Janesville33.5°

Pair-a-medic: Doctor digs two-wheeled commute

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Catherine W. Idzerda
June 17, 2011
— Here's a sound piece of advice for bike commuters: Watch out for insane woodchucks.

This spring, Scott Miller, an anesthesiologist at Dean's Riverview Surgery Center, marked his 16th year as a bike commuter.


In that time, he's racked up between 11,000 and 12,000 miles on his trusty Trek. From the nippy days of early spring, through July's sticky heat, and right up to the numbing days of late autumn, Miller is on the road, keeping a careful eye on traffic, other cyclists and woodchucks in a hurry.


His commute: Miller leaves his home near Wright Road at 6:25 a.m. and travels eight miles to Dean via the city's bike trails and streets.


He's been commuting since 1994, when he started at Dean.


Miller isn't a fitness buff or a Tour de France wannabe.


"I am, by no means, some kind of athlete," Miller said. "I normally wouldn't go out to exercise just to go out and exercise."


Those first few spring rides are tough, but he sees a "huge improvement" in a week or two.


For a guy who doesn't really like to exercise, commuting is perfect.


"At the end of the day, it's the only way to get home," Miller said.


His bike: Trek 7500. It's a hybrid sturdy enough to handle uncertain pavement conditions on city streets but not so bulky it slows him down on the smooth surfaces of the bike trail. It also has seat and wheel shocks.


His bike's amazing life: After putting in about 11,000 miles, Miller discovered what he thought was a problem with the crankcase. Michael's Cycles diagnosed it as a cracked frame. Because the item was under warranty, Miller received a new, $1,000 bike free from Trek and Michael's.


The frame was sent back to Trek for inspection, but Miller didn't let the company take back the whole bike: He removed the seat from the old bike and put it on his new one.


Woodchucks and other hazards: Miller enjoys seeing the critters and blooming landscape on his morning commutes.


But his run-in with a woodchuck was not a good experience.


"I was going about 17 mph on a straightaway on the bike trails, and this woodchuck—at least I think it was a woodchuck—ran right under the pedals, between the two wheels of my bike," Miller said. "His timing couldn't have been more perfect if he had planned it."


But it was odd—at that time of the morning, local critters pretty much have the trail to themselves.


"I don't know, maybe the woodchuck did it on a dare from his friends," Miller said.


During the flooding in 2008, a friend of Miller's almost hit a carp swimming in the flooded street.


The main biking hazard is, of course, motor vehicles.


"Always assume the cars don't see you," Miller advised. "You have to be very defensive."


At stop signs and signal lights, make eye contact with drivers to make sure they see you, he said.


Advice for wannabe bike commuters: "First off, get a decent bike," Miller said. "I like Michael's—they fit the bike to you, make sure the seat is adjusted properly, make sure everything is right.


"There's nothing wrong with a Huffy," he said, but he believes the extra expense will yield a more comfortable ride.


Then, get panniers—bike racks—to carry your stuff.


Backpacks work, but they'll leave your back sweaty before you finish your first mile.


Lighting for the back and front of the bike is crucial. Miller also wears jackets or pants with a reflective material in them.


"If the cars can't see you, you're in trouble," Miller said.


He also recommends glasses to keep the wind and airborne grit out of your eyes.


Most important? A good bike helmet that's properly fitted to your head.


"I can't stress that enough," said Miller. "You've got to wear a helmet."



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