Ride along on a bike commute from Carmel to downtown Indy

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As a former bike racer, I’m a little ashamed that I live only two miles from my office but have never commuted via cycle. Call me lazy, call me a wuss, but I’ve just never been able to wrap my mind around the logistics of the idea.

How do I look (and smell) decent once I get to work? Won’t my clothes get wrinkled? And where on Earth would I stow my bike?

To clear up these mysteries, I trailed veteran bike commuter Don Jerrels, who’s been peddling to work for some 20 years.

I felt reasonably prepared when I pulled into Jerrels’ Carmel home at 5:30 a.m., except, of course, for the sleepy haze still hovering around my conscious. I’m not a seasoned cyclist (or a morning person) by any means, but my year as Butler University’s wimpiest cycling team member back in 2006 left me with a really nice bike, some basic gear and enough knowledge to be dangerous.

When Jerrels’ wiry frame hoisted the garage door and gave me a once-over, his expression told me my presentation earned about a C+. Turns out he’d anticipated some inadequacies on my part and led me to an impromptu workshop in a corner of the garage.

don jerrels Jerrels, who works at Peerless Pump, has gained a wealth of experience wending his way through favorite streets and around gaping potholes. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

From a towel spread across the hood of his wife’s SUV, he selected a white light for the front of my bike and a red blinking one for the back. He wrapped a neon yellow band, also with blinking red lights, around my ankle and asked if I was warm enough.

In my thin thermal under-layer and a logo windbreaker left over from the Butler days, I admitted I was not.

biking“People don’t like bikes on the road; we might encounter some key hand gestures, honking or even rude comments,” he said. “All of that’s good. It means they see us.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, handing me a thin but dense fleece jacket, “I have an extra of everything.”

As he handed me a pair of clear glasses, to keep the wind out of my eyes, he filled me in on what I could expect.

At least there’s that, I thought with mounting anxiety, looking out into the pitch-black morning.

We were about to embark on a 20-mile commute to Peerless Pump at 20th and West Dr. Martin Luther King streets, where Jerrels sells chemical pumps from a cubicle. There, he keeps two weeks’ worth of clothing and showers in the on-premise locker room. Those who don’t have such facilities, he says, tend to wash up with a towel at a sink.

“If you towel off until you quit perspiring, there won’t be any body odor,” he said.

All of a sudden, I was picturing myself in the ladies’ room at IBJ’s offices, dabbing my armpits with a cloth. Not likely, I thought.

That particular morning was 42 degrees, which Jerrels admits is too chilly for most, but the temperature doesn’t faze him. In fact, the only thing that does is ice, at least since he broke both his arms during a slick commute two years ago.

(Sidenote: Eli Lilly and Co. supports dozens of bicyclists who commute to its downtown campus, supplying shower facilities, storage and more, as recounted in the video below.)

We made our way to 96th Street via College Avenue, where we picked up two other commuters Jerrels rides with frequently. From there, we took Westfield Boulevard to Broad Ripple Avenue and stopped at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee and to scoop up another cyclist.

The group, all over age 50, discussed who in the cycling community had broken what bone and when and I watched the parade of cars march past the drive-through window. I felt tough, with my wind-whipped cheeks and tingling thighs. Enjoy that Egg McMuffin, I thought. Twenty minutes later, we were back on Westfield until Capitol, which we took downtown.

Along the way, Jerrels made hand signals to note patches of uneven road, of which there were a lot. And we didn’t encounter any hostility, only encouragement.

Motorists honked a friendly beep-beep, schoolchildren waiting for the bus shouted “Hi!” and pedestrians waved with a smile. I smiled, too, realizing how much more pleasant the ride was than my usual drive. Did I miss Bob & Tom and the hunt for a parking spot? Not at all.

bikingWhen we arrived at Jerrels’ office at 8 a.m., we carried our bikes up some stairs and wheeled them through a room full of cubicles to another, much darker room full of filing cabinets. Jerrels assured me no one would bother them there.

