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What Prompted you to Commute by Bike?

by Warren T

While reading Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam, I came across a statement about people dependent upon television for their primary form of entertainment:

“People who are social isolates to begin with gravitate toward the tube as the line of leisurely least resistance.”

I’m not sure why, but it got me thinking about why I started commuting by bike back in early 2006. Prior to then, I’d ridden my bike to work sporadically, mostly in the mid to late 80′s.

In March 2006, I had taken our oldest, back to college after spring break and was stopped and waiting at a red light behind another minivan when a catering truck driven by a 19-year old (who was more interested in checking out the co-ed walking on the sidewalk than paying attention to the road) hit me from behind at ~35 MPH.

My beloved minivan was totaled and when I went to the doctor the next day I learned that I had been compressed from 6′ 6″ to 6′ 4.75″. Don’t worry, no other ill effects and I’m back up to 6′ 5″ now. Anyway, after the time the insurance company allotted for a rental car had expired I was faced with dealing with one less vehicle for our family’s use until the caterer’s insurance company paid up.

We had moved to our current house in the summer of 1999 and I had always wanted to get out on the bike trail which was close at hand … but had never taken the time to check it out. Now sounded like the time, after all, I used to ride my bike further than that to work in traffic and here was a nice bike trail which ran almost up to my office door.

I saddled up my 1977 Yama 10 speed and rode it to work April, May and June 2006, even after I’d replaced the minivan. The Yama’s 29 year old cables finally protested in July and my wife suggested I check out a new bike at the local bike shop. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, to circle back, driving a car to work was my path of least resistance until car problems forced me to try cycling. Once tried, I couldn’t give it up. I know the same is true for Noah and others. This last summer, gas prices seemed to be a factor in getting some new bike commuters out of their path of least resistance. What about you?

 
Burley nomad 229

26 Responses to “What Prompted you to Commute by Bike?”

  1. I R Baboon says:

    I’ve always loved to cycle, ever since I was a kid. Sure the car sucked me in when I was 15, and I didn’t really use my bike for anything practical until I moved to my current residence. In the past I rode sporadically for fun on POS bikes. I started commuting in the nice months daily last year on an 80′s vintage Schwinn road bike. This year I started riding year round (even in the N. Michigan snow belt it can be done).
    I’ve got better gear, I’m healthier, and I get to enjoy the look of shock on my co-worker’s faces when they say, “you rode in today?!” I don’t ride for the gas prices, for the environment, or for a cause. Those are all just nice byproducts. The bottom line is I’m having a great time, and I look forward to riding to and from work. I’m on the cycle to stay, and I haven’t looked back yet.

  2. Noah says:

    As you mentioned, car woes also prompted me to buy a bike and give bike commuting a shot. When the clutch in my car started acting up (not like clutches normally do, by slipping and wearing out, but by grabbing and making the car lurch when I still had my clutch pedal depressed fully!) I knew how to fix it myself, and I eventually did fix it, but the part I needed was back-ordered by a month.

    I started bike commuting before I knew there was even a term for bike commuting. I just knew that the bus stop I’d been driving my car to was only 2 and a half miles away from home, and that even as fat as I was (near 250 pounds), I could probably ride a bicycle there. I bought a $70 bike (a so-called Bike-Shaped Object) from wal-mart, which served me very well. For about six weeks.

    The people at a local bike shop helped me find a good, quality used bike for about $100, and mentioned “Bike Commuting” – again, a term I hadn’t until then heard before. It didn’t take long for me to find a lot of bike commuting info online, including Warren’s personal site (he lives down the street from me and I was looking for other local commuters) and CBB.

  3. Tim Goss says:

    Hi Warren:
    I’ve been commuting off and on for about 30 years. The first 10 years I was a dedicated commuter spending months without a car. But as my job got more complicated and I became more accustomed to driving, the bike commuting became more a backup form of transportation.

    Three years ago I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and the next day started cycling to work again. I was still riding the same bike I’d had for 32 years; and like you Warren, my old bike finally gave up the ghost as parts became harder to find. My aching back also protested riding a rode bike at the age of 63 so I bought a new bike this past November. I purchased a Dahon folding bike and really love the upright position and the fun of riding a folding bike. Because I bought the bike on US Election Day, November 4, I named the bike The Obamer:

    http://www.timgossconsulting.com/obamer.html

    Happy New Year everyone!

