Many people are working from home, “virtually” commuting to their jobs. As businesses and stores start opening up again, workers will be returning to their jobs, wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizer. Many in the valley will drive their cars to the office. However, in the cities, many people who formerly chose mass transit options for their commute will be nervous about being packed into a small space with a lot of other passengers.
Recently, in Paris, bike sales have increased dramatically as many commuters opt for cycling to work rather than mass transit. It seems a much healthier option on many fronts.
Cycling to work has many advantages. It’s a good way to add exercise to your workday. You don’t have to set aside extra time and money to go to the gym. Fresh air and fitness are good for the body.
It’s also good for your mind. Riding to work is a good way to wake up the brain and riding home is a good way to de-stress after work. Mental health is important, too.
Besides its health benefits, cycle-commuting can also save you money on gas and parking fees. In cities, many cycling commuters don’t even own a car. They save on car payments, insurance and registration fees.
Commuting by bicycle is not only good for you, but it’s also good for the environment. When you cycle to work, you decrease your carbon footprint by not driving your car or taking mass transit. Fewer emissions in the air are good for everyone.
Many cycle commuters will tell you what they appreciate most about their commuting choice is the freedom and joy it gives them. A New York Times article, “A Beginner’s Guide to Biking to Work” (May 30, 2017), reviewed a study that found “two-wheeled commuters were happier than their gas pedal-stomping, car-caged peers.” It was all about control.
Dr. Oliver Smith, the author of that study in The Journal of Transport and Health, said, “If you’re waiting for a bus or stuck in traffic, you don’t have the same level of control. For many bike commuters, it’s one of the few times of the workday when we have control over what we’re doing.”
The intrinsic value of being in charge of physically and mentally getting yourself to work and back is a sense of pride. Commuting cyclists feel good about themselves. The extra time and energy they use in cycling to work are beneficial for themselves and the environment.
For background on this article, I asked bike commuters to share their experiences with me. Jeanne Twehous, a nurse at Kennett High School, shared this, “The advantages: Exercise, saves $$ on gas; mostly though I love it because it clears my head! A great way to prepare your brain for working and then to de-stress on the way home!” She and her friend, Virginia Schrader, KHS Career and Technical Center director, once commuted to their high school jobs year-round. That’s commitment!
However, any cycling commuter will tell you with the advantages also come disadvantages and challenges. Biking to work takes more time, both in preparation, travel time, and cleaning up before you start work. It also takes more organization to have everything you need for your ride and your workday. Weather can certainly be a disadvantage, too. If it’s cold, wet, snowy, windy or hot, you have to deal with it if you’re riding your bicycle. You have to have the right clothes and equipment to handle the elements or suffer. Intestinal fortitude may be needed.
When cycle commuting, you also have to factor in that you’ll probably arrive at work a little sweaty, maybe damp or cold and disheveled. Before you sit at your desk or go to that meeting, you’ll have to clean yourself up, put on the appropriate clothes and fix your hair and face. You have to plan with supplies and time.
To refresh my memory of what it’s like to commute by bicycle, I decided last Monday to cycle to the Darby Field Inn where I now work. The weather looked good, I didn’t have to be there until 10 a.m., it’s only a 2-mile ride from my house, and I didn’t have to worry about being presentable for guests. All good reasons to give it a try.
In the 70s, I rode my bike to my college classes, both for exercise and because there were so few parking places. When I worked at EMS in the summers in the early 2000s, I often rode my bike from Glen to North Conway to get in a little extra workout. It’s been a while since I’ve tried cycle-commuting.
As I got my “stuff” ready, all the cycle-commute challenges came back to me. First, I had to get organized. What did I need to have with me? Besides bicycling items — helmet, sunglasses, gloves, shorts, water bottle — I needed lunch, change of clothing and “clean-up” supplies. For “clean-up” supplies, I went bare minimum — a washcloth, comb and deodorant. Fortunately, my gravel grinder has flat pedals, so I didn’t have to carry extra shoes. That saves weight in the pack! Oh, yes — pack — I need one to carry all the stuff in, either on my back or on a rack. I have a lightweight one I used for EMS commutes — it’ll work.
Next, I had to plan my time frame and route. What route would I take and how long would it take me? For this commute, the distance both ways is about the same. However, the Bald Hill route starts steeply uphill right away. The Kancamagus way starts flat, then finishes with a steep and bumpy climb up Abenaki Way. That might be a kinder way to start, but I chose the first option. I am a glutton for punishment. On the way home, I went the second way and enjoyed the Kanc. cruise.
Once I arrived at work, I had to switch into another gear — get ready to work. I found a safe, dry place to put my bike. Darby’s woodshed worked for me. Then, I had to clean up and get presentable. A wet washcloth was handy to remove sweat, grime and chain grease. A quick comb of my windblown “helmet” hair, a change of clothes and I was ready to go, at least for a casual workday.
At the end of the day, I had the joy of a beautiful ride home. It wasn’t hot, dark or raining. It felt good to be cycling home rather than driving my car. I wished the commute home was longer.
In next week’s article I’ll share more tips on how to get started on cycle-commuting and will share experiences and insights from other people who commute to work by bicycle.
If you are a cycle-commuter and want to share your experiences with others through this column, please send stories, concerns, advice, etc., and commuting pictures to email@example.com and he’ll send them to me.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.