He unpacked his backpack, where he keeps spare tire tubes, a tool kit and other replacement parts. He pulled out two apples, a banana, some pretzels and a sandwich—one of five lunches he carries in at the beginning of the week.

From there, I left Jerrels and rode to my apartment to clean up. I realized my brain and body were buzzing with energy; in fact, any shroud of fatigue had been shed back around 86th Street.

As I write this with a sore behind and bruised knee from a spill up on 136th Street, I’m pretty sure a bike commute is worth a try. But I think I’ll stick to my two, measly miles.•


  • Keep it simple
    While I appreciate the effort in promoting bicycle commuting I was disappointed by the accompanying "Biking a la mode, Commuting 101" spread regarding "what makes a good commuter bike" It gave the impression that to commute to work requires that you purchase more than $2,000 worth of gear. While it was an opportunity for BGI to push some product it wasnt really encouraging to those that may be thinking of riding their bike. If anything it was overwhelming and excessive. Particularly unrealistic was the notion that one needs to spend in upwards of $300 in lights to be safe.
  • Wow! What city were you riding in?
    I have commuted from Zionsville to Lilly in downtown Indy since moving here from Seattle more than five years ago. It is an awesome way to get a work-out and commute without contributing to pollution or congestion. The fact that Lilly has bike lockers, showers and a locker room is terrific.

    However, I feel like my life is in danger every time I ride, especially on the ride home from work. I have been hit twice and typically have 1-2 close calls per week -- typically either vehicles passing too close or cutting me off by turning in front of me at intersections.

    Just three weeks ago, after being cut-off, another driver (that was not even involved) took the time to stop and yell at me that I should not even be on the road. Ironically, I had ridden on the Monon that day and was only riding the mile or two from the Monon to where my car was being serviced.

    Despite the risk and the occasional abuse, I still ride, but the mental toll of the close calls and the thoughtlessness has almost made it too much to suffer. Bike paths are few and literally far between, shoulders are unridable or non-existent, and many drivers are simply not bicycle aware, let alone bicycle friendly.

    So despite my experience, I would encourage you all to ride. Because I think that only when more and more people ride that drivers will become more aware and we will actually become a bicycle-friendly city.

    See you on the road... I hope you see me!
  • 19th Century roads? No thanks.
    I went to college in southern California where bike lanes rival vehicle lanes for width and accessibility. Here? They basically paved some old horse tracks and called it good--most roads don't have sidewalks much less bike lanes, and many don't even have a strip of shoulder. I'm a southsider, and the city seems not to care to extend any trails down to us, so I'd rather not place my life in the hands of a bunch of inattentive commuters who are chatting or texting on their phones, shaving, drinking coffee, and whatever else they do beside actually driving. I'd love to bike to work, but I'm not willing to die to do it.

    Iâ??ve got friends who have been hit, Iâ??ve been hit, and there is no way Iâ??m going to commute on two wheels in this city. Iâ??ll probably die of old age before they have any serious cycle-able roads in this town, and itâ??s sad, considering Iâ??ll probably also die of old age before they get mass transit that worth a dry turd.
  • Professional Commuter
    Thank you IBJ for this article. I began commuting 7 miles to work via the Monon in 2004 with a $70 mountain bike and a backpack stocked with baby wipes. Today I have a much better bike, safety gear and a decent messenger pack. It doesn't take much to get going as a bicycle commuter, and once you do, there's no stopping.
  • Be Creative
    Many people want to commute but feel they can't. Just remember there are a lot of options.

    No shower at work? Try moist towelettes or a soapy cloth in a plastic zip bag. Need to dress nice at work? Keep a couple of jackets and pairs of shoes at the office.

    I have two different routes I use. One is 7.2 miles, scenic, and on trails, away from traffic. The other is 5.2 miles and, well, allows me to "socialize" with motorists a bit more. I take the former whenever I can. When I'm running late or the trails are soggy from rain/snow, I take the latter.

