Monday, December 17, 2007

On commuting

Date: Dec. 17
Mileage: 7
Hours: 35 min. (plus two hours gym)
December mileage: 413.9
Temperature upon departure: 30
Snowfall: 2"

I rode my bike to work today.

Contrary to my aspirations, I rarely bike commute to work. I use my bike for nearly everything else. If fact, going to work is one of the few situations in which I use my car these days. There are a few reasons for this. One, it makes it much easier to show up at the office looking “presentable.” Two, driving allows me to go home during my dinner break, which is about the only time I see Geoff during the workweek. Three, my commute is short - 7 miles round trip - which makes it more difficult for me to get motivated about suiting up after I’ve already taken a shower following my regular training ride, packing something clean to wear, packing myself something to eat for dinner and riding to work, just to save two gallons of gas per week (which is how much gas I use if I drive back and forth to my office twice each day.) Four, all of these excuses prove that, at heart, I'm a lazy person.

But I do have aspirations to become a regular commuter, especially during the winter, when my bikes become the better-suited vehicles for most road conditions (I drive a 12-year-old, front-wheel-drive Geo Prism.) So every so often, I give it a go. Today I packed for my dinner a banana, an orange and an apple sliced up into a fruit salad, as well as Wheat Thins, a can of V8 and a roll of Sweet Tarts. After packing a pair of dress shoes (I don’t currently have a pair stored at the office), I didn’t have enough room in my Camelbak for clothing, so I just dressed in a button-down shirt and pair of slacks - all cotton - and threw my rain gear over the top.

All of the preparation had me running later than I intended. Luckily, the road conditions were nearly perfect for commuting - about an inch of new snow, all nicely packed by passing traffic. The bike path was a mess - here in Juneau, bike paths don’t get plowed - but my route on the bike path is mercifully short. If it had been warmer out, I would have been subject to the standard slush shower that coats everything I’m wearing in gray goo (and yes, I do have fenders on my mountain bike.) But today I arrived at work fairly clean.

A few observations about commuting:

• The commute itself only takes about eight more minutes than the drive, but the preparations and cleaning up at the office seem to take about 20 minutes to a half hour extra.
• Is it possible for bus drivers to be more oblivious to me when I’m commuting? How do they know?
• Wearing my waterproof PVC rain gear, I sweat a fair amount even on a short 3.5-mile ride, and I probably should make more of an effort to carry my work clothing separately.
• As much as I abuse my bikes when I’m using them, I don’t like having to store them outside for any length of time.
• My bike lock had rusted shut when I went to use it today. I’m a little worried about wrenching it back open before I head home tonight.
• I’m not thrilled about the food I quickly packed for dinner, but I don’t have a choice in the matter because I work out in an industrial wasteland devoid of restaurants.
• Gas is getting expensive, but last I checked (and I don’t check often, because I only buy gas about once every six weeks), two gallons of gas still cost less than $7. Saving $7 a week is more a matter of principle than a matter of economy. So I need to work on bulking up my principles until they trump the little inconveniences.

People who bicycle commute to work every day of the year have my highest respect. They belong on the upper tier of cyclist groups; they belong at the top ... just above, of course, winter endurance cyclists.


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  2. Flattering, but NPR isn't knocking down my door to interview me about my commute.

    Also: In my opinion, putting on warm clothes and riding through quiet neighborhoods and bike paths to work everyday is a lot easier than cramming into a metal box and sitting in traffic, staring at the bumper in front of me and breathing exhaust.

  3. Now I feel guilty about thinking I could use the bus in San francisco instead of my daily 7.6 mile ride in the rain. Mind over matter,I don't mind and it doesnt matter

  4. I'm commuting by bike through the Milwaukee snow-pack, 12 miles round-trip each day. It sure helps to read this blog, to know that there are other cyclists, all over the world, doing the same thing day in and day out. Thanks for today's post.

  5. On the flipside of Dr. Logan's comment, I'd rather have a quiet 6 mile commute in my car that risk my life trying to cross four lanes of traffic with no light, then riding narrow roads with no bike path, then ride across a glass-strewn bridge with no shoulder. Sometimes it's just too hard to make a bike commute work. I see nothing wrong with driving to work if that is the better (and in my case safer) option. I also think it's generally easier for men to bike commute than women.

  6. Hey Jill!

    Good for you! Hee hee!! I hear ya about those short commutes and suiting up for them. I'm a student at UAF and have trails pretty much all the way to campus, but do I ride to class every day...uh....well.....

    Sweet Tarts are the food of championship hard core snow bikers! LOL!

  7. It can be scary out there, but there is nothing more frustrating than sitting in a car, engine running, going nowhere, and looking around to see there are thousand of people doing the same thing. I rather have the wind in my face, with no need to brake. Air is not always fresh, but dinner always taste better.