    Tim

  4. Ghost Rider says:

    I’ve always loved riding bikes…so that aspect was a no-brainer.

    My college wouldn’t allow first-year students to bring a car, so getting around campus and around town by bike was a logical alternative. And although I’ve owned cars off and on since then, I keep returning to the bike — making employment and living-area choices that help ensure I can ride my bike rather than burn gas.

    I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years, now, and I love it as much as the first time I realized that bike commuting was a smart move!

    Excellent book mention, too. That’s a must-read for anyone who laments the loss of the traditional American community and wants to see it return.

  5. Jake says:

    I’m relatively new to the commuting scene. I started somewhat two summers ago by biking on an old Huffy mountain bike to my weekly radio show on weekends. I can’t remember the exact reasoning, but I’m fairly sure it involved getting some exercise as well as saving a little bit of gas cash from not driving my Jeep so much. That then transitioned into biking to work. When my Huffy eventually bit the dust (thank goodness) I picked up a commuter from the LBS and started commuting in earnest. I’ve since given up the car completely and get around only on two wheels. I’m in great shape and truly love biking.

  6. Tom says:

    When I first moved to Seattle after college in 1992 I bought a Miyata cross bike (at Earl’s!) and rode it everywhere – to work, with friends, to movies. It was my only transport. About a year later I got an old car, and biking began to fade out of my life, slowly. Until by the time I was 35, living in an outer neighborhood, with a kid in elementary school, I never rode a bike ever.

    Then through my kid’s school I met another parent and we became friends and I discovered that he worked across the street from me, and biked 12 months a year. “Hey, I used to love biking” I thought to myself. I bought a new bike and started commuting last summer, and though I don’t do it every day, I’m getting into it more and more. Sadly, I also discovered why our neighborhood is called “High Point.”

    It’s not much of a carbon offset – I was already commuting on a crowded bus. But I love starting my day with an eight mile ride, I love seeing the other cyclists out there on the trail and in traffic, and I love being in better shape.

  7. Deb says:

    I started bike commuting in late july of this past year. To be honest, gas prices had absolutely nothing to do with my decision. It was all about the environment, and other issues surrounding oil usage.

    I’d been hoping, when I moved to this area about 2.5 years ago, to not need to drive my truck much. What I found is that a 20 minute drive would take 2 hrs on the bus (or bus+metro+bus+shuttle), and I could never bring myself to do that. Biking didn’t really occur to me. When the idea niggled into my mind, I dismissed it, thinking it was impossible. The only way I knew to get to work was on the highway, after all.

    But I ended up reading a local bike blog (washcycle) and he happened to reflect on when he gave up his car. He also happened to have a long commute – around the same miles as I have. (14.5 is mine) And I think that made a really big impact on me – one of those “if someone else rides that long to and from work, it isn’t actually impossible” type of thoughts.

    Then I went to a road safety class (free thanks to the local advocacy group) and asked the instructor if he knew how I’d get from my home to my work. He rattled off the instructions off the top of his head, and since I knew I’d never remember it I emailed him later and he sent me the directions.

    By then I was determined to start bike commuting. I researched and finally decided on a bike. I finally got the bike in hand, and took a couple weeks to work up to riding at least half of a one way commute along the nice flat trails near me. And then I jumped in. The actual route was sort of shocking, in how unflat it is.

    The road safety classes I’d taken (I took more than just the free intro class, and I think they were a great investment) really helped me feel comfortable quickly. I started off with 2 and 3 days a week, and now I’m at 4…stuck there because I have a regular meeting 1 day a week that I don’t have time to actually ride to. When that finally ends, I’ll ride every day to work, and I also plan on adding in errands. Long term goal is to go car free, though that seems a big step to me. (my truck is old, insurance is minimal, never had a car payment, it is actually cheaper to keep it on hand than it would be to rent as needed at this point.)

    I was worried that I’d wimp out when the cold came, but that hasn’t been an issue. (we haven’t had snow yet, don’t know what I’ll decide when/if we get snow)

    So to conclude a really long comment, the bottom line is that I did it for the environment, because it was The Right Thing To Do. I was pretty much shocked to find that it was so much fun, that I love it so much.

