Rd.

    Just for a parting gift, here’s a bit of trivia many long-time Tucsonans don’t know; North of River Rd., Campbell Ave. runs to the North-North-East enough that when it straightens out North of Skyline, it is in alignment with Country Club Rd. down in the valley.

  11. BluesCat says:

    Welcome back down to the desert, Ted! (Do ya miss The Mountain, yet? I still do.)

    One thing I haven’t seen on that bike are bottle cages and water bottles. How are you keeping hydrated? Camelbak? Temps are starting to ramp up, man.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I definitely miss The Mountain. I have a strap-on bottle cage that I forgot to use that first day. Yesterday I put a commuter coffee mug in it.

  12. Kevin Love says:

    My first experience of Kevlar tires came when I bought my Pashley Roadster Sovereign five years ago. Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires come as factory standard equipment on the Pashley.

    I’ve never got a puncture ever since. Not one. Never.

    So I don’t carry a pump or patch kit. The pump that came with the bike is sitting in my building’s storage room. The hooks that were designed to hold the pump on make excellent places to hook the bungee cords that carry large and bulky things on my rear rack.

  13. Shanna Ladd says:

    Looks like you are enjoying nice warm weather! Things are slowing thawing out here.
    The electric bike is a topic that has come up a lot recently and I’m not sure what to tell people. I have never used an e-bike before. The e-bike kit that starts at $500 is expensive for many people.On the other hand getting a cheap e-kit may just be a waste of money. Does this e-kit go on any bike? Does it work well with hauling stuff?

  14. Miles says:

    I can definitely relate to getting lost in a new city early on. When I first started working at NYCeWheels, I was commuting from Queens to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which made for about a 9 mile commute each way. I made liberal use of my phone’s GPS guidance on most days, but when I was feeling particularly bold I would shut it off and try to navigate on my own. That’s how I discovered the weirdest, most industrial wasteland-ish areas of Queens. But I was fortunate enough not to ever break down there!

    Love Arizona though, it’s a beautiful state. Keep up the commutes!

  15. Dewber says:

    Ted, this is a tire proving grounds so don’t skimp. Kevin’s recommendation on the Marathon Plus is solid. There are several good ones, but not all Kevlar tires are good here, in fact, lots of flat-resistant tires are no good due to the proliferation of small thorns. Just trying to save a fellow some cash, cuz bike tires are expensive these days.

  16. Michele L-G says:

    Hey Ted! Just checked out the link from my Bike Shop Hub email to your blog and read your story. Very interesting and exciting, and glad you made it without true tragedy (and found a new treat).
    I just moved from a house in Seguin, TX that was 3-4 miles away from my clinic and the local hospital to an in-town house 1.5 miles away from clinic. In the past, I tried to commute once on a bypass that is the straight-shot route, and feared for my life due to increased traffic and 18-wheeler use of that road. My husband and I love being so close to work- he can walk or run, and I did make a first-time bike commute last week to the clinic, then to hospital, and back to home again. I am trying to maneuver the personal cost of riding to my place of work (sweating, hair/ makeup touch up, hot temperatures) in order to make it more my “way of getting around” instead of just a hobby.
    Congrats on the new move, and in getting back your sculpture.

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