Observations on biking to work

One street I bike on. Photo by Brittany Ederer
One street I bike on. Photo by Brittany Ederer

Does the idea of bicycling to your workplace strike fear into your heart?  Perhaps you imagine the aftermath of encountering an angry driver: they honk at you, causing you to swerve off the road, tumble pell-mell down an embankment, and land in a briar of buckthorns and raspberry bushes.  Or, less dramatically, you imagine showing up to work in total disarray, with sweat under your armpits and a severe case of helmet hair.

In my experience, biking to work is really not that exciting.  I find my 3.8 mile commute uneventful and mostly free from excessive perspiration.  Since I began my serious commitment to bike to work 2-3 days per week, I’ve made several observations on how this is a beneficial habit, going beyond the practical “save gas, save money” standby.

Here are my observations, in no particular order:

  • Energy conservation is not an abstract concept to me anymore.  I understand that a bunch of energy is needed to transport people and their stuff here and there.  On a bike, it’s the energy from my breakfast (and past meals) that fuels me.  When driving or bussing, I take energy for granted–it’s cheap and plentiful enough that I can gain acceleration even when going up a steep hill if I “put the pedal to the metal.”
  • Speeding is unnecessary on a bike.  Why in the world would I pedal my heart out just to get to the red light faster?  That’s just silly–If I conserve my energy, I arrive at the stoplight usually as it’s turning green, without sweat burning my eyes.  If I miss a green light, I lose maybe a minute of time.
  • Taking good care of my bike is essential, and actually illustrates why proper car care, though easier to ignore, is also necessary.  Take tire pressure.  It takes much more effort to ride a bike with underinflated tires, just as it also takes more effort to move a car with low tires; however, it is easy to overlook low tire pressure because the gasoline is paying the price for that higher energy requirement, not my muscles.
  • I am one less car on the road, which means I get to enjoy not killing any squirrels or rabbits in my neighborhood (there are so many of them!).  This means more food for the hawks to chase, and dog-walkers and joggers don’t have to deal with the carnage.
  • There’s nothing between me and my surroundings, and I’m travelling slow enough to observe what’s going on around me.  I see beautiful, everyday sights that are otherwise taken for granted.  And, I can thank God for the ability I have to stay active and connected to the world He made.
  • I have the opportunity to say “hello!” or “good morning!” to my neighbors  and acknowledge that we live in the same community.  It’s important to be neighborly if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself.
  • I have no need for spiffy, specialized bike clothing to commute to work.  Occasionally I still wear skirts and dresses with shorts underneath, and do just fine.  Hooray for breaking stereotypes!

While I’m all for commuting by bike, there are still risks, so make sure you are doing everything you can to be safe (see tips from the League of American Cyclists).  But in a bike-friendly city like Madison, it’s my favorite way to travel, especially during rush hours because I actually save time by avoiding congested traffic.

Do you commute by bike?  What has your experience been like?