Real Advice: Commuting by Bike

Today we continue with our Real Advice series – hard-earned practical knowledge from real riders here at our home office. This week we asked Aaron, one of our copywriters and a regular commuter (the guy rides over 20 miles each way), to share some of his thoughts about commuting by bike.

Aaron at his locker at our home office with his Osprey Momentum 24 commuter bag

This morning, like every morning, I crept around the house smiling in at sleeping kids and trying not to get the dogs all worked up. I skip the top step because it creaks really badly. I do the morning ritual…French press, whatever piece of fruit or bread is lying around, trying to resist picking at the pie on the counter…and failing. I pack my bag for work and walk out to the garage.

I open the garage door and there’s my ride—like every day I fall in love all over again. My ride is an old race bike and although it’s already 84° and the humidity is 95%, I can’t wait to hit it. I check the quick releases, top off the tires, clip in, and go.

I spin out across the lake whose fingers span for miles between my home and my office and contemplate the steely reflection of haze on the water. I lock into the tightrope that is the edge of the road and let my mind wander. This is my commute and I love it. No news radio, no pressure to make the next light. I mentally prepare for the giant hill that leaves me winded every time, but I am fully into it.

But why would someone want to ride a bike 10 miles each way on a little pinstripe-sized shoulder, smelling road kill, and being passed by cars and big diesel trucks when he has a perfectly good car at home? Why indeed.

View from Aaron’s commute

Remember those commercials for the US Army that proudly touted the mantra, We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day? It produced this awe-inspiring vision of people who accept any challenge, tackle any obstacle, and aren’t afraid of getting a little icky.

This is why I commute. Because it makes me feel empowered—like I’m treating my mind and body to the reverie and exertion that they need to function best. When I get to work, I feel lucid, fit, and guiltless—it’s amazing.

It occurs to me…I just burned 900 calories and could totally eat that doughnut if I wanted to. Wow.

To be sure, my reasons aren’t the only reasons to commute. I also save a bunch of money which is good. I’m not contributing to the sickening amount of pollution jettisoned into oblivion every morning by droves of gridlocked drivers. Plus, I really love the joy of gliding on a bike—it’s fun.

So whatever there is between your home and your work, chances are that the possibility of a rewarding bike commute exists. If you work right in the neighborhood, you could enjoy a quick jaunt on your beach cruiser. If you live in the city, you can jet across town on a city bike and get there in half the time it would take you sitting in traffic, marinating in your own impatience. If you live in the suburbs, swap out the highway for a greenway on your hybrid bike. You’ll find what’s waiting for you at work has somehow gotten smaller, more manageable…better.

The jump from driving to riding can seem fraught with barriers. Finding the right bike, taking the right safety precautions, dealing with weather, knowing how to deal with bike trouble, these are all issues worthy of consideration.

Since we’re a cycling community with a wealth of insight and knowledge, let’s try to spread the commuting bug with our tips, advice, experiences, and most importantly, our stories and images that illustrate the rewards and joys of getting empowered, ditching that car, and being awesome.

22 thoughts on “Real Advice: Commuting by Bike

  1. It was my first time commuting (by bike) to downtown Chicago.

    I had heard rumors of Chicago becoming a bike-friendly city, but the infrastructure improvements had yet to reach my neck of the woods. So, for once, I was enjoying protected bike lanes, visible bike lane paint, and smooth roads. Sure, the typical frustrations existed here: car exhaust, drivers passing too closely, sweat pouring down my face. But, I had pedaled myself all the way downtown.

    Me. My legs. My bike. While reflecting on this, empowered doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.

    Then, on the way home, I started getting tired. Doubting myself, I wondered if I had the strength to make it home. Did I make a mistake? Was it too soon? Too far beyond my abilities?

    Just then, as if to confirm my fears, a truck began to turn left… On a one way… Headed right toward me. I was frozen and stared at the driver in horror. Eye contact, a turn of his wheel, and — much to my relief — he caught his mistake and didn’t run me over.

