I’ve been riding my bicycle to work for the past three years now, and have found several hidden benefits. We’re going to get into how I started this fun little habit, and share all about how you can just as easily commute by bicycle. It sure beats golfing!
The Commute by Bicycle Phenomenon: Riders Doubled Since 2000
More and more metropolitan areas are investing in bike-friendly paths and shared streets. There’s a clear trend towards greener and healthier ways to get around town, especially here in the Twin Cities.
As with many things, getting started is the most difficult part of the endeavor.
- You’re nervous about whether your legs will hold up for a long ride.
- You worry about getting lost and being late for work.
- And oh yeah, what if you get hit by a car?
- How do you dress for the ride based on the weather?
- How do I pack all my work crap? Change of clothes, laptop, lunch, shoes. And so on…
But please, my friends, don’t freak out! I’m here to tell you it’s a lot easier than you might think.
When I gave it a shot the very first time, I put a little bit of preparation into the experiment, and it went just fine. Well, almost just fine…
Benefits of a Commute by Bicycle 101
- Get a bike. Any bike. All I had to start with was a too-small mountain bike complete with trail-friendly (and therefore not ideal for street commuting) knobby tires. You know what? It managed to get me 12 miles there and 12 miles home.
- Study your map. Google Maps has a super handy tool for cyclists. Within the app, you can select bicycling as a mode of transit and the route will adjust to reveal the most direct path free of heavy traffic.
The duration Google Maps provides is based on a very leisurely pace, so you can conservatively time your route with a decent margin of safety. I found that my pace was just a notch above Google’s, so I was able to shave about 5-10 minutes off the ride.
- Pack your gear. I started with a backpack. Roll up your change of work clothes and pack with your laptop, but remember to use a trash bag as a liner if you’re worried about rain in the forecast. On my very first cycle commute, I got DUMPED on with torrential rain, and despite not having a waterproof backpack, the laptop survived. The moral of that little story? Don’t take chances with work equipment!
- Bring water, wear a helmet, and GO!!!
- Oh yeah, and if you’re a balding dude like me, be sure to pick up a head-sock, so you don’t get a sunburned scalp through the helmet vents!
After your first day of cycle commuting, you’ll feel a few things. One, you’ll feel tired as hell, especially if long stretches of cardio are foreign to you. Two, you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Hey, you just rode your bike all the friggin’ way to work and back! Big kids do that – little kids just ride around the block!
You might even become a bike accessory junkie. Try to avoid going too far overboard.
Yeah, you’re saving yourself about $10 a day with this new habit (not including the long term health benefit savings) but you don’t need to blow it on fancy-schmancy “Hey, I look like I could ride in the Tour de’ France!” gear.
Making the Most Out of Your Newfound Commute by Bicycle Habit:
- If you’re going to get a proper bike, do your homework. Head to a local bike shop to figure out the right size frame for your body. There are many internet resources for this too. A favorite site I like to check that’s a nod to old school blogging: Sheldon Brown’s Bicycle Technical Information. I’ve made the mistake of buying a cool replacement bike, only to learn later I should have gone one size up.
- Use Craigslist. Period. Don’t blow your dough on a brand new bike. There are PLENTY of well-cared-for bicycles on the used market. I bought my wife and my bike used and we saved $1,500 on bikes that otherwise would’ve cost us $3,000 new. Oh, and don’t spend more than $800 on a used bike. You aren’t racing anyone to get into the office, and if you think you need a carbon fiber frame, tell me later how comfortable it was going over bumps.
- Figure out your ideal packing style. You can get panniers that hang off each side of the rear (or front) wheels. I use this style for my commute since I have to pack a laptop, work clothes, and lunch. I see many commuters who prefer a backpack, but I find it too hot on the summer rides home.
- Keep your lock attached to the rack at work. This way you shed a few ounces of weight, and, you don’t have to worry about whether you remembered your lock or not.
- For rides of 8 miles or more, invest in a few pair of padded bike shorts. Your backside will thank you.
- Become your bike mechanic. Save yourself some cash by YouTubing your way to expertise! Nothing is intimidating about working on a bike. You can learn how to replace a flat tube, swap pedals, replace a chain, you name it. And if you’re riding to work often, you’ll need to do these things on a fairly regular basis.
I now have a helmet that’s “higher end” – as it’s a little lighter. I have shoes that clip into the pedals, to make me “one with my bike” (sigh…) The best upgrade? I have a cell phone holder than doubles as a bottle opener.
A wise man once said (I think?): Beer plus bikes are like peas and carrots.
The Hidden Benefits of a Commute by Bicycle
Riding my bike to work reconnects me to one of my all-time joys. Growing up, one of the freedoms I enjoyed was hopping on my steed and heading off to meet up with friends for fun and shenanigans.
When you’re riding to work, you’re not thinking about work in a bad way. Your brain fires off in more creative ways. You think about the problems you want to tackle. You wax poetic. And the key to all of this: commuting by bike is a way to enjoy the summer before it quickly passes by in a blur of air-conditioned office monotony.
The benefits of the exercise, fitness, and savings on gas, auto insurance, and auto maintenance are all just icing on the cake. You get on your bike, and you’re a kid again. Replace the stress of being stuck in rush hour hell with the joy of reconnecting with a time when you had all summer long to make your adventures.
Pedal on, Friends!
BONUS Section on Going full-on Car-free!
