Frugal Transport--bicycling

By Philip Brewer on 13 July 2007 (Updated 30 April 2010) 7 comments
Photo: Bike Trail

Three years ago I started bicycling to work.

It was a gradual thing. It took extra planning to ride--there were issues with clothing, issues with carrying stuff on the bike. I'd usually only ride if I thought of it the night before and the weather forecast looked good.

Wanting the exercise was what got me started. It takes me about 25 minutes to bicycle from my apartment to the office, versus 15 minutes to drive. So, an extra 20 minutes spent commuting gets me 50 minutes of aerobic exercise.

There are other ways to get exercise, though, and the bicycling wouldn't have persisted if it hadn't had other things going for it:

  • It bookends the work day psychologically. The ride in to work gets me warmed up and ready to be productive. The time, motion, and effort of the ride home helps me unwind and leave the office behind.
     
  • It's frugal. You can get a perfectly good bike from a bike store for just a few hundred dollars, and a few tens of dollars a year will keep it in tip-top shape essentially forever. (That's if you pay a bike store to do the maintenance. If you know about bikes and are handy with tools, you can probably cut both those amounts by an order of magnitude by finding a bike at a garage sale and fixing it up yourself.)
     
  • It's gentle on the planet. I've read that there is no more efficient form of transportation than a bicycle. I've never done the math myself, so I can't swear that it beats using a mule to haul a barge down a canal, but that and sailing ships are the only possible contenders.
     
  • It lets me get my smug on. Actually, a tendency to be smug about stuff like this is a character flaw of mine. I try to resist. But when gasoline prices spiked up in the summer of 2005, I'd ride past gas stations and look at those poor schlubs pumping $3 gas into their SUVs and be enormously reinforced in thinking that bicycling was unquestionably the way to go.

That smugness had another result, though. As the summer of 2005 drew to a close, and I realized that I was about to go back to being one of those poor schlubs (albeit pumping $3 gas into a Honda Civic and not an SUV), I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. On the other hand, I also couldn't quite bring myself to ride my bike in the winter's cold and dark. I ended up riding the bus in the winter. That turned out to work really well. I'd had no idea the local mass transit district was as good as it is. (I'll have more to say about this in the future. Our local transit district is doing really cool stuff with technology.)

My wife and I still have our car, and we use it when that's the handiest thing to do (which turns out not to be very often). The bus is handy for a lot of trips. Walking is the obvious choice when we just need to go somewhere and do something. But bicycling is always my first choice: it's faster, easier, more efficient, and more fun.

And that last is really the key. All those other reasons--the exercise and frugality and stuff--they're all true, but even the smugness wouldn't have kept me riding day in and day out. The reason I bicycle is because it's fun.

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Guest

Here, here. I'm going to try the biking in the winter bit myself this winter. Already shopping for some more aggressive tires (ride a mountain bike to class/work, etc., mostly because I can't resist the urge to cut across vast expansive of grass and dirt).

Philip Brewer's picture

If it were just the cold, I think I could face winter cycling. What daunts me is the darkness and the ice. Good tires should help. Get a good light as well.

Guest's picture
Rhea

I'm glad you noted that it was gradual. I expect to be able to just jump in and go. But the clothing and carrying stuff issues take time to resolve.

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Jeremy

How do you deal with packing work clothes? Where do you change? How do you handle coming in all sweaty? Do you have a place to store your bike? I'd love to ride my bike to work, but I haven't resolved those issues. Now if there was an employee shower, everything would be perfect.

Guest's picture

We just moved to a new office location out in the suburbs. I wanted to ride before, but with my office being downtown, the traffic was just to heavy to deal with.

I pack a backpack with my work clothes every day. We do have a shower available for employee use. that is a nice benefit.

Interesting note. when I started riding, about two weeks ago, I had the only bike being parked in the bike rack. Now, there's an average of six out there on a daily basis. I hope I started a trend.

Don't know what I'll do when the snow flies, but I plan on riding as long into the winter as I can :)

Later!

Philip Brewer's picture

The place I work does have showers, which, as you say, is perfect. Most people seem to bring stuff in a backpack. I have bags that go on a rack on my bike, which I find much more satisfactory.

Most of the other cyclists in my office, don't seem to use the shower. I guess they just ride at an easy pace to avoid getting sweaty. Some change clothes in the bathroom, others just ride in their street clothes. One friend used to drive in once a week and bring four changes of clothes that he kept locked up in his office.

I've done different things for bike storage. There are racks outside (in full view of a whole wall of windows, so a bike locked there is reasonably secure). There's some space under the stairs where a lot of people leave their bikes. In the place I worked before this I just brought my bike into my office and stashed it behind my desk.

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Justin Martin

Here it is, middle of February, in Anchorage, AK. I've ridden my bicycle to work for (5 miles round trip) for six weeks this winter in temperatures ranging from +35F to - 10F. I've found that winter riding is about your state of mind rather than actual environmental conditions. With the right gear, the temperature is not a problem; your body takes care of heating itself! For those out there who are hesitant, go try it! Honestly, the biggest obstacle for me is simply motivation to adjust my schedule for the extra time. Go for it!