    Gas prices at the pump have come down, but their true cost does nothing but increase. That always helps me get out there on the bike, even when I look at the weather and it is 17 degrees. Once I’m on the bike, the fun takes over. I can’t emphasize enough how many benefits I have because of the biking. I’m less cranky, less reactive, happier, no guilt for skipping the gym…

    Kent Peterson recently wrote a blog post about his bike commute (the three hour tour), and that post really resonated with me.

  8. Ghost Rider says:

    “Gas prices at the pump have come down, but their true cost does nothing but increase. ”

    AMEN to that! Great story, Deb…like many new commuters, you’ve been surprised to discover that not only is bike commuting good for the environment and money savings, but it is a blast and is very good for the soul!!

  9. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    In 1970 the seeds were planted, but it took years to grow. 1970 was the first earth day and what I learnt in school then stayed with me.
    As the car-culture pulled me in as a teenager I had to take drivers-ed and opted for a state school bus driving course. Add all the terrible auto wrecks and being a part of two of the worst. It built up in me until I separated from my ex. First, I saw a bicycle parked in front of a grocery store, and then on a road I thought was 10 miles, a road cyclist took only a few minutes longer than me.
    Then it happened, it was the summer of 05′, my neighbor offered me a BSO, for free. Work was a mile away, so I started riding and realized how everything was really not that far away. ” I bought a 93′ Bianchi hybrid, did a lot of reading, sold my car, built a touring bike and moved to a more bicycle friendly city. Now I ride my bike everywhere and when needed use public transportation”

    That road that I saw the cyclist on was three miles and it only took 5 to 10 minutes longer to bike. That BSO was a beach cruiser, I passed that bike on to a transit and last saw him riding it for transportation.. : ) The first time I rode that BSO to work, I felt like I was a kid again = priceless.

  10. anakcu says:

    Hardware, for both myself and a co-worker. I had long thought about commuting to work on the C&O Canal Tow Path but only had a Cannondale racing bike that was much too stiff for gravel, roots and ruts. I scored a “high-end beater” full suspension moutain bike on ebay that only needed minor repair to be fully functional, and the rest is history. My co-worker purchased a Langster on a whim, but having a fixie with no place to go convinced him to start commuting to work. Especially for people who ride recreationally, getting a super sweet ride for the commute can make all the difference between driving and biking to work.

  11. bike.a.while says:

    My bikes had been sitting, seldom ridden, in the basement for 12 to 15 years. Three years ago a bridge between my apartment and my two mile drive to work was under reconstruction. This added an extra two mile to the commute.

    Oddly that bugged me. Having to burn that much extra gas in my Honda Insight stuck in my craw.

    So, I dusted off my ’83 Diamond Back and started commuting to work. I rediscovered my love of cycling. My bike to car commute ratio has been increasing in the passing three years. This year it was close to 70 percent.

    My last work commute ride of ’08 was on 12/30. First ride of ’09 was on 01/02.

  12. William says:

    I started cycling to work in 1971 and have been doing it ever since. The older I get the more consistent and determined I am to leave the motor vehicle parked. When I started there were no bike lanes and no paths. In 2002 I kept a record of the days I bicycled to work and broke 3,000 miles. That didn’t include recreational riding. I find a mountain bike best suited to commuting because you can hop curbs and ride around traffic jams as well as ride cross country and explore alternate routes. I’ve been hit twice; one hit-and-run. Currently I ride a 2003 Trek 6700 and a 2008 Trek 2.1.

  13. I know it’s the right thing to do environmentally and for my body, but it really comes down to money. I bought a used bike on Craigslist a couple of years ago, but hadn’t really used it until this past summer. I had decided to commute by bus to my summer job, but then I started being assigned to different locations in the area, and not all were accessible by bus. So I started bringing the bike along, taking the bus most of the way, and then hopping on bike. Then I graduated to biking the entire distance.

    This fall, my husband got a job too, and needed the car. We definitely can’t afford another car, so I just kept commuting by bike, with the occasional bus ride.

