I’ve been riding my bike to work a lot this year, initially on my trusty old mountain bike, later on my new (and much more efficient) road bike. Riding to work on a sunny day is a great feeling, plus you can turn a 15-20 minute commute in traffic into a 30 minute workout.
I’ve also taken a number of long rides this fall, all on my new bike: The first one with Brendan around Mercer Island, across i90 down to Seward Park and back. A second long ride was also with Brendan, from REI in Downtown Seattle to my house in Kirkland, mostly on the Burke Gilman / Sammamish river trails. (and yes, the Lake City reroute sucks.) The last one was by myself – from the house to Safeco Field for the Microsoft company meeting, also north around the lake. Amy and I also enjoy riding bikes from Redmond to Redhook on the Sammamish river trail, a pleasant 10 mile round trip. (Admittedly, this is just a thin excuse to eat out and have beer for lunch on a day which isn’t going to be sunny in the mountains.)
Riding to work on a sunny day and taking fun rides on the weekend are a lot of fun and a nice way to get some exercise, but they hardly count as bike commuting. Bike commuting is something altogether different. Bike commuting is riding to work when it is cold, raining and dark outside. Needless to say, Seattle has an abundance of these days, and an abundance of Bike Commuters. Let’s explore what bike commuting is all about.
Today was my first day as a Bike commuter.
I got up, put my climbing gear and bike lock in one pannier, a change of clothes for work, shoes and lunch in the other. After the extra few minutes it takes me to put on bike shoes, open the garage, get out the bike and close and lock the garage, I’m on my way riding up the hill. The road was wet, but no rain, yet. At about mile 2, I pass Google’s Kirkland campus. (An enviable commute, yes, but why bother ride my bike at all for 2 miles of exercise.) The Internet’s masters of primary colors torment me by turning the rain back on just in time for my hill climb up 68th/70th street. Now I’m glad I have my gloves on, but I’m staying pretty warm with the workout. I’m also noticing those wet leaves don’t have the traction I’d like. Caution sets in.
Once across i405, the ride gets less steep, and after passing the Red Apple, it’s almost all downhill from here. At the next intersection, by the Sixty 01 condo community, I have to decide: muddy and fast, or paved, annoying and steeper. I choose muddy, turning right and taking the Bridle Crest Trail along the side of the Bellevue golf course. Without fenders, the amount of mud thrown up by my wheels on this mostly gravel trail was impressive. Now I’m really wet, even my toes are wet, but i’m just a couple blocks from work. P.S. Thank you Redmond for installing metal access panels on the sidewalk. They are insanely slippery when wet.
After my day of work, I needed to go to REI and buy a headlight for the bike. I saw one there on sale I wanted to try, 150 lumens, charges on a USB port and on sale for around 50$ (from 100$ retail.) Thankfully no rain on my way there or on my way to the climbing gym. Thank you Redmond for generally good bike lanes. (They should be! Their nickname is “Bicycle capital of the northwest”.) After climbing with JK, we agree to get teriyaki at Yummy Teriyaki. As I hop on the bike again, no rain, but it picks up a bit on my way there. I was only a couple minutes slower than he was in his car – win!
Unfortunately, the ride home from Teriyaki was the worst stretch of my day. 1) I ate too much teriyaki – I was hungry from all the climbing and biking. 2) The rain intensified a bit, and it got quite a bit colder. 3) Worst of all, the ride from Redmond to Kirkland is horrible. I could have gone way out of my way, but I really just wanted to get home – so I took the direct route.
Getting through Redmond on Redmond Way was easy. On a flat, I can easily keep up with city traffic, and my front and rear lights made me easy to see. Going up the first section of hill was OK too, since I decided to use the sidewalk. (Probably a no-no for a “Real” bike commuter, but really, who wants to be squished on blind turns by cars going 45 mph.) Next, there is a 1/4 mile section where there is no shoulder and no sidewalk. There is a guardrail, and on the other side a mud and gravel “path” which is 6 inches wide with a significant side slope. Failure isn’t an option, since you would fall down a big muddy hill into a drainage. Thankfully, my bike has fatter tires than a normal road bike since it was built as a cyclocross bike. After that, there is a nice section of generous sidewalk, followed by a motley arrangement of sidewalks, asphault chunks parking lots and gravel to get through Rose Hill. After crossing under 405, iI was back on familiar turf, and had no problem getting home. All said, it wasn’t that cold or miserable, and I did get a good workout in today.
In summary, based on one day of experience, Bike Commuting is all about:
- Cold + Wet – If you aren’t suffering, it isn’t bike commuting.
- Expensive – All the gear to make it reasonably safe adds up. Rear Light – 25$, Front Light – 100+$, Bright Clothing, Fenders, Panniers, Rack, etc…
- Saves Money – Yes, it is expensive, but if I ever pay off the costs of all this extra gear in saved gasoline and maintenance on my car, the savings are not insignificant. (~5$ day saved.)
- Dirty – Water and mud flying every which way.
- Smelly - By the time you get to work, you are dirty and wet, by the time you need to go home, your wet, dirty biking clothes stink. (Showers at work are a reasonable mitigation.)
- Slow – When you are tired and keep hitting snooze, bike commuting isn’t going to help you make that 9am meeting.
- Free Exercise + Saves time – No gym membership required, plus you can fit a 30 minute exercise in the 15 extra minutes it takes to ride the bike instead of drive.
- Eat more food – I love food, and I can eat whatever I want for lunch on the days I ride my bike. (I feel like my metabolism is raised all day with just two 30 minute rides.)
- Self-righteousness – When it comes down to it, after riding your bike to work on a crappy day, you just feel better than everyone else. (Look at all those lazy slobs in their cars!) I’m pretty sure this is the primary motivation for most Bike Commuters, since the rest of the rest of the strengths and weaknesses barely balance out.
Disclaimer: While it would no doubt be useful to my (limited number of) readers to post a follow-up in a few months with tips and tricks, favorite commuting gear and an update on my progress, this is unlikely. As evidenced by my sporadic blog postings, there is no guarantee that I will ever post a follow-up to today’s post on Bike Commuting. I can’t tell you what my next post will be about, but it will most certainly not be about the ancient art of Bonsai Kittens.