Hey fans! While the Cubert family is off on a week-long hiatus, I’ve invited some wonderful blogging friends to share some entertaining and informative stories. Mrs. Adventure Rich resides on the Lake Michigan side of the mitten-state. I’m from Michigan, and reading her posts brings back good memories. Mrs. AR’s blog is Adventure Rich: How to live a rich and beautiful life, full of adventure, as we pursue financial independence.
Car-free Is a Thing!
Everywhere I look, going “car-free” is all the craze. Whether it be for environmental, health, lifestyle or other reasons, ditching a car in favor of public transportation, commute by bicycle, scooters and our own two feet are entirely achievable (and rewarding!) It is an exciting trend I fully support on many levels…
But what happens if you are not able to go car-free? How does one live a car-free life without being near work, town or school? After finding our dream home in a rural area 5 miles from our local town, I struggled with these questions.
But instead of throwing up our hands and saying “well, I guess it’s just not for us!”, my husband and I began to build-in car-free features to our life, creating a semi-car-free existence. We did so by employing several combined transportation techniques to meet our practical needs, while still scratching our car-free itch.
Introducing, our key car-free techniques!
1) The Park and Ride
The day is gorgeous, the beach or local park is calling, the kiddo is ready for an adventure and the local week-long festival means that parking in our town (a mere 7-minute drive away) will be about as easy as grabbing a mosquito by its wings. What to do?!? We implement our first semi-car-free technique… we park and bike ride!
The park and bike ride technique is simple. After loading up our bikes and bike trailer/toddler transport, we are on our way. Parking outside of town becomes a bit easier. So, we pick a side street or one of the local Rails-to-Trails system trailheads and head into town, effortlessly cruising past the traffic and packed parking lots.
This technique can be adjusted to accommodate walking or public transit options instead, depending on location, distance, and weather.
2) The Central Location
While it is great to park and ride, that technique has its limitations. Whether it’s the need to haul substantial stuff (grocery trips, etc) or the weather gets rotten for biking (read: northern Michigan winters), the central location technique can come in handy!
The technique is simple: find a centrally located parking spot and embark on your mission (without driving to and fro, in and out of your car, parking all over town throughout your day). Whether your mission includes errands, groceries, doctor’s visits, or just a day of fun, the central location hack provides our family with a car-free experience for a majority of the day, without the wasted time and energy of getting in and out of a car and finding parking over and over again!
I discovered the beauty of this technique when I had a baby in tow for the first time. My errand days became exponentially more difficult and stressful when I had to wrestle a baby in and out of the car seat at every stop.
Suddenly, I started looking for parking spots within walking distance of stores. I figured it the only option, allowing me to load up the stroller and return to my car, and drop off items when the stroller was maxed out, or when I was ready to head home. Whew. Those were the days…
3) The Drop and Go
Many cities and even smaller towns have active public transit systems which include the ability to bring a bike along via a bike rack on the front or back of a bus or a bike section on the train. This provides a unique opportunity to “Drop and Go” (or vice versa).
The Drop and Go technique consists of taking some form of public transportation to a further location (local destination, other side of town, etc.) and biking back to either the public transit hub where your car is or back home.
The use of public transit in the Drop and Go technique greatly widens your radius for car-free adventures and provides an opportunity to explore new areas, by bike (of course!)
4) The Switch
My husband and I love biking into town, but due to safety concerns, it isn’t feasible to make the trek with a child’s bike trailer in tow. So, we execute our fourth transportation technique, the switch!
The switch is simple. Spouse-A drives to town with the kiddo and Bike A strapped in and on the car, while Spouse-B rides Bike-B into town. We meet, either walk or bike around town or attend an event (beach day, spend time with friends, etc.) Once ready to leave, Spouse-B becomes the driver, with Bike-B in tow, while Spouse-A is now free to cruise on back home on Bike-A. Perfectly executed switch!
Didja get all that? Just don’t get confused and leave the kiddo behind.
The Many Benefits of Going Car-free
Whether walking, biking, or using some other form of non-car transportation (canoes and kayaks anyone?), the benefits of utilizing the semi-car-free techniques abound!
- Environmental Benefits– Generally, less car use = better for the environment. Why not go semi-car-free?
- “Easy” Button– Sure, it may not be “easy” to bike across town or walk back to your car with a handful of groceries, but depending on where you live, this can be far easier than battling traffic, fighting for parking, and spending time driving from place to place.
- Healthy Lifestyle– Get my workout in while completing my grocery trip at the same time? Yes, please! Taking the time to use a semi-car-free transportation technique provides general exercise plus a bit of fresh air and the endorphin boost of moving your body!
- Fun with Family and Friends– Our semi-car-free days often become family fun or a perfect way to enjoy a date night. We have time to slow down, observe our surroundings, chat as we walk or bike around town.
- A Bit of Good Ole Adventure– For me, getting outside becomes an adventure. We see our town in a whole new light, explore areas not accessible or not expedient by car (trails, local neighborhoods, cool bridges, etc.). I learn something new every time I use a semi-car-free technique!
Cubert’s notes: The main takeaway for me is that this approach is possible no matter where you live. Even in rural or semi-rural communities, the techniques Mrs. AR describes above are well within reach. Give it a shot! The Cubert family is fortunate to live within a bike ride or walk to many amenities and it yields many benefits (finances and quality of life!) If we were in the Adventure Rich situation, living further from a town center, we’d similarly look for creative ways to go car-free.
The list above is not an exhaustive list of the car-free techniques, but it can give you a starting point for a car-free life!
Please comment below on your experiences with a commute by bicycle or simply going car-free.