Making a case for commuting by bike
I live 11 km from work, and there are excellent bike paths all the way, yet I commute by car. I've successfully made several small but positive changes to my life in the last few months, and I would like to take on my habit of commuting by car next. I'm not looking to change it completely, but at least soften it up a bit. I have a colleague and a neighbor who frequently commute the same route as me by bike, so I know it's both physically and practically possible.
This post is mostly a way for me to start considering biking to work as a realistic option, rather than a theoretical possibility, but I hope it can also inspire others to change up their daily commutes.
The biggest benefit of biking to work (by far) would be getting exercise and fresh air. I spend much of my working day sitting, either at the computer or in different meeting rooms. By driving to work I waste a great opportunity to fit exercise into my busy schedule and add some more sitting instead. No good. Starting the day with a decent bike ride would most likely improve my workdays in many ways as well.
For my current commute, I drive an electric car that I charge at home, which is cost-effective compared to some other car types. Still, biking is free, and every day I choose the bike instead of the car I would work towards lowering our electricity bill.
Another driving-related expense is parking, but here the savings aren't as clear-cut. In the parking garage I use, parking a single working day costs a little more than 100 kr (which at the time of writing roughly equals $10). That's not what I pay though, as there are also monthly permits for 750 kr, which is a very good deal for me since I drive to the office pretty much every weekday of the month. Come to think of it, I get more value out of a monthly permit the more I drive that month, which is not great motivation. To save money on parking by driving less, I would have to drive a lot less. On paper, this looks like an added incentive to take the bike, but in reality, I find the pressure off-putting. I would rather bike because I enjoy it than because I "have to".
I live in southern Sweden, and it’s almost always windy here. Most of my commute is across open fields without any cover from the wind. Some days it probably wouldn’t be that pleasant to be a bike commuter here, if I'm being honest. I would need some flexible rain clothes in order not to arrive at work completely soaked on rainy days, but depending on how hard I have to pedal I might need a change of clothes (and perhaps even a quick shower) after the commute anyway.
Previously I parked at a garage closer to work, but that meant more time-consuming driving through the city center as well as a substantially higher parking fee. The change to my current garage reduced my drive by 5-7 minutes but introduced a ten-minute walk instead. Before making the change I had the same concerns about the weather as I do regarding the bike commute now, but in reality, it hasn’t been a problem at all. Chances are that the bike commute too would be less of a problem than I think.
In any case, clothes for the day may have to be brought along, and so would my briefcase or other bag with my computer, notepad, and various other small items. All of this would have to be well-protected from the elements and carried comfortably. My bike has no rack either front or back, so a backpack is the most straightforward option. I'm not thrilled by the idea of biking back and forth with a backpack every day, so this is an area I would like to explore more.
The biggest problem I have to solve to make the bike commute work in practice is dropping off the kids at preschool. We have a two-year-old and an almost-six-year-old, and I currently bring them to preschool every morning as part of my drive to work. I think our son, the almost-six-year-old, could ride his own bike there without a problem, but then there are those mornings, when everything has the potential to cause a meltdown. Those mornings would not be pleasant if he had to make it there under his own power, and I would have to have an alternative solution in place from the beginning.
There are two good options the way I see it: getting some kind of long-tail or cargo bike with room for two kids, or getting a bike trailer. Utility bikes like that are really cool, but a trailer is the most sensible option in every way. They are much cheaper than a utility bike and could be detached and left at the preschool for when my wife picks the kids up in the afternoon. Many bike trailers can also be pushed like a stroller, so she could use it with or without her bike. Regardless, leaving the extra bulk behind before crossing those windy fields would be a big relief!
I guess there's also the option of driving the kids to preschool and then going back home and switching to the bike. It feels unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming, but could be a way of getting started without any new gear at all, or work as a last resort on difficult days.
Time is, perhaps surprisingly, an aspect of the commute I haven't thought that much about yet. I think driving from the preschool to the parking garage takes roughly 25 minutes depending on traffic, and walking from the garage to the office takes about 10 minutes on top of that.
Last summer I tried riding my bike to the city and back just to see what it was like, but on that day I didn't have time to go all the way to the office. Starting at our house, the part of my commute covering the countryside and city outskirts took 18 minutes on a day with unusually calm wind. The rest of the commute into the city center would be slowed down by traffic lights and people in general, so even though I went more than half the distance in those 18 minutes, the remainder could easily take just as long. As mentioned I also started from our house rather than from the preschool, and I'm not sure how that affects the time. The preschool is located on top of a pretty steep hill, so going there by bike will also take much longer (relatively speaking) than doing so by car.
All in all, the car will likely be faster in the end, but perhaps not by that much. The potential need for a change of clothes after biking would also take some time, which must be taken into consideration. I'm prepared to spend slightly longer on my commute to get all the benefits of biking, but not too much. My days are already unnecessarily tight, and I often work a bit at home in the evening to compensate for not reaching a full workday at work. If possible I would like to avoid adding to this part of my day.
Commuting by bike is a realistic option for me, and by writing this post my mind is set on giving it a try. As mentioned, I could start off with what I have in the beginning, but there are some investments I could make to ensure the transition is as practical and friction-free as possible:
- Getting a bike trailer
- Getting a helmet
- Getting rain clothes
- Minor bike fixes/maintenance
None of these are huge expenses, and even if it would take a while to make the money back by not driving, the benefits are clearly worth it. Also, buying gear is great fun when you have such a good reason for doing so!
Additional investments could be:
- Adding some kind of rack to my bike
- Getting a waterproof bag for said rack
- Getting a good bike phone mount
The phone mount is the least important thing on this list, but I know that numbers, analytics, and charts motivate me, so it could be an additional incentive.
My plan is to not aim too high, but to start off by taking the bike some days. Like, the sunny ones, when there aren’t any gale-force winds. On the other hand, I’ll also make sure not to wait for perfect weather either, because then I'm never going to get started.
This is a whole new area of my life to geek out about, and I have to say the challenge itself is very exciting! The roads are pretty snowy and slippery now, but as soon as conditions improve just a little, my mind is set on making a test run without any new equipment, etc. just to see how it feels, how much time it takes, and whether there are any unexpected pros or cons. I'm looking forward to this new adventure!