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HEY!

I'm not actively blogging here anymore. But if you got here because you were searching for something about bikes, you might want to check out my latest project, Vermont Goldsprints. In summer of 2014, I bought a used goldsprints racing setup and have made it a mission to get more bikes in more people's faces by putting on fun races in unexpected places. Come join me!

9.26.2008

Bike Commuting: Barriers, Benefits, and Rookie Mistakes

A bunch of ideas have been rolling around in my head in regards to bike commuting lately, here they are:
So, when Kate and I moved from Missoula to Burlington, and I found myself working in Williston, I knew I would have to start really practicing what I preached about bike commuting.  Sure, I was a big year-round bike commuter in Missoula, but this was different.
For people who have never been to Missoula, commuting by bike year-round might sound like a big deal, but it really isn't.  Missoula is essentially flat, with grid streets for the most part.  Our very reasonable apartment was 1.2 miles from my office, and 3.2 miles from my other work at REI.  Distance from office to REI- about 3 miles. These distances meant that I never really had to dress to ride- I would don a a pants clip and helmet and be good to go.  In addition to being flat and compact, Missoula has a mild winter, something I would never have expected before moving there.  I never had to ride in very much snow, and there were few stretches of truly bitter cold. 
Burlington is different.  My commute is 7 miles each way.  To ride it efficiently, I must dress for cycling and plan to clean up and change at the office.  My commute involves hills and significant higher-speed traffic. The winter will be more snowy and less mild than the winter in Missoula. 
Benefits:
A couple of calculations based on some pretty conservative estimates of gas prices and calorie consumption suggest the following:
Based on my salary, the mpg of our current vehicle (gas-sucking Cherokee) and the average recent price of gas, bike commuting half of the year and therefore saving gas is like getting a 27 cent an hour raise.  That does not include the savings of not having to join a gym, or the reduced wear and tear on the car.
Based on my distance, current weight, and an estimated average speed of 10 miles per hour, commuting for half of the year should resut in a weight loss for me of about 15 pounds.
There is a time savings as well.  Bike commuting adds about a half hour a day to my commuting time, but all of the time i spend commuting counts as exercise time i don't have to spend elsewhere.
So, if somebody asked you if you'd like another quarter an hour at work, to lose 15 pounds over the next year, and if you'd like more free time, what would you say?  What barriers would you be willing to overcome in order to garner these benefits?
Barriers and Rookie Mistakes:
Those in the bike/walk/bus commuting advocacy world (yes, those people exist, and I'd like to consider myself a small part of that group) talk a lot about "barriers."  Barriers to bicycle commuting are many and variable, but I certainly found that this summer, I had introduced a whole bunch of new barriers into my commuting routine by moving to Burlington.  Sometimes you don't overcome a barrier completely- most of that can be attributed to "rookie mistakes" as you get used to the organizational regime required by regular bike commuting.
1. Clothing.  My new commuting distance means that I need to bring office clothes with me to change into when I get to work.  This was the source of my biggest rookie mistake.  Thing is, when you are not putting the clothes on to your body, and it is early in the morning, it is really easy to forget an article of clothing.  I did this on numerous occasions in my first few weeks of "real" commuting. No belt. No boxers. Others have reported forgetting pants.  My solution to this has been to bring extra clothes on the few days I drive and leave them at the office. Of course, this requires a place to store clothing.  In my case, our office has a small locker room. The lack of a place to store cothing or the difficulty in transporting it can be a major barrier.
2. Cleanliness.  Our office has a shower, though I do not often find occasion to use it.  I shower before riding in, towel off when I get in, and change.  This has worked well so far.  I also benefit here from having a very simple hair style to maintain. 
3. Bike storage.  We have secure (but not covered) bike storage at my office.  I also ride a bike to work that looks pretty unattractive, and work in an area with very few problems in the way of theft.  Another rookie mistake I have made a few times is forgetting my lock.  I have resolved this by leaving my lock at the office. I have another lock at home for use there and when I take my bike elsewhere.  This also takes a couple of pounds off my back for the day. 
4. Mechanical issues.  One of the few times I rode without a pump and patch kit this summer I got a flat.  It was on the way home but lengthened my commute by about a half hour.  I am a firm beliver that any bike commuter should know how to fix a flat and mend a broken chain.  These are the two things that can totally stop you.  Fear of mechanical problems can be a barrier, but in practice, I've been stranded by my car far more times than I have had to fix something on my bike.    
5. Fear of traffic.  I'm pretty fearless (not reckless) about riding in traffic.  This is a topic for a whole other post, or several.  Education, bike lanes, and even bike paths (despite their tendency to spawn rollerbladers and strollers) are all part of the solution here, but the biggest is experience. Most cyclists will complain bitterly about dangerous traffic situations when they happen, but the truth is, most of us have pretty safe commutes every day.  That's why we keep riding.
There's more here, and this could probably be a greatly expanded conversation.  In fact, I'd like it to be.  My comment count for posts typically stands at zero, but if you're out there and reading this, how about it?  Why do or don't you ride to work?  What was your biggest rookie mistake?  What is your biggest barrier to commuting? How does bike commuting enhance your life?