Nov 03

Interview: Kent Page – Teacher and San Antonio Bicycle Commuter

As my readers know I’m an Elementary Teacher. I’m also the Science facilitator for my campus. At a resent facilitator meeting I was able to sit next to Kent Page. In that time I learned he was a bicycle commuter. I asked Kent if he was interested in doing an interview for my blog. I think you will enjoy Bike4Heck.com’s first local interview:
Bike4Heck.com:  Tell us about yourself?
Kent:  I’m an elementary science teacher. My greatest accomplishments are being married with two kids.
Bike4Heck.com: How long have you been commuting to work?
 Kent: I’ve started riding my bike to teach piano lessons before I had a driver’s license as a way to save money for a car. Ironic, no? So I’ve been commuting now for about 300,000 years.
Bike4Heck.com: How long is your commute?
 Kent: From my home to my classroom is about 5 miles using the ruler on Google Earth. The drive is about 8 miles by car. Bikers learn circling around the back sides of buildings in order to miss a bad traffic light, or turning early to avoid the street with the aggressive dog, and slightly longer routes that have decent shoulders, etc. might make the trip longer, but much better. I would say the bike route is around 6-7 miles.
Bike4Heck.com: How often do you commute?
Kent:  Once the afternoon temperatures are out of the death march range, 3 times per week is about tops. I’m doing tutoring at the apartments of some of my school’s students (another story) but it requires a quick drive as soon as my parent pick-up afternoon duty concludes, is a bit over a mile, up hill, along a busy road with no, 2 days per week. So I’m currently only able to bike to work 2-3 times per week. On the other hand, my school just got a grant for bikes, so I’m planning a ride every Saturday morning for our new, yet to be created, bike club. I will almost certainly bike to my school for that too although I don’t know if that qualifies as commuting to work. It is also great fun to have my bike handy in the back of my truck. Yesterday, after meeting my wife for a meal downtown, we biked along the newly opened Mission Reach to burn off some calories.
Bike4Heck.com:   Do you commute when the weather is bad?
Kent:   Most of my worst bike wrecks happened in the rain. Not only are the two postage stamped sized contacts between the tires of a bike with the road much less capable of gripping during turns, drivers can’t see you as well. There is a certain savage delight in getting rain-soaked, but being splashed by cars is an entirely different category of wet, and also gets grit into the gears. Cold is okay, but I can’t figure out how to keep my fingers from going numb, but rain is something I avoid if possible. I grew up in the flat lands of the Texas Panhandle where the wind is steady and strong. Consequently, I have a healthy respect for biking into a headwind. When I first started doing bike rides long enough to get me out of the city, I would always head directly into the wind. That way, by sitting upright during the return trip, I could almost coast back to town.
Bike4Heck.com: What is your bicycle of choice?
Kent: My favorite bike is my Schwinn Super LeTour with skinny tires and little road resistance. However, to avoid constant flats, I use a Specialized off road bike. Not pretty, way too heavy, not toll enough for good leg extension, but sturdy. When I roll over road debris or swerve over rocks, I don’t have to stop and fix a leak.
Bike4Heck.com: How do you deal with not having a shower at work?
Kent:   Some way to have a shower before school starts would be fantastic. Even something like an outdoor enclosure using an unheated water hose would be an improvement, or a bathroom in the gym with a drain in the floor for doing a sponge bath. Currently, this is my routine: I stop at a spot near my school to eat the breakfast packed before to provides some cool down time outside. Then inside my room  I have a heavy duty fan to quickly dry off and cool down. After the sweat stops, I do sponge bath in the rest room using paper towels which are sealed into a baggie before going into the trash, and change into the clothes I packed for work. It is not an entirely satisfactory solution.
Bike4Heck.com: What was your motivation to start commuting by bicycle?
Kent:  I bike to work for several reasons. First, it is important to be active yet doesn’t hurt my back the way other types of exercise do. Next, it is a good model for students. Many of my oldest students in 5th grade have not learned how to ride a bike. When the grant for the bikes was submitted, the research I did about childhood obesity and how diabetes levels in San Antonio are double the national average were surprising and disturbing. Organizations in both areas unanimously advocated improved nutrition and becoming more active. Kids need to bike!  Finally, it my way of thinking globally about sustainable use of resources, while acting personally to do my own part.
Bike4Heck.com: What is the feedback you have gotten from your co-workers? and Students?
Kent:  Colleagues and students are supportive and admire the gesture. Those who are not have not said so to me. One teacher has started occasionally riding his bike to work too. Another wants me to help her figure out a route that avoids a bad patch of traffic so she can start.
Bike4Heck.com: What is your families attitude toward your commuting to work?
Kent:  My family is very supportive. My wife sometimes tries, but usually gets stranded somewhere. She has some really tough areas to get across. My family always encourages me. They have very willingly come to rescue me from under a bridge somewhere when occasional downpours strand me in some out of the way spot. However, they very reasonably insist I carry a phone, use lights, carry tools, keep a clean water bottle, and wear a helmet.
Bike4Heck.com: Besides riding to work have you ridden to other places for transportation by bicycle?
Kent:  The greenbelt linear parks have been a huge success for San Antonio. It is true to our city’s historical decision to keep the downtown river unpaved, which became the famous River Walk. With the success of the bike paths along tributaries of the San Antonio River, and the bike paths along the Eagle Land and Mission Reach, and the heavily used pay per use bikes downtown, San Antonio has finally developed the capacity for good biking. However, most roads  I use are still really dangerous to bike. Because the roads aren’t always built to accommodate, bikes, motorists are sometimes reactive to a biker for reasons I won’t speculate on at this time. At my school, the students will use the bikes we get from our grant to bike to several ponds in the area of our school to observe and record environmental measurements correlated to our tree planting habitat restoration project ACORN (Alamo-area Children Organized to Replant Natives.) It saves the instructional time spent walking, allows visiting two additional pond sites, teaches bike safety and usage, and provides healthy exercise. When the bikes are in place later this fall, we can use them in PE, the bike rodeo, during the above mentioned Creek Patrols and for our new bike club ‘Cycles in Nature’.
Bike4Heck.com: Do you see other cyclists on your commute? Do you have a relationship with them?
Kent:  I do see other bikers along my commute. I don’t know any of them. I found out while vising with Hank at the Helotes Bike Shop (now closed, alas) that the guy who always passed me in the dark like he was motorized is a professor at University of Texas San Antonio. Couldn’t get a conversation going with him though. I’ve had some luck getting some of my extended family to go riding with us. I have a nephew in 6th grade who learned how to ride a bike just so he could join us.
Bike4Heck.com: Do you commute to places other than work by bicycle?
Kent: I bike to the grocery store. As you can see from the photo, I have a very classy luggage system consisting of a milk carton secured with bike inner tubes tie downs. Since I can’t carry too many groceries that way, I have to go to the store regularly. It seems to be working out.
Bike4Heck.com: What is your bicycle of choice?
Kent:  My Schwinn Super Le Tour touring bike fits me well, allows me good leg extension, has good toe clips, very low road resistance, and a responsive Sun Tour derailleur. Going down a good hill feels like I am about to go airborne. When I go up a steep hill, it seems nearly effortless compared to my primary commuting bike in the photo. However, those skinny tires on my touring bike are too susceptible to flats. The fast clip of the speedy touring bike, when combined with down time to fix a flat, like the fable of the Tortoise and Hare, consistently loses the race to my clunky and tortoise-like off-road bike when commuting.