  8. I understand... I would love to be able to commute... but the shortest route to work is 23 miles one way.
    I have to be at work by 3am (in a suit & tie). So, if I was kicking ass.. I'd have to leave home by 1:45am... then try to load on deodorant and the suit.
    OUCH! Result... the gas bill SUCKS!

  9. Bike commuting can become addictive. I don't think I could go back to driving to work everyday after 3 years of riding most days. I'd rather make an income/lifestyle change than be forced to drive to work.

  10. Hi Jill,

    I biked/train commutted today in the rain and earlier then I usually do. I was thinking of you fighting it out everday in AK. I had a smile on my face. I could of wimped out and drove, but I know so many other out there continue to ride no matter what the conditions. My commute is helping to make me a more public person instead of a private one. Thanks for writing.

  11. My first 1.5 years of college, I didn't have a vehicle and the bus would have taken longer then riding my bike. It was 10 miles each way from my parents house. In good weather it was about 40-45 minutes depending on which direction but with new snow it could take over an hour. The athletic director let me have 2 large lockers and would have the work study students wash and dry my clothes on sloppy days. It was perfect.

    Now I work 3 miles from home. It's uphill to work and takes 15-20 minutes. Going home takes 10. I sweat enough to need a shower. Driving takes about 7 minutes. I can go and mountain bike at lunch on real trails for an hour or more. I also have several road ride options. If my commute was longer I would actually do it more often.

  12. I guess I have it best of all the postings so far. My commute is a total of 16.5 miles; I can either take the bike trail that is paved or opt for the streets. The bike trail I use is well maintained by the city and has been relativity clear of snow and hanging iced laden trees. My prep for the ride takes about 20 minutes and the ride takes about 30 min in the summer and 40minutes to an hour in the winter. The hour long ride happened the day after an ice storm hit Iowa. Once I arrive at work I am able to use the showers in the gym and change into my work cloths which I carry in a back pack. I commute by bike 4 times a week unless it is extremely cold, which I have not hit that threshold yet, or an ice storm is about to hit.
    I really feel that I have the optimal distance at this time for cycle commuting. If it 5 miles or more I could see myself backing out of the commute more than making the trek. If it was 5 miles less I would most likely not put in the effort of suiting up just to take all the layers off 10 minutes later.
    The best thing I like about my commute are that I get to see wild life that you did not know lived in the city. Oh and also it gives me a chance to listen to my IPOD and live in my head for a stretch.

  13. We know we rule, but thanks for noticing!


  14. The cost of an accident is worse than the cost of gas but the satisfaction of riding to work is pretty high. I have always been surprised how good even a 2 mile commute can make me feel. I work at home so I can opt out of the commute, but I could probably bike the 2 miles to the gym every morning, @#$&^ you made me recognize that I too am lazy!

  15. I'm lucky most of the time at work I can show up sloppy =)

    still it takes time to suit up ect...

    But I can't see myself doing anything else but riding too work only used the bus 3 times this year to get to work...

    I'd rather walk or bike =)

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  17. My commute is 2.2 miles through downtown neighborhoods in Tallahassee. Our average temp is 72 degrees so not much suiting up is required. The software company I work for is very casual so not having a shower is not a problem. I keep a pair of jeans and tennies in my cube. I have so many good options for my commute that I usually stretch out my morning ride by a few miles 'cause it feels so good. If I take my shortest route it takes less than 15 minutes. I sometimes ride home to have lunch with my lovely wife. We have a pretty sweet single-track system that starts within 1/2 mile of my office so I often get in a lunch trail ride.

    But I will tell you this Jill, when I ride in on a crisp 32 degree morning or head home in a 60 degree shower, since I started reading your blog, I have not even come close to grumbling about facing such "extreme" local conditions! ;-)

  18. So many reasons to ride every day, and so many ways to hate getting in the car...I used to work 25 miles away, and made a point of setting aside time for at least one bike commute per week. I always looked forward to that, and endured the rest of the week. At this point I have driven my truck once this year (last February - had to recycle a washing machine and run several other errands), and I, too find that reading your blog makes me realize that I can never complain about the weather, even when it is 35f and raining for months on end. Ride harder, stay warmer. Val

  19. Many commuters -- including myself -- will take a longer route when the direct route is so short. My direct route is 6 miles, but I usually stretch it out to about 15-20 so I can try different routes, find different people to ride with, and explore what's going on in my neighborhood.

    In Midtown Atlanta, we've gotten sufficient commuting numbers that I've been organizing mini Bike to Work Days to recognize that there is a recreational and social aspect to commuting by bike. Commuting by Bike gets me to work, but it's also a lifestyle when you find enough fun aspects to the commute.


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