    Still shaken, but relieved, I glanced to my left. A pedestrian stood at the crosswalk, with a similar look on her face. We laughed together, and she exclaimed “I was so scared!! I started waving, like ‘NO!'” while demonstrably waving her arms in the air.

    Connecting with another person during a commute? Positively? That never happened while driving in my car.

    I made it home just fine.

  2. Bike commute
    When I ride a bicycle to work, I am “ready”. By car and bus my commute is 35 minutes for 9 miles, but by bicycle it takes that or less. The bike ride then becomes a challenge to beat the clock, while obeying all traffic signals. During the ride, there is little to no traffic since I leave an hour earlier than my normal commute time. Less car traffic eliminates risk, at least that is what I try to accomplish. When I get to work I am energized, focused, feel like I accomplished something, and its a conversation starter with coworkers. As a data geek, I track the route/time with MapMyRide, post it to Facebook, and review my stats (speed, time, personal records, etc….). Fun way to start the day. The afternoon flies by as I have my commute home to waiting for me. On the bike my mind drifts to work tasks, grocery list, dinner cravings, connecting with nature, watching construction progress in neighborhoods not on my normal car commute, greeting fellow bike trail riders, breathing clean air, driving the pedals up hills so I can fly through the next flat, greeting my smiling daughter upon my arrival home and answering all her questions about the ride. Life is better on a bicycle.

  3. How can you go wrong with a 10 mile commute to work when you know 3 miles into it you look to your left and see the magnificent Pikes Peak surrounded by the Garden of the Gods?

    I feel that same guilty pleasure every time I ride that no one I work with can truly understand. I have just pedaled my way to work, gained strength, clarity, and beautiful scenery. I know my day will rock no matter what gets thrown at me. And what’s even better? I get to look forward to that same beautiful scenery, strength and clarity all the way 10 miles back home. Riding to work will clear the mind and soul, not to mention save on gas while burning some fat! It’s a shrink and a personal trainer wrapped into one awesome ride!

  4. Nice story Echo.

    My “real advice”, here goes, somewhat a list of do’s and don’ts: Don’t be afraid to take the long way and learn to ride fast and smart. Do leave early both ways. If your commute is in or near the suburbs, do try NOT to ride at 5pm or shortly after. There is a different energy around then which makes drivers more aggressive. Do find a park to cut through on your way home because 1) you’ll escape cars and 2) melt away any stress.

    Here’s my story, in one big paragraph: I am very lucky. I have a seventeen miler one way. Only one mile of which can be fairly existential. Getting to the back side of Lake Crabtree is pretty awesome and quite a relief. Along the route I get to sprint up the dam and make the turn at the top. Still hoping to one day make it no hands. Then fly through Umstead, braking at the water fountain before heading down hill and up Reedy Creek on past the horse farms. Marking off a couple of sections to sprint. Taking a turn and going below the road through a tunnel, coming out and rounding the corner in full sprint, suddenly braking hard for spazzed bunnies. I’m now headed toward the Art Museum, riding no hands into the wind up a gentle hill. Eyeing the light and cars to make sure I’m not a jerk because I know they won’t see me for the brief moment it’s green. Then having to wait while the sun bakes and sweat drips. Finally crossing through the museum, taking the steep hill because it’s there, and then another because I have no choice. Over a humongous bridge across the freeway, down and under another tunnel. Phew, last big hill coming up. Before I know it, I’m crossing at Hillsborough and then skirting the Rose Garden, up a little hill, turning at the water tower and waiting at the bank light. Then it’s down my street, eyeing cars that pull out before looking, hoping the curb and dismounting. The best part might be saying Hi to my neighbors because I’m in a really good mood as my girl greets me at the door.

  5. I would advise to use a rear carrier , panel or basket to carry out your bag. I love recycling and saving money at the same time so I installed a plastic fruit case I found on a supermarket bin as a rear basket. That makes my ride easy as my back is free and doesn’t sweat.

