Bicycle commuter

I helped coordinate and participated in Bike to Work Week this past May. The idea is that if you ride a bicycle, you should ride it to work. Coordinated by the League of American Bicyclists and state or local cycling advocacy groups, many communities are offering a number of incentives to ride to work.

Since I ride a road bike, I didn’t think it would be too difficult getting to and from work. However, I did a dry run recently and discovered that my ride is actually much longer than I anticipated (17 miles instead of 12 by car; 1 hour and 20 minutes). But that was nothing compared to what I discovered when I rode the first time to work this week:

I don’t like commuting by bicycle to work.

It’s not that I don’t like the ride to or from work. In fact, it’s a pretty nice ride along residential streets and bike trails. Nor is it the cold; I’ve been able to adapt with cold-weather clothing. And it can’t be the distance, since I typically try to get in at least 20 miles per ride and want to get up to 60 miles in a single ride this year.

But I do have my reasons – okay, excuses - for not enjoying the overall experience. But I stand by them. They’re my excuses, but I know that I’m not the only person that feels this way. Here are the reasons why I have been turned off to biking to work:

  1. It’s a long ride from home.
  2. I have to pack.
  3. I have to carry my stuff on my back.
  4. I have to change and shower when I arrive.
  5. I have to change back to ride.
  6. I sometimes have to work my part-time job afterwards.

For starters, my usual drive is about 12 miles between home and work, which takes about 20 minutes. By bike, the trip is about 17 miles; I timed it at 1 hour 20 minutes once. So I would need leave really early. To minimize the time, I drove to a park in town and rode 7.5 miles (about 30 minutes) to work. At least I didn’t use as much gas to get here.

Second, I don’t like packing. I have to either pack the night before or get up really early to do it in the morning. And I work in an office, so I have to wear the appropriate attire (bicycle shorts, jerseys, and road shoes are not appropriate for the office). When I packed for Bike to Work Week, I carried the following:

  • Dress shirt.
  • Chino (khaki) pants.
  • Necktie.
  • Dress socks.
  • Business-appropriate shoes.
  • Shampoo and deodorant (they supply soap in the showers at work).
  • Bath towel and washcloth.
  • U-lock and cable.
  • Stuff I normally carry with me (wallet, wristwatch, etc.).
  • Dress shoes.

It may not seem like that I’m carrying much, but the backpack gets pretty bulky when I add shoes (I don’t have a way to attach a rack to my bike) and heavy when I put in the U-lock and cable. Then I have to carry a number of things that I normally pack in my regular backpack, such as pens, a calculator, a laptop (which I left locked up at work), my day planner, and some other small items. It may not be a lot of weight, but I essentially carried an additional 25 pounds.

That leads me to my third issue: carrying extra weight. Because I’m carrying more weight, I’m working harder on the bike. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this. The benefit is that I’m burning more calories. The drawbacks include that I’m putting more stress on myself, I limit some of my mobility, and I can’t move as fast as without the added weight. A good backpack would probably be in order, though.

Fourth, I have to change. My office building has a locker room with showers, so freshening up after a ride is not a problem. It’s fine if I get to work early enough. But when I get here with everyone else, I end up waiting for a shower. I guess part of me just isn’t very comfortable showering in a locker room. For my part-time job, I don’t have a shower facility, so I would have to change in the bathroom. I would still end up with that sweaty feeling (I know, I’m probably strange that way). Either way, I have to take additional time to do so.

Fifth, I have to change back into cycling clothes before I leave. That means changing again. On a warmer day, riding in office clothes gets really uncomfortable really fast (on a very warm and humid day, walking outside for two minutes gets really uncomfortable really fast). The only way to keep cool on the bike is to change back before riding.

Finally, I have a part-time retail job that I need to work right after my primary job. On those days, I have very little time to change, ride, and change again to work. Between the time it would take to commute from one side of town to the other and to change, I would be late for the part-time job. And if I had to wear something slightly more casual, I would need to bring an additional change of clothes (unless I don’t have any meetings at my regular job that day). Additionally, the building does not have appropriate bicycle facilities (no bike rack) to keep my bike safe.

Does this mean that I no longer condone commuting by bicycle? Absolutely not. These are my excuses, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should feel the same way. I see a number of other people that ride to and from work every day. One of my coworkers rode practically every day in the snow this past winter (and we had a record-breaking snowfall!). If my commute were considerably shorter, I would seriously consider riding more and driving less.

Although bicycle commuting is not for everyone, there is little reason why people shouldn’t consider at least making short trips around town. According to the 1 World 2 Wheels Web site, many trips driven by Americans are under two miles, and vehicles need to warm up before pollution controls start to work. If many of us just ride these short distances to take care of errands, we can save gas, help the environment, and make bicycling a visible alternative to driving.

But until I move closer to work, I’ll be driving.

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One thought on “Bicycle commuter

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