An interview with Zack Graber, Designer

The Best Route Isn’t the Fastest

Zack is a designer and a committed bike commuter. He moved to Kentucky from Florida a few years ago. Here, he saw the beauty of snow for the first time and also learned why some people have winter coats. One winter ride he got so cold he thought he would die. He learned a lot from that ride.

Interview by Brad Flowers

BF What is your first bike memory?

ZG If I remember correctly, I learned how to ride a bike on summer break in 1997. My brother and I found an abandoned Huffy in a dumpster behind Publix. A couple new tubes and a tightened chain later, my brother was pushing me down the sidewalk teaching me how to ride. I turned seven that summer and have been getting around by bike ever since.

BF I understand you rode for awhile on a bike with no chain. Is that true, and, if so, is it possible?

ZG Definitely true. And, definitely not desirable. We didn’t have a ton of extra money. I was goofing around on my BMX bike that I rode everywhere at the time. I broke the chain trying a jump. I didn’t have money to replace it. I rode to school without for months.

BF. But, how do you do it? The chain is the part that makes the bike go forward (for those of you non-mechanically inclined).

ZG. Like I said, it is possible, not preferable. You have to ride it sort of like a scooter. You push off and coast. Push and coast. Here is a tip I learned. Painted asphalt has a rolling resistance a lot lower than regular asphalt. If you stay on the white line on the edge of the road, you coast way farther.

BF Good tip. How did you transition from fun to transportation?

ZG Yeah, I started riding as an excuse to get out of the house. I’d spend hours pedaling around town looking for curbs to jump or trees to ride up. I made my first friends around a questionably built plywood ramp in the middle of the street.

But I guess I really started “commuting” by bike when I moved to Orlando for college. I didn’t have enough money to buy a car and I lived six miles from campus. I bought a $150 road bike from a guy in a McDonald’s parking lot. You’d be surprised how easy it is to ride six miles. My roommate drove to class every day and I always made the commute faster than she did.

BF It is faster, but it sometimes sucks. How do you stay inspired when you don’t feel like riding?

ZG I think the secret is that I always feel like riding. Rain or shine, hot or cold, riding my bike is better than sitting in traffic any day.

BF That is true. And, a little philosophical. What is a lesson you have learned commuting by bike?

ZG Everything is a lot closer than you think.

BF Okay, still with the philosophy. What is a tip you would give a new bike commuter?

ZG The fastest route isn’t always the best route.

BF Come on! What’s next? The circularity of life in a pedal stroke?

ZG That is a good point, but I am serious. When I was new to Lexington my daily commute was straight down a major four-lane road. It only took me 12-16 minutes to get to work but I was on high alert the whole way in. Vehicle traffic on this route gets pretty backed up. For some reason, drivers try to take their frustration out on cyclists.

You showed me the route into work that weaves through neighborhoods, crosses over a creek and dips through a hole in a fence. This route takes about double the time the old route took but it’s enjoyable.

BF I love that. Would you call it a design solution to an engineering problem?

ZG Ha, I guess so!

BF So, as a person from a warm climate, how do you stay warm riding in the winter?

ZG I’ll let you know when I figure it out. At this point, I bundle up enough not to freeze to death and just deal with the frozen fingers and toes. A little discomfort is good for the constitution.

BF No offense, but I am not going to take your advice on this one.

ZG Probably smart.

BF Well, likewise, what is a tip for how to arrive to work presentable in the summer?

ZG My routine is to pack a change of clothes, wait outside for a few minutes to make sure I cool off, then change into my work clothes. The waiting to cool off piece is crucial. There’s nothing worse than putting on your work clothes and immediately sweating through them.

But here’s the thing, I’ve been pretty sweaty my whole life. Even if I drive into work and sit in a climate-controlled office chances are my pits are still sweaty. My tip for being presentable is to adjust your standard when you’re riding your bike. Wear the windblown hair as a badge of honor. You’re doing something that’s great for you and for the environment.

BF We should end on that one.

ZG It’s your interview.