This is the fourth installment of a series on bike commuting.
STAMFORD — The first time John Robert decided to commute via bike to work, his mind raced through a series of questions. How would he carry his belongings? Where would he park the bike? Would he arrive to work looking presentable? Was there somewhere he could shower?
“I remember having heavy anxiety,” he recently recalled.
Eventually, Robert, a 48-year-old resident who lives in Norwalk and works at Gen Re in Stamford, came to see the barriers to bike commuting as not so much physical but mental. “Once you actually start doing it all your questions are answered and you’re good to go,” he explained.
On Thursday, he and another cyclist, Ken Tashoff, will give tips to aspiring bikers as part of a presentation at Rippowam Labs, a makerspace on Summer Street that Robert helped found. The event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is part of Bike to Work Week, a five-day series of programs for cyclists spearheaded by the city and Downtown Special Services District.
While some of the talk will focus on practical issues, such as how to pack efficiently and without wrinkling your clothes, the two are also planning to tackle a more trenchant fear of many would-be bikers — that of riding alone.
Robert, a programmer, has designed a website that will allow people to share maps of their routes and hopefully connect those who want to ride to work together.
The project was initially proposed by Tashoff, who works as a manager at Danny’s Cycles. There are similar share-ride initiatives for bike commuters in other communities. The two borrowed ideas from a website for bike commuters in Ann Arbor, Mich.
At the event, individuals will be shown how to create maps of their work commutes using Google Maps. Robert said he initially thought he would have to build an application especially designed for bike commuters, but he discovered that the technology is already there. Using the mobile Google Maps app, people are able to track each other in real time. For bike commuters, the information allows people to decide whether to wait for someone to join them or simply get on their way.
Robert said he recently tested the app, which requires users to change a setting on their cell phones and send a URL to those with whom they wish to share their tracking information.
“It’s scary how accurate it is,” he said.
He added that the feature could also be used for recreational rides.
For now, the website will be housed on the site for Rippowam Labs. But Robert said that could change based on the level of interest in bike commuting.
“We’ll build it and see where it goes,” he said.
Robert first began getting around by bike in 1998 mostly as a way of saving money, he said. At the time, he was living in the Cove section of Stamford and still paying off college loans while also taking classes at Norwalk Community College, which was then known as Norwalk Tech — where it didn’t matter whether he showed up sweaty and with helmet hair. For about two years, Robert went carless, biking roughly 7 miles to get to school.
He realized that not only was bike commuting economical, it was also great exercise. “When you’re biking 100 miles through the week, you don’t have to worry about what you eat,” he said.
But biking to work was another thing, given that showing up in biking clothes and dripping sweat isn’t part of most offices’ dress expectations. Now that he’s over his fears around that, he bikes roughly 10 miles between his house in Norwalk and the Stamford Family YMCA, where he works out first before heading to his office on Long Ridge Road. The one-way trip takes roughly 40 minutes. He does not ride year-round, but elects to stop once it starts to snow.
He is also back to owning a car. As the father of an 8-year-old girl, having one is now a necessity, he said.
But he is far from dependent on one. Last September, his car died and he went without it for about a month and a half.
“It was kind of fun actually,” he said.
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