Bike blues

Trek FX 7.2Although public transport within Ann Arbor is quite alright for getting to and from the university on weekdays, it isn’t of much use for anything during the weekend, when the buses in my neighborhood run only once an hour. So, in spite of the snow and cold outside, I’ve gone shopping for a bike. I happen to live close to Wheels in Motion, one of Ann Arbor’s better bike shops, and the folks there were very helpful in finding me the right bike. They were also very patient and forgiving of my lack of American cycling vocabulary. It happened twice that they suggested a type of bike or piece of equipment to which I responded enthusiastically, only to realize when they showed the bike or item in question that it was something different than what I had thought. (Similar moments have occurred in other shops. For all my fluency in scientific and everyday English, it’s interesting to discover how many words I don’t know in other areas of the language.) Still, it didn’t take too long to settle down on the FX 7.2 by Trek. It’s a fitness bike, or at least so I’m told. Whatever its designation, it looks to serve me well on my daily commute to campus, as well as on the occasional 20- or 30-mile ride.

I picked up the bike Thursday evening. On Saturday, despite the freezing cold, I went ahead and biked to campus for the first time. First, though, I went for a short warm-up run to the grocery store. An elderly man there remarked it was quite cold for cycling, recalling he’d never ridden below 18 °F (-8 °C). I had just faced something like 5 °F (-15 °C), with wind chill in the negative F, so I beat him by a fair margin.

The three-mile ride to campus was not too bad as far as the cold went. In fact, there was one nasty hill that had me sweating as on a summer’s day by the time I reached the top. The downhill return would have been fun if the road surface were in better condition. As it was, it was something of a challenge to dodge cracks, potholes and patches of ice at 20 mph on an unfamiliar bike, with a freezing wind battering my eyes to tears.

Yesterday morning, with the temperature up to 11 °F (-12 °C), I took a slightly different route to avoid that hill and also to avoid the moderately heavy traffic on Saturday’s route. The attempt was successfull on both counts, although the quieter roads do mean poorer road conditions now that there’s been some snowfall again. The additional twisting and turning also increases the likelihood of me getting lost, especially cycling home in the dark — which didn’t take long to actually happen. I added an extra mile and a half to yesterday’s homeward journey by missing a turn and not recognizing an intersection later on where I could have fixed my initial mistake with minimal damage. I suppose it’s a good way to get to know the city a bit, but I’d rather do that in warmer weather. Note for tonight: check the map extra carefully before heading home.

The first few days

After a few days in Ann Arbor, I’m happy to report that I’m still alive, haven’t gained forty pounds yet, and am still fluent in Dutch. I’ve got a neat apartment at the edge of town, about 5 km (3 mi) from the university and close to two big supermarkets and a host of other stores. There’s a bus connection straight to campus, which is free for university students and employees. That’s very handy as long as I don’t have a bike or if the winter weather turns too bad. So far, it’s quite alright: some light snow (not nearly as much as in the Netherlands last month) and only a few degrees below zero.

The apartment is clean, well maintained and furnished rather tastefully with two couches, a dining table and chairs, a bed, a desk and lots of closet space. The kitchen comes with a fridge (US sized, of course), a stove and oven, a microwave oven and a dish washer. I spent most of the first day in town buying basic stuff like pots and pans, plates and cups, cutlery and bed linens, so I could at least cook dinner and get some sleep. The difficulty with all that is the huge number of brands and sizes and designs to choose from at Bed, Bath & Beyond. And it’s the same thing in the supermarkets. It’s good to have some choice, but shopping would go a lot faster if I didn’t have to pick from 347 different types of pasta sauce.

Meanwhile, I’ve got computer access at the university, so I’m able to get some work done. I also have a bank account, but many other things still need to be taken care of: insurances, a bike, a tv and cable subscription, cell phone, internet at home. The upside for now is that without tv and internet, my evenings are nicely quiet.

The weather forecast predicts more snow for tomorrow, followed by some clear skies on Sunday. If that holds, I’ll head out to stroll around the campus and downtown area, and snap a few pictures.