Me on my Pugs ready to commute
Photo courtesy of Nelson J Photography Inc.
I’ve been a serious cyclist for about five years. I started down this path as a triathlete and roadie and this kind of riding has dominated my training log for the past several years. A couple of years ago I started riding some trail, mostly in the fall and winter, as an attempt to prolong my riding season. Throughout my riding career I’ve crossed paths with bike commuters and have always been intrigued by their fitness when road riding and comfort riding in traffic. This year I decided to enter the fray and I have to say that I’m hooked.
Before becoming a seasoned bike commuter, if I can indeed be considered that, I had to overcome some barriers. One of the key perceived barriers was time. I’m sure many out there feel the same way. However, when you really analyze the time expenditure, I think you will find it is not as much of a time-sink as you might have thought.
Consider this. My typical commute is about 4.5 miles. By car on the main arterial roads I normally travel, this trip takes me between 12 and 15 minutes. The same commute by bike takes me on average 22 minutes. So, round trip it might appear that I am losing 20 minutes a day due to bike commuting.
BUT WAIT! My bike commute nets me an extra 45 minutes a day of low to moderate intensity cardio exercise. Therefore, I come out 25 minutes ahead. For the time starved individual, one might cut a morning or evening workout short to accommodate the bike commute. For me, these are bonus hours and miles logged by the end of the week. The math will be different for everyone but the important point is to consider the exercise benefit when evaluating the time it takes to commute.
The other major barrier for me was the traffic. I live in a fairly bike-friendly community with an abundance of cyclist-commuters, bike lanes and “sharrows.” But still, I was afraid of riding in traffic, real traffic. Luckily I am able to get from home to work and back using a network of mostly lightly traveled side streets and multi-use paths. I have to cross a few busier streets en-route but my experience with this so far has been positive and safe. As a automobile operator we tend to focus on the main roads often ignoring the vast network of side streets and little-traveled country roads. If you check the map and get out and explore, you will likely find a safe and scenic route between work and home.
It is worth mentioning that my job allows me to dress casually and my work clothes easily fit into my backpack. Yes, I am a bit sweaty upon arrival to work but a quick towel-off with baby wipes and a few minutes in the air conditioning make me presentable. I realize that not all people have this luxury. I’m not sure I could don a suit after a bike commute but I know some that do. I also have an abundance of bike parking available to me at my place of employment which, again, can be a challenge for some.
Probably the greatest benefit I’ve noticed from commuting by bike is stress relief. I don’t like driving much. I hate traffic and even the little bit of congestion experienced in our small city is enough to spike my blood pressure. However, I love to ride my bike. The 25 minutes spent on my commute home from work after a hard day allows me time to decompress. I can take in the sites and sounds of the world around me that I am usually insulated from in my car.
I’ve also noticed an increase in my performance on the road bike. As one of my cycling buddies astutely pointed out, commuting is a bit like doing intervals. When cruising through town with stop signs there is quite a bit of taking off fast to get into the flow of traffic then stopping for the next intersection. You are actually stopping at stop signs, aren’t you??? I don’t much care for interval workouts on my road or tri bike but as a bike commuter I cannot avoid them. I tend to commute on my fat bike which requires a bit more power to get up to speed in traffic but allows me to cruise over any road obstacle with ease and even take a shortcut through my favorite park on the way.
After a few weeks of riding to and from work I noticed that the presence of automobiles didn’t phase me quite as much as it used to. There is something about being a bike commuter that makes me feel that I am part of traffic, much more so than when out on my training rides. As a commuter I’m just another vehicle out on the road trying to get to work on time. It’s almost as if the cars have more respect for me too. On a fitness ride I am viewed as an obstruction but as a commuter I feel I am viewed as part of traffic. I may be off base here but that is my perception at least.
Finally, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy the scenery of my bike commute much more so than my automobile commute. While by car I tend to traverse a more commercial and industrial sections of town, my bike commute takes me through the tranquil tree lined streets of historic west Urbana. This just adds to the experience.
I really wish I had taken up bike commuting sooner. I would urge you to put all those perceived barriers aside and give it a try for just a few days. If it doesn’t suit you then fine. However, if you enjoy riding your bike for fitness or pleasure why not combine that activity to make something somewhat less pleasurable (your commute to work) more palatable.
Summer might be almost over but there is still good riding to be had. I’ll see you on the road.