    Worried about the time a bike commute takes? Remember that it's doubling as exercise. I'm an unathletic nerd who never exercised in his life. Now, I have no choice but to exercise -- it's how I get to work.
  • Be safe
    I remember commuting on the N side of Indy. It was not fun. Never got any flak from anyone. Guess I was lucky.
    I live in a small town and don't have to commute, I live 1/2 mile from work and school for my kids.
    Please be safe and careful.
  • Wishing I Could Commute
    Some commuters I ride with will drive a portion of the distance from home to work and bike a shorter distance. This allows for more family time. Perhaps this may be an option for you.
  • wishing I could commute
    I work 35 miles away, but that is not the issue, the issue is that I work a 6 to 2:30 shift and would have to leave my house at 3:00am. That is the issue. But if gas prices still keep going up I might bear down and try to ride 2 or so times a week to save gas money. I already commute to every bike ride within 20 miles of my house.
  • Hooray
    Hooray for IBJ's doing this article, and hooray for Gabrielle! Hooray for Don Jerrels and all like him, and hooray for all cyclists, whether lycra-clad or hard core urban commuters! Any time one more person becomes convinced that cycling is "the better way" is a win for everyone!
  • Bike Bike
    Two years ago I started doing one-way 20 miles from Noblesville into Indy. Last year and this year I'm doing a round trip that totals about 25. I'm 31 and in the best shape of my life because of that commute and the fitness and inspiration I gained from it. It inspiring me to try competitive cycling last year and to do my first triathlon this year, oh, and quit smoking. Some drivers suck, some are great. Some cyclist suck, some are great. Go Bike Commuting!!!!
  • Bike Commuting is a Viable Option
    Thanks Ms. Poshadlo for reporting on an option to the daily auto commute. There are many people out there that would like having the option of bike commuting but due to a lack of safe infrastructure it isn't an option. INDYCOG, a local bicycle advocacy group is working towards just that, safe and well design on & off road bicycle infrastructure. We commend the City of Indianapolis for what they are doing and we hope that we continue in the right direction. Help us work towards "complete streets" legislation, open access to the Greenways, & and more funding for bicycles and pedestrian infrastructure.
  • Different riders....
    Jay, you represent about 65% of the population. These are the people who would like to ride, but saftey is an issue they can't overcome and need designated trails or lanes to start. about 1% are like me and ride no matter what until we die by car and another 7% ride a majority of the time so you are certainly not alone.
  • Tipping point
    This article and the interest in bike commuting illustrates that Indy is on the verge of become more bicyle friendly. This summer with high gas prices again will be a banner year for bike commuting. Indy is at the tipping point where bike infrastructure is starting to catch up with demand and bike commuting will continue to expand. More bikes on the road also creates safer riding conditions. It seems counterintuitive, but its been proven that when more bikes share the road, there are fewer bike accidents per rider. I am glad that Indy is starting to see the benfits of bike commuting, it can only get better from here!
  • Benefit for cyclists
    For all who bike on a regular basis, Central Indiana Commuter Services offers an emergency Ride Home benefit to commuters who work for participating employers and ride their bikes to work an average of 3 times a week. Check out the website at www.327ride.net.
  • Taking your life in your hands
    I admire those who do this everyday...with the cost of fuel, it may be something more people will consider in the future. I hope so...currently the infrastructure is poor for cycling, and Indiana's popoulace certainly does not embrace those who are trying to stay fit and use a bike instead of a car. I have encountered all the things the various writers above have encountered, and after a close friend suffered a fractured skull (yes he was wearing a helmet) on a commute to work a couple of years ago I went back to driving the 4 miles to the office. To be tapped on the back wheel by a hit and run vehicle, and to take a year to get all your faculties back after an accident is not something I am willing to chance. I would love to ride to work, but I won't until some reasonable trails are built. My sympathy is certainly with the riders though..good luck, keep safe.
  • Refresh....
    I should say that my post was also meant to applaud IBJ for providing a story from a cyclists point of view. I know the cycling community is strong, but we must find our voice to start a more aggressive campaign for change.
  • Thanks
    Thanks for building awareness of bicycling as an option and shining a light on the work we still have to do to make it safer for bicyclists and car drivers to share the road.
  • The Commute
    Thank you IBJ for bringing local bicycle commuting to the publics attention. It is also good to see there are more year rounders out there. Gabrielles commute for this article occurred on a day when the Monon was to dangerous due to a recent ice storm, she earned this article. Most people are not aware, but the Monon is a city park, both in Carmel & Indianapolis and is closed from sunset to sunrise making it's use during the winter months a ticketable offense. There are ongoing efforts to address this issue.
  • Another commuter perspective
    #1 kudos to IBJ for doing this story. Statistically 0.4% of Americans commute by bike, but there's no reason it can't be much higher. I'm not suggesting Netherlands-like 35% is around the corner, but it is a viable option, especially for trips under 2 miles. I have visited about 30 countries, and I know of no other where people drive their car such ridiculously short distances. Walking and cycling are both great options that need more positive press.