  14. Darren says:

    Got the bike that I really wanted in April 2004 that I could also commute on. Did some commuting and bought an Arkel Briefcase pannier. Then got injured, then injured the other foot, so only did occasional commutes. Last year got serious about it, worked up to four days a week and commuted until Nov. (got too dark too early for this late riser to ride home before sunset). This year I just started commuting 4 days a week in the early spring. Now I bike 4 or 5 days a week, and got a new bike primarily to commute with (the old bike is now the backup bike). I have already commuted once this year and with just over 2000 total miles last year I’m looking to probably do better than 3000 miles this year.

    I’ve never really done it for environmental, money, or health reasons. Not that they don’t matter as they do encourage me, but really I just like riding my bike to work or to run errands.

  15. For me, it was sitting in the queue for the Tyne Tunnel one warm afternoon in the summer of 2005. A mile long queue of cars in two lanes doing about 2 mph. Suddenly a guy on a bike came zipping past between the lanes, and I thought,

    “Bastard. If only I had the kind of job where I could ride to work. Hang on a cotton-picking minute – I DO have the kind of job where I can ride to work!”

    I work as an independent business consultant, and as the usual image people expect is suit and tie, I drive to initial meetings with new clients, and then gently break into the conversation that I usually cycle, and do they have somewhere I can lock a bike / get changed. With only one exception, my clients are completely OK with this.

    So I now cycle to all clients within 10 miles of home (i.e. a 20 mile round-trip), to most within 15 miles, and the occasional one a little further out – my record is 39 miles each way. Just so you know – that is too far to ride and then do a full day’s work!

  16. Juan says:

    Started racing bicycles about 17 years ago, and commuting was a great way to get in more training time. I no longer race, but still love to ride, and commuting is now a great way to spend time on the bike.

  17. Logan says:

    Transition to Car-lite and my bike commute:
    My wife and I moved to Bike City USA (Davis, CA) for me to go to grad school in September 2002. A combination of local cultural acceptance of cycling, bike friendly streets and expensive car costs (parking permits, gas, insurance, maintenance, etc.) helped us decide to sell my truck and buy a bike. However, my wife still needed her car for work. We mostly used the car for her work commute, grocery getting and vacations.

    Transition for both of us to go Car-free:
    We read the book “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robins and followed their exercises to better understand our finances. When we realized our one car (a very pretty blue 2007 Honda Fit) was costing us about $600/month after factoring in ALL of the associated expenses over the long term. We made the choice of selling the car in April 2007 (CarMax is wonderful!) and moving to Sacramento, CA within walking distance of my wife’s work. I was able to start commuting by the Amtrak train or very inexpensively by the subsidized university bus from the medical center. We get our groceries by bike, take road trips by bike and rent a car when we need to get far out of town to visit family. :) The exhilarating exercise, fresh air and financial freedom has converted us to be bike commuters and permanently car-free. :)

    Cheers,

  18. Stuart says:

    First, an aside: “Your Money or Your Life” is truly a life-altering book. It freed me from the American rat-race and made my current much less stressful life of teaching English a reality. I wish I had paid more attention to the author’s advice to only invest in government bonds, though!

    I moved to Germany in 1998, where I had a nice bike and excellent public transportation that didn’t make having a car necessary. Then I moved to Japan in 2003, where I had to commute by car 20 miles everyday to my teaching jobs. It wasn’t my car, but it still got me back into the car-dependent lifestyle. I got married in 2005 and moved closer to my jobs and started using a “mama chari,” a cheap Chinese made bike with a basket on the front handlebars, a bike I had rescued from the dumpster, to commute to work. I had to pay someone $30 to weld two seatposts together so I could get the seat high enough! But the gears didn’t always work right and changing flats was a bear, so I finally asked a German friend to send me my German bike in the mail. It arrived in a pile of bits with the derailleur arm broken. A bike shop put it all back together again. Now I commute by bike everyday except Wednesday when I have to drive my wife to her job. My Japanese wife thinks I am crazy to bike commute and demands to be driven around in the car. But I never thought I would try driving my bike in the winter till I started reading this blog. It’s now winter break so I haven’t had to ride in the snow, yet. But I have ridden on some icy roads already in early December.

    Commuting by bike gives me meditation time, better health, and keeps my weight down. The good environmental aspects alone would be enough to make me bike commute. When gasoline cost $7 a gallon last summer, I laughed. But a key was having a comfortable bike that didn’t kill my knees.

