Bicycle Commuting: Consider joining in!

May 28, 2006 | By | 8 Replies More

Grumpypilgrim and I are both big advocates of bicycle use, including bicycle commuting.

In my own case, I started using bicycle to commute to work in 1999 (I live in St. Louis). I’ve accrued more than 10,000 miles bicycle commuting since that time. I’m about five miles from my place of work and it takes me about 22 minutes to make the trip, which is only 5 minutes longer than it takes to drive a car.

Using a bicycle is an excellent way to relieve stress, save gas and build exercise into your routine. Before I started commuting by bike, I couldn’t imagine I would have become so committed. Before I started commuting, I thought of a bicycle as most Americans do: as a recreational toy. Bicycles certainly are wonderful “toys.” But they are much more, too. Now I see my bicycle (I ride a Trek 4900 that cost about $500) as a finely designed machine that gets an important job done in an earth-friendly way.

In case any readers want to catch the fever, here are some bicycling-related websites to get you started. If anyone wants to add to this list, by all means, share your information by adding a comment. Thanks!

General bicycle info:

Sheldon Brown http://www.sheldonbrown.com (lots of tips and bike repair info)

Bicycle commuting and safety:

Bicycle touring

Bike touring on-line journals:

Winter biking:

  • Ice Bike http://www.icebike.com (this one is grumpypilgrim’s recommendation. You can tell that he doesn’t live in a warm state! You can do it, by the way! You too can ride when it’s ten below!)
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Category: Culture, Energy, Environment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Colleen says:

    Hi, Erich 🙂

    I really like your dedication to riding your bike to work. Good for you! 🙂 I have thought about doing that, too–not only because of the gas prices but also because I am a very health-conscious person, and I want to improve my own fitness level.

    I also really appreciate the links that you have provided about bike repair, etc. These will be very helpful to me, as I need to repair my poor bike before I can take it out on the sidewalks again :-).

    ~Colleen

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    To give an idea of what is possible with a bicycle, here is a story about a relatively ordinary suburban family of four that has lived without a car since 1987 (no one in the family even has a driver's license):

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2

    For those so inclined, here is a site about heavy-duty bicycle trailers:

    http://www.bikesatwork.com/

    Of course, for most peoples' needs, a Burley trailer is fine for ferrying toddlers or running errands.

    What many people don't appreciate is that most errands are very short — fewer than five or ten miles — and such distances are both very easy and efficient to cover on a bicycle, and a very inefficient to cover with a motor vehicle.

    In addition to the gas savings, consider the time savings. If a trip take you 15 minutes in you car and 30 minutes on your bicycle, you 'lose' 15 minutes by taking your bike. However, your bike ride has given you 30 minutes of exercise, which is 30 minutes you don't have to spend in a gym. Thus, you've 'lost' 15 minutes, but gained 30 minutes, for a net gain of 15 minutes. Many short trips are like this — for every minute you spend running errands in your car, you could potentially GAIN a minute by taking your bike instead.

    Besides saving you money at the pump, giving you more free time, and giving you some nice exercise, another benefit of bicycling is that it's a whole lot more fun than driving. In fact, I'll go so far as to say you will *never* have road rage when you are on a bicycle. Bikers don't cut each other off, they don't blow obnoxious horns at each other, they park for free (and they don't waste time searching for a parking spot), and they don't sit at the end of a long line of cars line waiting for a traffic light to turn green and hoping they will get through the intersection before the light returns to red. Simply put: on a bicycle, you just don't experience the problems that annoy drivers the most. So, I challenge you: just try to find someone on a bicycle who doesn't look happy. I bet you can't.

    Also, bicycles are lighter and more reliable today than ever before. Gone are the days of 40 pound bikes with big heavy tires and just one gear. Today's bikes are virtually as light and efficient as the racing bikes were 20 years ago, yet they cost very little — only a few hundred dollars. Even tires are better today than they were 20 years ago: some even have kevlar belts (just like a car tire) to help prevent flats.

    The mistake many people make is buying a cheap, crappy, heavy bike at a department store, then not enjoying the way it rides, then having it break down, and then parking it in the garage until the next garage sale. Forget that! Spend a few dollars more for a good bike from a bike shop. Like everything else, its all about cost versus value. A good bike will cost a bit more, but be a better value in the long run because it will probably last you the rest of your life. (Good example: my oldest bike is a 1956 English 3-speed that I bought used at a garage sale, and it's still going strong.) Thus, if you spend $200 more for a nice bike than you would have spent for a crappy department store bike, but the nice bike lasts 20 years (or more) longer, then you've only spent $10 per year extra. That's less than $1 per month, plus you've spent all those years riding a much nicer bike, and you've saved a bunch of money on gas for your car because your bike's not sitting in the garage.

    A bike store will also take the time to find a bike that fits you and your riding style, they will adjust it for you so it is comfortable and safe, and they will probably also include a free 30-day maintenance check, which takes care of small things (like cable stretch) that occur on all new bikes during the first few weeks of ownership. Many shops (REI is one) also offer free bike maintenance clinics, so you can learn how to change a tire, lube the chain and adjust the brake pads to keep the bike safe and trouble-free.