    Even for bike commuters, I am extreme with a 40 mile round trip and riding with temps down well into the teens. Just like Don Jerrels ice is the only major deterrent to me. But as commented previously, many motorists are antagonistic and downright reckless towards cyclists. I average probably 1 close call per day, where someone decides they can't wait 5 seconds for oncoming traffic to clear and squeezes past with inches to spare. My life is not worth 5 seconds of your time?

    Ironically I probably get more space riding in the dark, I'm convinced that it is safer due to the contrast. Which means people aren't paying enough attention, if flashing lights in the dark are the only way they notice a cyclist.

    Point is- Indiana and Indy area (I commute from Noblesville to Pendleton) have been very slow to build a trails network and other accomodations for cyclists such as bike lanes. Cyclists have just as much legal right to the road, and it's time that we recognize that roads are to be shared. Neither cyclists nor motorists own them, co-existance is an option.
  • monon dangerous
    The monon is dangerous and full of walkers & runners. I've had only one terrible accident on a bicycle and it happened on monon. The roads are safer than the monon and it is not for cyclists (those that ride a consistent pace of 20+ mph)
  • Other stories
    I am glad that you encountered such pleasantries along your route. My commute usually is much different. Some days it does have some supporters, but the relentless pparade of rude, self entitled drivers makes it difficult. My commute takes me from downtown out to Avon and back each day. 22 miles of riding along rockville roads trashy shoulders and 10th streets aggressive drivers. I have been told I don't belong on the road and several times it wasn't so politically spoken. I am a part of the reverse commute so traffic is relatively light and still drivers can't seem to allow me any space in the right lane of 10th brushing by me and squeazing me to the side, changing lanes as if i wasn't there, honking while riding behind me, turning in front of me. At no point do I feel like I am even human. Somehow, when I get on the bike, despite being more visibly human, I am reduced to a meer inconvenience for cars. Indy has a long way to go for bike culture. I am encouraged by some recent additions and dedication, but Indy's people are rough and careless. I know this isn't always the case, but I truly expect to be seriously injured at any given point on my ride. You want an honest story of a commute, follow me through hell one day.
  • Monon
    Given his route, I don't know why he isn't utilizig the Monon (which runs from Carmel to downtown.)

    As far as the author, she's only two miles away and doesn't ride her bike? Two miles is nothing on a bike. As long as she didn't try to really push things with the wind on her, she's not going to even break into a sweat. I ride 10 miles one way and generally do very little sweating on my ride in.
    • Warrior
      He is taking his life into his hands upon crossing into Marion County from Hamilton. There are some potholes that would swallow most cars.

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