  19. John in Portland says:

    I commuted by bike from 1999 to 2002, but my company moved too far to commubike. As soon as I had the opportunity to work 4 miles from home, I knew I would be using the bike full time.

    It would’t matter to me if someone gave me a free car, gas, maint, and insurance, I still would make this commute by bike.

    The exercise, the stress relief, the savings, are too much a benefit to ignore. Plus, I love this form of transportation.

  20. idbob says:

    I’D ALWAYS WANTED TO COMMUTE BUT COULD NOT DUE TO MY JOB REQUIRING ME TO DRIVE ALL DAY. THEN I CHANGED JOBS AND THOUGHT I SHOULD COMMUTE AND NEVER DID. I GUESS I NEEDED A PUSH THEN A FEW YEARS AGO WHEN GAS PRICES JUMPED AROUND 1.50 TO 2.00 A GALLON IT PISSED ME OFF. I THOUGHT THERE HAS TO BE SOMTHING I CAN DO TO SAY I’VE HAD ENOUGH.

  21. Geis says:

    In 1985, in preparation for my Junior year of getting an apartment near the University of Pittsburgh, I bought a rusted hulk of a bicycle for $20 from a second hand store. I dismantled and rebuilt it and, aside from the rims being rusty, had myself a perfectly serviceable bike for my commute across town to class.

    The next year, I moved further out of town to live with my grandfather. I also had a newborn daughter and a pressing need for daycare. The place we found for that required me to take the bus downtown, transfer to another bus, drop her off, take another bus back into town, transfer to another bus to get to class and then, at the end of the day, do it all in reverse. Nearly half of every day was spent either riding a bus or waiting to ride a bus. I learned to despise the bus and the “hub and spoke” system and as soon as that situation changed and I no longer had to do that song and dance, I was back on the bike for a mere 7 mile/30 minute commute each way.

    Later, I had a job downtown which would double my commute and put me onto roads that were hostile to bicycles, but there was free parking so I drove even though I disliked the process of actually commuting by automobile. Another job was almost as far but on better roads so then I was back on the bike. The latest job was downtown but two things had changed. One, the city had recently opened the Eliza Furnace Rail Trail. While it was only 4 miles long, it allowed me to completely bypass the dangerous 5th Avenue corridor through Oakland. Second, though, I had moved into a new house that put me on the other side of a large hill with some additional unpleasant road to ride on.

    I compromised. I drive part way to not deal with the hill near my house but ride my bike the rest of the way.

  22. As a kid, I rode bikes all the time, until I got my driver’s license. The motorhead stage lasted about 3 or 4 years, until I went to college. My roommates were into cycling and parking was always a hassle, so the car went home to live with my parents for a while. Then one of my co-workers let me try out his Ross M. Hood, and the rest, as they say, is history. I sold my car in 1989 and haven’t individually owned one since (though my wife and have co-owned one car at a time since ’94.)

    Making arrangements to work within cycling distance of home hasn’t always been easy, but sparing our family of the expense of a second car has been great. I also wouldn’t exercise nearly as much without the 30-60 miles per week.

  23. PS. But the number one reason I ride is that I love it. The money, exercise and lack of carbon emissions are just gravy.

  24. Roy Schultz says:

    For me, cycling is the path of least resistance. I live in Calgary, Canada and with the oil boom, my city’s population has grown beyond what the transit infrastructure can handle. Also, parking near my work is over $30 per day.

    Even though the temperatures in the winter can be as low as -30 degrees celsius, with the right gear commuting by bike has become one of the best parts of my day. I feel great when I get to work and I have started to loose some weight. Not to mention, I’m not spending money on gas/parking and I’m not crammed on a stuffy train that over capacity.

  25. Similar story to yours. My transmission went out. I decided since I was already riding so much I just might as well not replace the car. So far I don’t regret it!

  26. kb says:

    Living in LA weekend cycling was cool yet I started commuting 8 miles to work to stick it to OPEC about 18 mos. ago. Switching jobs the commute combined with a bus (20 miles each way) and turned into bike alone for several months-by the way 45 lbs. just melted away too. Cycling rocks da house!!!

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