12 May 2015

Riding To Work

"How do you do it?"

You've probably heard that from at least one colleague if you bike to work.

You suggest that co-worker could do the same.  You'll most likely hear one of these objections:

"It's too far!"

"What about the cars?  Trucks?  Buses?"

"It looks like a lot of hassle."

"How can I wear these clothes and ride?"

"What if it rains?"

"What if I get a flat tire?"

"I'll be too tired when I come in!"

The funny thing is that even after people see that you ride every day, that you haven't missed a day of work and you're refreshed, in a good mood and productive, they're still convinced cycling to work won't work for them.

Now, if someone's  commute is a two-hour drive or train ride one-way, it may well be "too far" to bike.  However, if such a commuter lives a couple of miles from a railroad station, he or she could benefit from pedaling there.  Said commuter could lock up a "clunker" at the station or ride a folding bike and bring it aboard the train, which would provide easy and quick transport from the train to the office.

From FunCheapSF

Someone who's not accustomed to riding in traffic does, of course, need grow accustomed to it.  That happens pretty quickly:  The key the is to remember that the bicycle is a vehicle, with the privileges and responsibilities that attach to it. Of course, one shouldn't pedal in an interstate, or even on the shoulder of one.  Which leads me to my next point:  Bike lanes are not, in any way, safer than streets (especially given how poorly-designed and -constructed some lanes are).  The best way to ride is to take a lane, keep to a line and remain as visible as possible to drivers. Do that, and cars, trucks and other motor vehicles will just seem like bigger fish in the sea you're swimming.

All of the other objections noncyclists raise are about issues that can be planned for or around.  Use good tires, and flats are less frequent than expected.  When they happen, they can be fixed or a tube replaced, and everyone should to make such a repair (or ride in the vicinity of bike shops that will be open during your commute).  As far as weather goes:  A new bike commuter can decide whether to ride "rain or shine".  For some, it might be a good idea not to ride in bad weather, at least in the beginning.  

And, when it comes to work attire, people have all sorts of ways of dealing with it. Some can ride in the clothes they wear on the job.  Others can duck into a bathroom and change.  (If you work in a college or school, you might have access to locker rooms and showers).  Still others keep changes of clothes at work. 

I think that the real objection that underlies the ones people usually express is that they'll "stand out" if they ride to work.  They might be seen as "weird", eccentric or vaguely subversive. I can understand that:  I have worked in offices and for organizations in which I was the only one riding to work.  I'm sure some co-workers laughed at me, and in at least one school in which I taught, students had less respect for me than they would have had I driven in to teach them.  Now there are many more bike commuters here in New York, as well as in other cities, than there were in my youth.  However, if you are living in working in a suburban area (or a city that feels more suburban than, say, San Francisco or Boston), you may have to "educate" your co-workers--not to mention the drivers you encounter on your way, who may not realize that you have as much right to (and have probably paid more for) the road. 

In one way, bicycle commuting is like a lot of other things:  Do it long enough, and it will seem absolutely normal--to you and, later, to those who try to dissuade or discourage you from it.  And you'll wonder how you didn't do it! 


  1. I fail the most fundamental requirement to ride my bike to work. One must have a job! Just to keep in practice, I do ride to the espresso stand, grocery and hardware store, and gym.

  2. Steve: I will not accept your use of the word "fail" in reference to yourself.

    Besides, you could say that the gym, hardware store and grocery are "work".

  3. Long ago I had a job where about 1% of us would cycle in. People were surprised that I would still do it for preference even when I briefly had a car. They were even more surprised when one spring day I was late for the one and only time and 15 minutes at that. What surprised them most was when asked why I was late I told them about my 85 mile ride out into the hills to get there. There was universal agreement that was too far to drive at weekends!

    Wish I could manage that in a day now...

  4. Coline--85 miles to go to work? And they didn't cut you any slack for being fifteen minutes late that one time? Some people....