Seven Things Bike Commuting Has Taught Me

A 10K (6 mile) bike commute doesn’t take that much longer than a car.

<a href="http://www.dawdesign.com/watch.html"><img class="alignleft size-full wp-image-255" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="Pocket Watch" src="http://res.cloudinary.com/dkjzb0qbs/image/upload/v1466570389/pocketwatch_obowxg.jpg" alt="" width="150" height="153" /></a>One of the first things I discovered last year when I started bike commuting was that it only took about 25 minutes of riding time to get down to work from home.  When I drive into work, it generally takes 15-20 minutes depending on traffic and the route I choose.  A few months into the summer after finding better routes and getting into decent shape I actually managed to get my riding time below 19 minutes a few times. Nowadays I consistently make the ride into work in the 22 minute range without riding too hard. Considering I don't have to find a parking spot and can ride almost all the way to my office, it's only marginally slower than driving into work.  
<h3>The shortest route is not necessarily the quickest.</h3>  
Case in point look at the following two routes on this map:

<img class="aligncenter" src="http://img.skitch.com/20080729-jb71dgpyt2wae44jm344664p3j.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="500" />

The orange route takes a slightly shorter, more direct path to where I work at Gonzaga University, while the blue route heads west for a while before turning north.  The blue route actually only turns out to be about 300m longer (slightly less than 1/5 of a mile) than the orange because of various twists and turns, yet it's easily two minutes faster given the same level of exertion because of the long straight downhill from 29th to Riverfront Park.

When choosing bike routes look for things that play to a bike's strengths and flexibility vs. a cars. Dedicated bike/pedestrian paths like the Centennial Trail are a fun and relaxing change of pace from the usual car heavy arterials and side streets.  And remember it's okay to add a little distance if it makes for a more efficient and uninterrupted ride.  
<h3>Bikes encourage you to take the long way home.</h3>  
<a href="http://res.cloudinary.com/dkjzb0qbs/image/upload/v1466570404/1spokanefalls_i4whvj.jpg"><img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-64" title="Spokane Falls" src="http://res.cloudinary.com/dkjzb0qbs/image/upload/v1466570404/1spokanefalls_i4whvj.jpg" alt="" width="500" height="375" /></a>

My ride back home from work is usually at least 10 minutes longer than the ride to work because of the big hill I have to climb when coming back, but often times I like to take the longer more scenic routes that I've found.  In the evening I don't usually have time constraints that are quite so pressing so I can enjoy tooling around and just exploring the city and countryside a little bit more before going home.  I couldn't have taken this picture of the Spokane River from my car or if I had ridden straight home.  
<h3>You don't need special bike clothing to ride your bicycle to work.</h3>  
<a href="http://flickr.com/photos/bike/878462891/"><img class="aligncenter" title="Palo Alto bike commuters" src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1235/878462891_f780ed352a.jpg?v=0" alt="" width="400" height="268" /></a>While I regularly wear mountain biking shorts into work (and change when I get there), I've done a fair amount of experimentation with standard clothing and confirmed that for relatively short commute length rides everyday clothing can be perfectly fine.  Coming home during summer time does tend to be more of a workout, so I tend to at least throw on a t-shirt before I leave, but it's not an absolute necessity.  
<h3>You can buy some pretty nice bike gear for the price of a tank of gas these days.</h3>  
<img class="aligncenter" title="Cycling Jacket" src="http://img.skitch.com/20080730-cwjnte16yqsbus726h6bdyaje1.jpg" alt="" width="288" height="288" />

I just filled up my gas tank again for the first time in over a month and it was almost $50.  My wife's rig typically costs at least $75 to fill.  Just off the top of my head you can easily get some biking shorts, a decent headlight/taillight combination or a new cycling rain jacket in that price range.  Bike gear can certainly add up quickly, but it's going to last a lot longer than another 12 gallons of unleaded and it's not going to get turned into yet more pollution.  
<h3>You don't need an expensive bike to commute and have fun.</h3>  
<p style="text-align: center;"><img class="aligncenter" title="Norco Cherokee" src="http://img.skitch.com/20080730-d8abuxk6ujrjxkkgww5w5a6mna.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="300" /></p>

Last fall I got to experience building up a single speed winter beater bike through <a href="http://pedals2people.org">Pedals 2 People</a> (a local Spokane non profit organization that promotes community bicycle use) and it was a complete blast.  I learned a lot about putting together a bike and more importantly found that riding the Norco Cherokee beater was still just as fun to ride as my usual Trek hybrid.  The Norco is also much better suited for snow riding so I put it to quite a bit of use towards the end of last year and during the winter months. I also used it to commute some while the weather was still good and found the return back up the South Hill actually wasn't that bad with only one gear.  In some ways it was even a little liberating to have a cheap bike to try crazy off road stuff that I wouldn't try with my Trek.  And of course it's always good to have a back up bike just in case.  
<h3>Bikes build community and connect people.</h3>  
When you ride your bike, the opportunity for positive interactions in your community are far greater than when you're driving around in an isolated metal box on wheels.  I've met and gotten to know a bunch of cool people through my bike and this blog that I never would have otherwise.

Looking beyond the individual level, Bike to Work week here in Spokane was awesome this year.  The turnout was really good and the local business community really embraced the week long event as well. Since then I've been seeing and interacting with more cyclists on the road all the time.  I'm really excited and optimistic about the direction I'm seeing in the Spokane community as more people get on board with the fun and benefits of cycling.