Here's the custom built Surly Cross Check commuter bike of lifelong cyclist and non-car-owner Jim Harwood, whose every varying Pembrokeshire commutes sound positively idyllic.
Name: Jim Harwood
Workplace: Various schools around Pembrokeshire, West Wales.
Tell us about your commuting rig:
A 2011 Surly Cross Check in Robin’s Egg Blue, or occasionally a ’93 vintage rigid Specialized Rockhopper with phat tyres (Schwalbe Muddy Mary’s). Both bikes are steel framed – nothing else will do! (Well, maybe titanium, one day). The Surly I have built from the ground up over the past year, including the wheels (XTR hubs laced to Mavic Open Pro rims). I use MTB gearing on my drivetrain, as there are 70 different words for “hill” in Pembrokeshire, and no word for “flat”, and I have a good strong rack as I’m often hauling quite a bit of luggage with me, which sometimes spills over into a trailer.
What’s your commute like?
My commute varies, depending on which school I’m teaching in, from a couple of miles each way up to possibly 20 miles each way. Whichever direction I travel, whichever route I take, it gets hilly. There’s a wonderful traffic-free cycle path, The Brunel Trail from Neyland to Haverfordwest, which often figures in my travels, and I try and make all other routes as traffic-free as possible. I quite like the adrenaline rush of urban cycling in places like Cardiff or London, but out here in the sticks, I’ve either got quiet lanes, or the main trunk road, which is just a grind.
How many days a week do you commute by bike?
I don’t have a car, I’m allergic to public transport, and walking’s boring, so every journey I make is by bike!
What do you enjoy the most about bike commuting?
When I did have a car, I’d still cycle to work – my experience being that if I drove home, I still had the “smell” of work on me when I got home, whereas if I cycled, work was completely forgotten within 2 minutes of leaving my workplace. It’s a great way to de-stress, and the ride in in the mornings is a time of solitude, peace and serenity before the hurly burly of the day.
What’s your least favourite thing about commuting by bike?
Nothing! Well, if I really had to pick something, it would be cycling to work in wind and rain. I don’t mind coming home in it, but at work, even with a change of clothes, once you’re damp, you’re damp all day. I don’t really mind the rain, but I find the strong winds we get here on the coast are very energy-sapping.
What are your main reasons to commute by bike?
I have been a cyclist my whole life, and plan on cycling for a whole lot longer! I love it. My bike is the very best bike in the world, and as I go I make improvements here and there, try something new like “butterfly” handlebars, making the best bike in the world that bit better. I love being outdoors, I love being able to stop and take a photo whenever I feel like it. I daren’t say it saves me any money – I’m always needing new bits and pieces and the wishlist always outstrips the bank balance every month. Commuting along country lanes necessitates very good lights which don’t come cheap, and the right clothing for the job is also important, and again, rarely if ever cheap!
Have you got any funny or interesting bike commuting stories or experiences to share?
I once had a squirrel stuck to my leg for a few hundred yards – it leapt from a tree as I passed, and sprang from the floor straight onto my bare calf where it sank its claws in and stared up at me. Even when I drew to a painful halt, it didn’t seem to want to get off! I always wear shorts for cycling (I recommend Endura Humvee’s) whatever the weather, and have been caught out in a hailstorm, which was extremely painful on bare flesh!
What’s your killer commuting tip?
Give yourself more time than you need. There’s nothing worse than racing against the clock when you really don’t feel like it (though if you’re up for it, it can be great!) and it’s not good to wear yourself out before you get to work – pace is everything. Giving yourself extra time also gives you those moments when it’s OK to just stop and stare – a great sunrise, sunlight through foggy trees, this stuff is there to be admired, savoured and lingered over, not glanced at as you rush by. If you have a hill to climb,don’t look up!
Are you a British Cycling Member? If so how does your British Cycling membership support your bike commuting?
I’m not currently a member, but I do plan to join soon, as any help a cyclist can get in this hostile world is worth having, and British Cycling do a lot for cyclists.
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