Bicycling to Work

May 23rd, 2008

We hear a lot these days about the price of gas, energy efficiency, and the like. But, in the United States, outside of a few progressive cities, there aren’t a lot of people that are using the ultimate zero-emissions transportation technology: bicycles.

That’s really too bad, because bicycles are a lot cheaper to operate than cars even before you consider gas prices. They also are great exercise and are probably faster, safer, and more convenient than you think.

I live about 10 miles (16 km) from work, which includes several miles on sand roads. I haven’t bicycled in about 6 years. Last week, I got my bicycle out, touched it up a bit, and started riding. Sunday I rode in to work and back as a test. As soon as I get a bit of gear (hopefully by the middle of next week), I plan to start riding bike to work at least 3 days a week.

I’ve picked up some tips along the way. Let’s talk about a few of them.

Safety

Many people think bicycling is dangerous. In fact, bicycling is about as safe as driving an SUV. Not only that, but only 10% of bicycling accidents occur when you are hit from behind (and 90% of those produce only minor injuries). It turns out that the vast majority of bicycling accidents occur because people are not riding on the road with traffic, or are acting unpredictably. Following some basic safety advice can make you safer in a bicycle than an SUV. Oh, and don’t drink and ride; 24% of fatal bicycle accidents involve an intoxicated rider.

Distance

Think it’s too far? Think again. It’s fairly easy for an untrained, unfit person to ride a bicycle up to 10 miles without working hard at it. That can probably be done in about an hour. As you get more fit and used to the bike, you may be able to go that distance in half that time. Also, get pannier bags for your bicycle. They attach in back and let you carry work clothes, laptops, etc. without having to use a backpack.

Smell

Many people with office jobs are concerned about this. Not everywhere has a convenient shower. Check out these tips from the Tips and Tricks for Biking to Work manual.

I’m excited about it, and will be sure to post more here on how it goes.

Categories: Outdoors, Uncategorized

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Comments Feed13 Comments

  1. nixternal

    Thanks a ton for this post! I currently live in Chicago, and if anyone in the US watches TV these days, you will see that our prices on gasoline are higher than anywhere else in the US. I saw almost $4.70 today.

    Anyways, I have been looking at getting a bike to start riding for exercise as well as a way to be a bit more green. Unfortunately I have more than 10 mile ride for either work or school (school is only 12+, so that is doable). I was wondering though about getting nasty on the ride, and those links you provided are perfect.

    Now I cannot wait to find the perfect bike, and also pick up some of those bags for it. Thanks again for this blog post!

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Glad to hear it! I hope it works out well for you. Chicago is a great city and I’m sure you can find plenty of local tips and advice if you need it. Check out biketraffic.org — it’s the website that I got that commuting tips link from, and it’s the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation website.

    Reply

  2. Matt

    I beg to differ about zero-emissions. Human exercise is not exempt from the laws of physics. And methane is a greenhouse gas!

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Heh, I suppose this comment was bound to happen :-) At least it’s reducing our dependency on foreign oil.

    Reply

  3. Simon Kagstrom

    I also bike to work where I live (in Stockholm, Sweden), although I have only 8km/0.5 miles. For me, this means that using the bicycle is also the fastest way of commuting and I get to work in less than 30 minutes.

    An important point about the time is that there is basically no overhead – no looking for parking spots (compared to cars) and no walking from the train (compared to public transport) – it’s literally door to door.

    When you wrote about smell, I thought you ment something else: I very much enjoy hearing the sounds and taking in the smells of nature when riding the bike every morning. That’s something you completely miss when you commute in most other ways. Bicycling also means that you travel slow enough to actually look at details along the way, which are easy to miss with high-speed transports.

    Finally, I save (corresponding to) thousands of US$ every year by not owning or needing a car. The bike itself was payed off in about one year of not having to pay for public transport, so it also makes real economic sense.

    I’d just wish that politicians would spend more thought and money on improving conditions for bicyclists.

    Reply

    Chung-chieh Shan Reply:

    I assume that by “8 km/0.5 miles” you mean “8 km/5 miles”…

    Reply

  4. Steve Haslam

    Good luck with it! I cycle into work about 3 times a week here in London: I’m lucky in that a lot of that is along canal towpath, or across a park, which I find much more peaceful than even using a cycle path next to a road. Actually, that’s not all luck: proximity to the canal was one of the factors in choosing where to move to…

    It took me a while to work up to 3 times a week though (about 12 miles each way), and it takes about the same time on the bike (1 hour) as it does on the Tube when there aren’t any disruptions.

    Reply

  5. alex

    Yep cycling to work is a great start/end to the day. My quality of life improved no end when I started.

    Now I wish I lived further away from my work, it takes less than 10 mins to cycle there since I moved…

    My no.1 tip: invest in reinforced anti-puncture tyres. :)

    Have fun!

    Reply

  6. The Changelog

    Yesterday, I wrote about bicycling to work, pointing out that it’s a safe, inexpensive, way for many people (including office workers without access to showers) to get to work. There were a lot of thoughtful comments there too.

    Today I’d like to provi

    Reply

  7. Daniel Burrows

    I wonder from what the pool of data those statistics were calculated. I’ve ridden down open country highways in the plains, which as far as I know is the sort of area you live in. It’s great, and seemed totally safe to me: traffic is low and you can see it coming from a long way away (and they can see you). The same goes for cycling in quiet residential areas or on bike trails.

    On the other hand, I’d never ride a bike to work in Seattle (luckily I live close enough that I can just walk). Seattle has, if you’re lucky, “bike lanes” that consist of a little white line down the road a few feet from the curb. Some roads don’t even have that. Traffic in Seattle is very heavy and the streets are often narrow and/or poorly marked, so it’s not unusual for drivers to make accidental illegal turns or suddenly change lanes to get where they want to go. This makes things less safe for everyone; I personally don’t *drive* in the city if I can avoid it, and on a bicycle your margin for error is quite a bit less.

    Reply

    Mark A. Hershberger Reply:

    I’ve lived in the city and am now in a semi-rural area of Lancaster County, PA.

    Except here (where plenty of Mennonite cyclists on the road mean drivers are prepared for them), I’ve found that city drivers are much more aware of (and accommodating of) cyclists than rural drivers.

    Another important aspect of riding in the city: act like you belong. If you act timid, you’re going to run into trouble.

    This is one reason I’m not a terribly big fan of bike lanes, but I do appreciate a decent shoulder on the road. Bike lanes produce a ghetto mentality: “Cyclists don’t belong on the roads without bike lanes.” And that is the least safe attitude for drivers (or cyclists) to have about cyclists.

    Reply

  8. Ellen

    I live in suburban Detroit and started riding my bike to work two months ago. It’s only 8 miles but takes about 45 minutes depending on how many stops I have to make at major roads. I don’t think i’ve taken the same route twice. I love to cut through quiet neighborhoods, checking out the gardens and architecture. If it’s nice in the morning, I ride. I’ve only been caught in bad weather once, a total downpour on my way home. But that turned out to be my funnest trip yet. Totally drenched and riding in the puddles. I felt like I was 8 :)
    Happy trails!

    Reply

  9. Kick Stan

    Great Site lots of info. I just biked to work today for the first time. Hear all about it at my new and first blog. Lots of firsts today.

    Reply

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