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Is it Really Possible to Commute to Work?

Thread "To all the Anti-Car Zealots" began in rec.bicycles.misc on Fri, May 28, 1999.

JT wrote:
I think it's nice that you want to promote alternative modes as opposed to the motor vehicle but some of you seem to have lost touch with reality. I used to be an avid biker/racer; I am primarily a runner now as biking became just too expensive for me! I was also tired of the machine's aspect, and how it was always breaking. I find your driving/riding cost thread interesting, but riding a bike is not cheap! Just a tune-up on a bike where I live in Chicago costs $40. Tires were always going flat, wheels becoming untrue, etc., etc. There is a lot of cost in maintaining a bike. I am sure the cost might be reduced if you worked on it yourself, but I don't have the desire to learn and spend time doing it. I would also have to spend money on the zillions of expensive tools needed such as a bike stand, etc.

I also have practical questions on how you can make bike commuting work.

1. If you live 40 miles from work, are you supposed to quit your job? Find another one that pays less and yank your kids out of school?

2. Chicago winters can be rough, and I could say dangerous, riding around in the winter. It would also take an hour putting on 10 layers of clothes.

3. What if it's 90 degrees out and you have to wear a suit to work and they don't have a shower there? That could get pretty smelly regardless of what you have to wear to work.

4. [What happens] when it gets dark at 4:30. It's dangerous enough riding on busy streets in daylight.

5. What if you have a briefcase or 2? Maybe a phone and laptop, etc., etc.

6. What if it's raining and you have a laptop? What if it's just raining?

7. What if you are simply not healthy enough to even ride 5 miles to work?

[I'm asking] although I am anything but a MBA corporate climber with a family, etc., etc., and would never want that lifestyle others do. And quite frankly somebody has to do it, and I am just glad it's not me.

A single male might be able to get by on this lifestyle but if you ever want a wife and family you will have to be more flexible. Working part-time in a bikeshop or at a restaurant might allow you to ride to work or simply quit one low paying job and find another one that is close to you so you can ride to work. However those who have chosen to have careers this might not work so well. Biking would be a lot more of an option if employers made accommodations, but most don't, and most people don't have the luxury of finding one that does. Or moving to a city with better weather and moving to a place only 10 miles from work. Cars are a necessary evil unless you want to go to Malaysia or wherever most of the things you buy come from and ride them back on a bike. . . .

Pete replied:
Riding a bike is as cheap as you want it to be. My daily commuter has a total of $225 spent on it so far. Tires, chain, misc. small junk, including purchase price. Nothing says you have to buy a megabuck poser bike.

As far as a tune-up costing $ DO change the oil in your car, right?

No one is saying give up your car completely. As a family man, I can't do it, 4 active kids, 3 different schools, etc., etc. We have however, gone down to one car.

My wife and I both work. If I have to go to our other office, about 35 miles away, I simply ride over to her office, get the car, drive down and do my thing. Pick her up after work. No big deal.

And living 40 miles from work is not really an excuse. Last time I looked, we do not have assigned housing or assigned jobs here. You choose where you want to live and work.

Instead of problems, why don't you look at solutions.

1. Use the bike to go to Blockbuster. You don't need 3000 lbs. and 200 hp to haul you and a 12 oz. video tape a few blocks.

2. Bike to the library.

3. Go visit friends on the bike.

4. Go for a picnic.

5. etc.

If you look around, there are MANY opportunities where you could substitute the bike for the car. Doesn't have to be ALL the time. But ANY trip where you bike instead of drive benefits us all. Especially you.

People always say it's "too hot/cold/far/I have too much crap to carry." But the real reason is..."I don't want to." Which is fine. Just be honest with yourself....:)

JT replied:
Well sadly this is becoming less of an option at least where I live. There really is no effort to make bike lanes or roads hospitable to bikes whatsoever. Also the small town with quiet backroads is also disappearing. The only kind of housing being built nowadays are developments, gated communities, etc that are just entities unto themselves connected to each other by 4-lane highways. So unless you are satisfied riding around your little housing development with the catchy name on the sign as you drive in things probably are not going to work out. The downtown has been replaced by megashopping centers on busy roads.

John F. Henderson replied:
[1. Distance to work] You choose where you work. You choose where you live. You choose how you get from one place to another. My commute is 7 miles each way. If we were thinking of moving, or if I were thinking of changing jobs, my ability to continue biking to work would play a big part in the decision.

[2. Cold weather] As a Midwesterner originally, I'll agree that NYC winters aren't as bad. But you don't need 10 layers of clothes, just 2 layers of the right clothes.

[3. Good clothes] Suit and tie makes it tougher, no doubt. But then again, see 1).

[4. Dark nights] In 4 years of biking in New York, I've been knocked off my bike 3 times. Each time in broad daylight. Good lighting, reflectors, and clothing make all the difference.

