Overcoming Commuting Obstacles: It’s too far and I’m too out of shape!

Ed. Note: The Overcoming Commuting Obstacles article was originally published in Bicycle Times #15, and offers solutions to common commuting roadblocks, written by a variety of people in a variety of places. I’m publishing each obstacle/solution as its own short post on the web. You can find the other posts in this series here.

Words by Karen Brooks (former Bicycle Times staff) 

Setting yourself to work under your own power can be a daunting prospect. The fact that showing up to one’s job each day is generally considered necessary for continued employment adds an element of urgency to what might otherwise be a pleasure cruise. If your commute is longer than a few easy miles, and you’re not sure of your ability to cover it in a timely fashion, bike commuting may seem too risky.

But on the other hand, riding your bike to work can be an easy way to incorporate some regular exercise into your schedule. Think about this: the time you spend in your car driving to work is essentially wasted, as far as fitness is concerned. If you convert that time into riding time, and then add some more time for the fact that you’re going slower on a bike, it probably adds up to less time than you’d spend traveling to a gym, or even scheduling a fitness ride on the weekend. Each way, it takes me half an hour to drive to work, and an hour to ride; when I bike commute I’m getting two hours of exercise for the price of one. Some of you who live in metro areas perpetually snarled in traffic may even find that you’re saving time by riding.

When I first started working at Bicycle Times, I was not all that fit, and the thought of riding the 12.5 hilly miles each way was intimidating. The key was to start small. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. To scope out the route, I rode in one morning with a coworker that lived nearby, and then caught a lift home with another that evening. Next I added a full day’s commute once a week. Then two. Currently I average three to four days a week. You may be able to take advantage of public transportation to cut the distance, or perhaps find a convenient location mid-way to park your car and ride from there.

Pedaling a bike happens to be a great low-impact way to exercise that is easily tailored to your fitness level. But it’s a good idea to get a general medical checkup before you take on a challenging commute. Also keep in mind that what you eat becomes more important, since that’s now your fuel. Make sure to have plenty of healthy options for lunch. You will be more hungry, perhaps a lot more, so bring some extra food for snacking, especially for after you arrive and before you leave. You also may need to sleep more. Just try to tune in to what your body is telling you.

Inertia works both ways: it can be tough to get going, but once you get used to the routine of riding, your body will adapt and consider it “normal.” In fact, you’ll grow to miss riding on days you drive. I’m not going to lie—there are days when the distance still seems far, particularly as I step out the office door into a cold and dark winter night. But that lonesome feeling dissipates in the first half-mile as I pedal away the day’s stresses and worries, and I arrive home relaxed and rejuvenated.

Photo: Marci Chamberlain

Photo: Marci Chamberlain


Overcoming Commuting Obstacles: There’s no good way to get there by bike!

Ed. Note: The Overcoming Commuting Obstacles article was originally published in Bicycle Times #15, and offers solutions to common commuting roadblocks, written by a variety of people in a variety of places. I’m publishing each obstacle/solution as its own short post, one or two per day all week. 

By Winona Bateman

My friend looked at me like I was nuts; she knew Santa Fe, New Mexico, like the back of her hand. “You’re riding your bike around Santa Fe? Nobody rides a bike in Santa Fe.” I paused and thought about the other cyclists that I would pass while meandering around town. Then it hit me: perhaps she wasn’t seeing many cyclists in Santa Fe because she wasn’t looking for them, or perhaps as a diehard motorist, she was missing them because she took all the best routes for cars.

I’ve commuted and ridden in several large cities and communities: Minneapolis, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and now Missoula, Montana. Looking back on that conversation, I realize that, for the most part, whenever I have thought about how to get from point A to point B by bike, I have basically thought about routing in a similar fashion to our cartographers here at Adventure Cycling Association, who create bike-friendly (and enjoyable) routes for bike touring. What quiet, low-traffic roads are available to me? What delicious cup of coffee might I score on my way to work? Can I take a scenic route such as our pretty river trail, even if it’s slightly out of the way? How can I combine all three?

At times in my life though, a very direct route was better for me, especially when I first started commuting by bike. (I was really worried about “wasting time” back then.) However, the most direct cycling route can often be a major thoroughfare for motor vehicles as well. In this situation, I would time my commute just before or a bit after the major commuting hours to avoid a rush of cars.

I’m also a big fan of taking the lane, and have always done so. Heck, when I first started commuting by bike, I just assumed I had to act like a car—nothing else really made sense to me. But now, if there are several major arterials to choose from, I will generally take the one with a bike lane or “sharrows.” Still, in my experience, taking the lane is an especially important skill for roads with a higher volume of motor vehicle traffic—it helps you to be seen better in certain situations or establish enough room to ride, and is critical when making a left turn.

Many cities produce bike maps, detailing the local bicycling routes and trails. These can assist you in creating routes that combine quiet, bike-friendly options in combination (or not) with more heavily trafficked thoroughfares. Scouting your route by car might also be helpful—be sure to do it at commuting time as traffic volume can vary greatly throughout the day. A quiet road at 10 a.m. might be roaring at 5 p.m.!

Other great resources include local bike organizations, bike clubs, or shops. Why not get some tips from people already riding in your community?

Online resources that may be helpful include:

Google Maps (Get directions” button, then click on the bicycle icon): The bicycle-friendly routing still in “beta” and not always accurate, but it’s getting better as user input is accepted. When I input my daily Missoula commute Google routed me onto the most direct—but busiest— streets. In practice, I take an alternate route that follows our railroad tracks and includes my favorite coffee spot.

Ride the City: This site includes info on over 20 metro areas in U.S., plus cities around the world. One incredibly cool feature is the ability to choose a “safer route” or a “direct route.”

bike firering

Illustration: Julia Green

Stay tuned for more tips for overcoming different commuting obstacles, including rain, cold, kids who need to be at school, and being out of shape!

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