Among bike commuters, there are many levels of dedication, from the fair-weather biker to the hard-core, everyday, snow-or-no-snow, rain-or-no-rain trooper. Rick Rundus is certainly on the latter end of the spectrum, biking two miles from his home to his job at the U of I year-round, regardless of weather. Smile Politely caught up with Rundus as he was preparing for a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, and he shared his views on why cars act the way they do, how to make Champaign-Urbana more accessible to bicycles and what’s going well in the local bike culture.
Take a peek inside the mind of an all-weather commuter, after the jump.
Smile Politely: How long have you lived in Champaign-Urbana?
Rick Rundus: Since I was four years old, no five; I take it back, I was up in Northern Illinois in DeKalb at age four. That would be 46 years. I went to U of I.
SP: How long have you been biking regularly?
RR: I fell out of it when I started traveling a lot for my previous employment. There I was commuting by airplane all over everywhere. I biked when I could, but the days I had to go to Willard to catch a flight, I couldn’t. When I came back to U of I to work nine years ago, I started biking regularly. I was told as a condition of my employment that I had to have a parking pass and I quickly discovered that that was ridiculous. I lived a little over two miles from work, and none of my employers really got it. So nine years ago I got really serious about riding every day.
SP: What do you do at the U of I?
RR: I’m an environmental and safety engineer. When I first came there I was doing construction management. That was kind of fun because I would ride up on my bike to the construction site and the contractors didn’t realize that they were being inspected by their project manager. They expected a professor or a student to be riding up on their bike and they didn’t realize that they were getting busted. I worked out at the Interstate Research Park for 20 years at CERL. Actually, when our son was in daycare, I had a bike trailer and I would take him out to daycare which used to be across from CERL. So, I did what I could, weather permitting, and I’ve upgraded my bike since I’ve worked at the university because I said there’s no reason to pay $450+ for parking plus the costs of driving a vehicle short distances. It’s a nice wakeup in the morning, and it’s a nice recovery in the evening when I’m headed home. Our former boss would say to me as I was walking into work on a cold winter day with my helmet in my hand, he would say something obtuse like, “You didn’t bike in to work today, did you?” “Well, ah, I carry this helmet when I drive my car.” You know what, it’s just not all that bad. I do adjust my travel schedule to avoid peak car-driving times. I’ve been up-front with my boss about that, and he’s been cool with it. I don’t ride at quarter till eight, I tend not to want to be on the road.
SP: How much do you typically ride per week?
RR: Typically, on average, I’d be riding two to three hundred miles per week. This year, because of some injuries and other circumstances, I haven’t been doing the kind of training rides that I normally would. I’m probably around a hundred miles a week.
SP: What kind of bike do you ride, or if you have a fleet, what kinds?
RR: I do have a fleet. I have everything from an old KHS mountain bike that I use in bad weather, I have a Trek mountain bike with disc brakes that I use in really bad weather when the snow’s deep. I prefer to take that out to Kickapoo trails when I can or race it. My standard commuter bike is a Trek 7500 and then I have a couple of road bikes and race bikes. My favorite is my Softride Rocket T2 because it’s such a fast, snappy bike. When you want to go someplace and get really great aerodynamic performance it’s by far the quickest bike I have.
SP: Have you had any incidents with motor vehicle traffic, either here or elsewhere?
RR: I’ve had numerous incidents. The two commuting have been here in town between work and home. I had one in July and I had one a year ago May. A year ago May I was waiting at a stop sign about a half-block from my house, and a vehicle cut a turn short and blew me off my bike head-on. And that took me about nine months to get recovered from. And this one in July, I’m still nursing a few minor injuries and that’s why I said I had some injuries that limited my biking this year. And that was a guy who decided to drive the wrong way in my traffic lane at me. I don’t know what to do, I ride with strobes on in the daytime now and dayglo clothing, and it just doesn’t seem to matter, we’re just too small. We’re not six to eight foot wide. The best I can do is about 18 to 22 miles an hour unless I’m on my race bike.
SP: What’s the worst street to ride on in C-U?
RR: Prospect Avenue; it’s just too narrow. Mattis is bad too, but my wife’s been working hard on that. She got the shoulder repaired [on Mattis] by sending in photographs showing that the drop-off is eight inches. I’d rather have us be allowed on the road rather that having a municipality that’s going to be short on funds for the next ten years because of the economic downturn having to pave a side path.
SP: What do you like about the local bike culture?
RR: I like the fact that there’s a very energetic community that’s trying to get complete streets to multiple modes of transportation, and I think that’s great. It’s great that there’s someone focused on the U of I campus and Champaign and Urbana for complete streets and multiple modes of transportation. “Come on, go on this path that you think is wonderful so you can see where it has problems.” I’m very hopeful that the community will adopt, with the long-term need for changes in the economy and energy consumption patterns, that we will adopt complete communities and sustainable communities that integrate cycling and pedestrian access as a part of the overall community design and improvement. I think that’s going to make us a more desirable community to come to. The infrastructure is really struggling to support the need.