[5. Laptop, etc.] I always carry a phone, I've often carried a laptop. Racks front and back make it easy to carry all sorts of stuff. I've even carried a 25" bike frame home, though it took a bit of doing.

[6. Rain] I wouldn't carry a laptop in the rain unless I had something waterproof to put it in. Fenders and panniers take care of everything else.

[7. Poor condition] Then a 5-mile ride could be a great goal.

Larry replied:
I'm a beginning commuter (less than 1 year), but I'll give some of your questions a try...

[1. Distance] I'll pass on this one. Personal life decision...

[2. Cold weather] I didn't have a problem, nor did I require 10 layers of clothes. I really felt cold exactly 1 day last winter (-20 F). I did wear a heavy jacket, gloves, and hat when the temp was around zero or lower.

[3. Good clothes] Because you have to wear a suit at work doesn't mean you need wear it on the bike.

[4. Dark nights] That's why Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Good lighting works. Note that the lighting required to be seen is less than the lighting required to see. If you ride where there are no street lights, you need more lighting than if you were riding on city streets in traffic. I leave home at 6 AM and return home at 6 PM. During the winter is dark both directions. Lighting works. So does a reflective vest.

[5. Laptop, etc.] Racks. I got an All-packa rack, which is longer than a conventional rack. None of my bikes have touring frames, and heel clearance with conventional racks was a problem. I really only use the rack now for carrying extra stuff. I now carry my everyday necessities in a messenger-type bag.

[6. Rain] I put on my messenger bag, then I put on my rain cape, which also keeps my bag and contents dry.

[7. Poor condition] This is unlikely, and of course if you're that sick, then don't ride. However, most people's health problems stem partly (I suspect) from LACK of exercise. Maybe you can't ride 5 miles. How about starting with one or two?

Peter R. replied:
[Costs] Well, some things you can do easily yourself, like truing a tire, for the cost of a $3 spoke wrench. You can do the easy things yourself and take the bike to the shop for harder stuff ( though in the long run, you start finding everything easy to do yourself. The bike is not that complex a machine). In any case, even if you have a bike shop do ALL the maintenance on your bike, it's going to be a lot cheaper than a car.

[1. Distance] That's a tough one. I've never been in that situation and would hate to be in it even if I always drove a car. Where I live (New Jersey) it would be very unlikely that anybody lives that far away from work (you'd have to be in another state :-) ). I use to live in Los Angeles and knew people who commuted that far. Nowhere else. I have always tried to live in a central location to the jobs I might have and have always been close enough to bike commute. I know that doesn't always work out, especially with the way businesses have been merging so frequently and laying people off each time.

[2. Cold weather] Not ten layers. Just 3 well chosen layers on your chest and two on your legs ought to do it. A good head covering ( maybe a Balaclava for really cold days) and warm gloves.

I don't ride if there is ice or deep snow on the roads. I wouldn't want to drive in those cases either. I have access to mass transit for those situations. In our worst winters, I typically would not be able to ride for about 10 days out of the year. Luckily, it's been several years since that has been a problem here in southern New Jersey. (Greenhouse effect?)

[3. Good clothes] I wouldn't ride in the suit. You can get a good commuting pannier that is made to hold suits, or you can improvise methods (you can roll up a suit in a towel and put it in a regular pannier). Or you can keep a suit a work. If there are no showers, you can do a spit bath at the sink, or even use moist wipes in a bathroom stall. I'd rather have a shower, but the alternate methods work fine.

[4. Dark nights] Buy lights.

[5. Laptop, etc.] Panniers and/or backpack. You can get special panniers for carrying a laptop if you do that a lot. I just use my regular pannier.

[6. Rain] Make sure your pannier is waterproof ( most have available raincovers and some are totally waterproof). You need raingear for riding in the rain in cool weather. I get by with an inexpensive rain cape.

[7. Poor condition] If you're simply out of shape, work your way up to it. If it's a permanent disability, you might be out of luck.

[Lifestyle/career] I have been in the same career for 20 years, frequently wear full suits at work ,and have a wife and children. It works fine.

In any case, I'm not saying cars are evil. I occasionally use one myself. But bike commuting, if you can do it, is great.

David Casseres replied:
[Costs] Have you had your car worked on lately? And have you noticed what you spend on gas?

[1. Distance] That can be a real-life problem, but millions of people live within easy bike distance of their work.

[2. Cold weather] There's always the option of riding when the weather permits, and doing something else when it doesn't.

[3. Good clothes] That's why a lot of us have campaigned for showers at work, and gotten them.

[4. Dark nights] Personally, I switch to other transportation when Daylight Saving ends. But a lot of people get some good lights and go on riding. They don't seem to get killed a lot.

[5. laptop, etc.] Few workers need to carry more stuff than they can strap onto a bike.

[6. Rain] Same as Chicago winters. You can always ride when the weather is good enough for your own preferences. A lot of people do ride in rain, and there are all sorts of waterproof bags around.