    Anyway, these are just a few of the many great things about bicycles. And best of all: even if you live in a country whose national political leaders turn a blind eye to things such as high gas prices, long traffic delays, and the pollution that cars create, a bicycle lets you 'vote with your feet' for a cleaner environment, a healthier lifestyle, and more money in your wallet. We might never find the mythical Fountain of Youth, but a bicycle comes surprisingly close.

  3. Sujay says:

    Wow, it is amazing how you drive the bicycle to work even at your age Erich! I am now considering having the bicycle as my first vehicle. But first, I have to learn to ride one! Yes, I am product of the industrial age that has only travelled in cars, buses and trains, and never felt the need to learn to ride a bicycle (and I belong to only a moderately and recently industrialized country. I imagine there are many more like me in North America and Europe).

    I think the best reason to use a bicycle is because riding it for relatively long distances daily facilitates exercise into our daily lives, without having to take time out for it separately. I have seen people who drive to the gym so that they can walk on the treadmills there! Isn't that a waste of fuel, money and time?

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Sujay: You've reminded me of my age, thereby throwing me into another existential crisis! Actually, when I was traveling in China, I saw that many older folks (many of them even older than ME!) commute by bicycle. I don't think age is the limiting factor. It's general fitness and sense of balance. There are obviously some people who would not be good candidates for bicycles, but age is not a good proxy for fitness.

    For those who are thinking about using a bike to commute, I would add the following advise:

    1. Map out bike routes that avoid cars, especially during rush hour.

    2. Obey the rules of the road. Many cyclists think they are immune and it gives the rest of us a bad reputation. I've seen people weaving all around on bicycles and I know that the riders are oblivious to the dangers they exposing themselves to.

    3. Ride defensively. On a bike, you're no match for a big motor vehicle.

    4. Make yourself visible with reflective gear and high quality lighting. Probably the biggest problem riding a bike is that you're not nearly as visible as you would be driving a car.

    5. Get involved with local organizations promoting bike use. Here in St. Louis, for example, organizations are carving out special bike lanes and bike trails all over the metropolitan area. They also provide other advice, including safety advise, for bike commuters.

    After doing these things, have fun!

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to the age issue, there is a woman named Dervla Murphy who has toured many countries by bicycle and then written books about her adventures. Many of her trips — including to *very* remote (and even dangerous) places such as sub-Saharan Africa, rural southern China, and the war-torn Balkans — were undertaken after she retired from her career as a teacher, which means she was in her 60s. Despite her age, she rode a loaded touring bicycle through some very rough conditions — including bad roads and mountain passes — and seemed to very much enjoy her time. As Erich said, age is a not a good proxy for fitness.

    Also, I'd like to add two more items to Erich's excellent list of biking tips for commuters:

    6. As much as possible, drive your bike like you would drive a car. For example, that means riding in a straight line in your lane (rather than weaving in and out around parked cars) and it means "taking the lane" (riding in the middle of your traffic lane) when there is not enough room for cars to squeeze around you. The concept here is that motor vehicle drivers are trained to respond to other motor vehicle drivers, so the more you behave like one of them, the more they will react to you predictably and respectfully. These and many other tips for commuters can be found in the book, "Effective Cycling" by Forrester.

    7. Wear gloves when you ride. Those odd-looking, half-fingered biking gloves you see people wear aren't just fashion statements. They have thickly padded palms, which help prevent numb fingers that can occur from handlebar vibration; and they also help prevent 'road rash' if you fall and put a hand down to absorb the impact. Of course, the best thing to do if you fall is to roll, the way athletes do, to prevent injury, but if you do put a hand down, it is a whole lot better for you if that hand is wearing a protective glove.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    I rode without gloves on only one occasion. I was on vacation and I was taking a borrowed bike to the bike shop in order to buy a helmet and gloves! If you fall even once, gloves will become your favorite accessory. Because I didn't have gloves that day, I was picking rocks out of my palm for a week.

    Grumpypilgrim and I have both done lots of riding on the streets. It seems unnatural to "take the lane," but those huge side mirrors on those even bigger SUV's are dangerous. A friend of a friend lost his life after getting smacked by one of those side mirrors while riding. I try to avoid high traffic routes whenever possible, but whenever you just HAVE to be on the streets and really take the middle of your lane.

  7. Edgar Montrose says:

    Let me preface the following by stating that I have been an avid bicyclist for about 35 years.

    I read a while back that the health benefits of cycling are so profound that every hour of cycling adds two hours to one's life … but that this effect is completely overwhelmed by the increased odds of being run over by a car.

    Frankly, I suspect that those most likely to be struck by cars are those most inexperienced at riding in traffic. Regardless, be careful out there. Don't just "take" the lane; if you need the lane, COMMAND the lane.

  8. grumpypilgrim says:

    I just stumbled across the following very complete discussion (with links) of bicycles and gear for touring and commuting:

    http://www.faughnan.com/touringbike.html

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