    I try to go faster and reduce the time every day, with the help of an app on my phone that tells me how I’m doing during the cycling , pace , time, speed, etc . Luckily I have shower facility at work so I can take a nice shower as soon as I arrive there. When I see my colleagues already working on their desks with their grey faces and sleepy eyes I feel like Iron man, fresh as a lettuce and ready for action.

    The common sense tells me that you have to be visible for the cars , specially in the morning when the drivers are trying to wake up them self , so its extremely important to wear a reflective jacket preferable a yellow one. Gears as gloves and glasses are recommendable too.

    I hope one day people would realise the benefit of cycling and left their cars for long journeys only,

  6. Not even worried about the gift card, but have to share.. My commute is 15.5 miles one way and up the south side of the “largest flat top mountain in the world”, Grand Mesa, Colorado. Uphill (1100′ climb) to work and downhill home, following major roads with generous shoulders. Bless those country roads. A shower in the office makes it possible with a couple of changes of clothes. Going up it’s just over an hour and coming home, I can hit 40 with a tailwind down on my aerobars, so usually 45 minutes or so. Watching the weather is crucial, even in the “moist desert”, though if it rains a bit on the mountain, i can usually count on riding out of the weather on the way down to the valley. Great built-in training for triathlons and just being in shape for rides. By far, the two best parts of my day. Carbon makes the climb quite pleasant.

    Advice? Be very visible and completely predictable; obey traffic laws; i wear a flasher and carry little extras in a backpack (with salt debris clearly marking it as mine…). When it gets cool, i bundle up, unless there’s ice/ snow on the road, then i drive. I smirk a bit while passing gas stations.. I also like map my ride/ map my fitness to track myself. I feel a lot like the guy above who falls in love with his bike each morning just looking at it and anticipating the ride ahead.The most wonderful 5 years and 30000 miles ever!!

    Totally agree with Lisa about the scenery though don’t know where she is.. Tough to beat out here.. Guess that’s why they run (ok, the altitude) the Pro Challenge out here.. Folks at work may think i have a red S on my chest, but really, anybody can do this; well almost anybody who stays in one place most of the day. Nothing quite like it on the planet…

  7. I read this blog for the first time when this story was posted and it inspired me to start riding my bike to work which I’ve been doing since reading it. Although my trek isn’t as far or intense, mine is only 3.5 miles, it still feels good to get up just a little bit early and ride in the brisk cool air to work. Thanks for sharing the story, it helped motivate me with riding my bike to work.

  8. I have to say riding my bike to work definitely exhilarating and sometimes frustrating as I live in Brooklyn and commute into Manhattan on a mountain bike. The ride for the most part is great and has helped my fitness since I started in May. Who would have thought I would have starting doing it at almost 40. Life is so interesting.

  9. I am a NYC lawyer and a dedicated commuter. My commutes are often 50-75 miles round trip. I have actually done 100 mile round trip commutes. I carry my suit in a Freight Baggage messenger bag. I change in a Starbucks bathroom or whatever is available. I write only to support those who are dedicated to this most noble mode of transportation.

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  11. I also commute. 9 miles each way. I feel exactly the same way! Guys and gals like us actually enjoy GOING to work, even if we don’t like our job. Gotta believe Aaron does! I do too. But my point is we enjoy the commute. If I had the day off, I would still go ride, but probably farther than my commute to work.

  12. I have commuted for 4-5 years 15 miles each way in beautiful western Colorado to my rural family medicine offices. In the morning I ascend 1200 feet up the south face of Grand Mesa and in the afternoon the descent is awesome on my Specialized Roubaix! When it’s cold, I bundle up and go. I have a shower and laundry in my office and leave a couple of changes of clothes, which i rotate regularly. I echo the comments about the pure joy of the ride. I also love triathlon and this is a fantastic way to train for the cycling part. 6000+ miles a year is a wonderful feeling. Happy cycling!!

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