[7. Poor condition] Well then obviously you can't do it, can you? But most people are healthy enough to ride a bike.

[Lifestyle] I have a full-time professional job, a wife, and a kid, and I ride to work (9 miles each way) more than half the time.

MikeKr replied:
[1. Distance] 1a. Is biking to Metra (suburban rail) an option?
1b. From an immediate perspective, 40 miles as a bike commute won't work. Taking the longer perspective in which families move, change jobs, etc. across a lifetime taking these things into account makes sense. (They make sense even if you are using a car. If you live nearer to work, you save lots of time.)

[2. Cold weather] 2a. I also live in the Chicago area, but am a much faster dresser. Skip those last 7 layers.
2b. You might be interested in the Bike-Chicago mailing list or the icebike site for hints about winter cycling. (e.g. Bob Von Moss's temperature log of his winter commute from roughly Logan Square to Rosemont.)
2c. That said, you do have a point. Riding in the cold and dark on potholed and icy streets surrounded by drivers who don't have working defrosters isn't my idea of a good time, either, and each of these factors has negative safety aspects. Which is why they have "Bike to Work Day" in May, not February. My winter commute is just over a mile to the Metra station. (backup plan: Walk)

[3. Good clothes] Few have to wear a suit TO work. Usually, the suit requirement is only AT work. You probably already keep an extra shirt and tie at work in case there is a random coffee spill. Get a cheap plastic suit bag and keep the entire suit there.
See also #6. If it rains, a change of clothes is really nice if you biked in.

If your commute is short, no shower is necessary.

[4. Dark nights] See #2 above. Clearly, the statistics show night riding is more dangerous. Personally, I see so many idiots riding at night with no lights, no working reflectors, dark clothing, riding on the wrong side, etc. that I figure THEY are the ones mostly responsible for the bad statistics. With 12 watts of lighting, multiple 3" reflectors, back flasher, front flasher, arm flasher, reflective vest (not necessarily all of these on any one ride) -- and riding a familiar route -- I'm not increasing the danger too much. (driving at night is more dangerous, too).

[5. Laptop, etc.] 5a. Laptop/phone fit well in Lands End laptop backpack. I recommend this one even if you aren't biking. For cheap if dumb looking solution to lugging stuff, put a milk crate on the back rack, and put your briefcase in there.

[6. Rain] To paraphrase other posters: If it is over 70F, you just get wet. If it is under 30F, it's not rain. In between there are too large a variety of solutions to put into this post, some of which make that extra set of clothes handy.

[7. Poor condition] If your premise is that you can't do it, then the conclusion has to be that you can't do it, so it's pointless to argue this one.

[Lifestyle] I'm a male, married, with 2 kids. We have one car, instead of the two more common in the 'burbs. I think it is probably easier to have 1 car, rather than 2, than it is to have 0 cars, rather than 1.

Frank Krygowski replied:
[Costs] You sound like a guy who has never kept track of his car expenses. Can you get _anything_ done on a car for $40?

Personally, I like being competent enough to handle certain jobs myself. And personally, I accumulated the tools only very gradually. I biked avidly for at least 10 years before getting a bike stand, for example. But still: how much did the car lift in your garage cost you? What?? You don't have one? Hmmm. It may be possible to afford to pay others to work on your vehicle after all!

[1. Distance] When I took this job and moved to this area, one of my absolute criteria for a house was it had to be within 10 miles of work. As it is, I found one within 7 miles.

Most people don't take that into account when buying a house. But those of us that travel by bike (at least part of the time) think it's foolish to ignore it.

[2. Cold weather] Look, with this objection as well as all your others: if you can't handle it, you don't have to. But I think the attitude that many of us have is: biking is better for you (and everybody else) than driving a car, and most Americans _could_ easily use a bike for _some_ of their transportation if they just stopped concentrating on negatives. It's not rocket science, it's not difficult, it doesn't even have to be strenuous. You just do it, and you'll feel better for it.

ehfried replied:
I don't recall anyone in this group ever saying that cars should be banned, which seems to be the point of view you are responding to. The car drivers which are attacked in this newsgroup are those who drive inconsiderately or dangerously. And yes, most of us advocate cycling instead of driving when possible, and it is more possible than you think

FYI, I live in Chicago and have a 10 mile commute. During the winter I commuted by bike about 50% of the time, carrying a laptop and change of clothes -- it wasn't so bad. By spending $50 on lights I was quite visible at night -- probably more so than I was during the day. Now that the weather is nice, my car sits forlorn in its lot, waiting for some attention.



Edited by Ken Kifer


Minor changes have been made in the original text to correct errors, remove off-topic comments, make the thread clearer, reduce the length, and solve other problems. Any words added are in brackets. Note that the questions have been reduced to a couple of words each to avoid repetition but that the writers were replying to the whole statement.


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