Interested in riding your bike more often? Looking for a way to get motivated? Want to save money, have fun, look sexier, and actually enjoy your commute? Tired of all these rhetorical questions? Then look no further!
I help run a monthly commute challenge, and it didn’t occur to me until now that I could actually promote it here on the blog.
If you’re interested in joining, the link to track your miles is here:
Just follow the instructions at the top to add your name to the list. Let me know if you have any questions. Hope to see some new bike commuters starting up now that the weather is maybe not so crummy in the coming weeks? Fingers crossed!
Monday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite bloggers, Mr Money Mustache. Along with blogger pal Erica from Northwest Edible Life, he hosted a little get-together here in Seattle for his readers. There was even an offer of free beer if you rode your bike, but unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of it as I rode the scooter to get home in time to take the Foundry Boys to Cub Scouts.
It was really fun to see MMM and watch him dish out advice face-to-face. I didn’t hear it all but the most commonly repeated refrain of his was that everybody should be riding a bike. I wholeheartedly agree! As I told someone there Monday night, replacing most car commuting with bike rides is the 2nd biggest improvement to my quality of life (marrying Mrs Foundry is #1 of course).
I knew I was among my own kind when someone in a group asked how many people love making spreadsheets, and everyone proudly agreed “I do!”
I mentioned riding my bike to the library in a previous post, so let’s talk a bit more about how awesome cycling is.
Second to meeting my wife Venessa, choosing to commute by bike is the one factor that contributes most to my quality of life, on a physical, emotional, and financial level. My bike is my preferred mode of transportation, a source of recreation, and a cheaper, more enjoyable alternative to a gym membership. I preach the awesomeness of bike commuting to anyone who will listen, and have helped a few people get started. Here are the tips I gave them:
Step 1: Decide if bike commuting is for you
The rewards of bike commuting are plentiful:
I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been
I get to the office feeling invigorated, my brain is alert and ready to work
I get the feeling of accomplishment from conquering hills and routes that were previously too challenging
It’s good for the environment
Depending on your commute, it’s quicker (15 minutes on bike vs 40 minutes on bus, for me)
It’s arguably cheaper than a bus pass and definitely cheaper than a car ride
Chatting with other cyclists along the way
There are also some not-so-great things:
Riding in the rain 9 months out of the year
Worrying about your bike getting stolen, where to put it when you’re at work, what the policies in your office are
Getting to work sweaty. Does your office have a shower? If not, how will your coworkers feel about your odor?
Your pants won’t fit because your waistline will shrink and your leg muscles will grow
No time to read/listen to music (or whatever you enjoy doing on the bus)
Step 2: Pick a bike
Until you’ve been on a few different bikes, you won’t know what type of bike suits you best. If you have cyclist friends about your size, ask them if you can try out their bikes. Otherwise look at craigslist listings for bikes, and give some a spin. For a more humorous look at choosing a ride, see the “Equipment” section on this helpful Bike Snob NYC post
I was very happy with my touring-style bike as a commuting bike. It didn’t have as aggressive a position as a road bike, so it’ll never be the fastest. But it was designed to carry cargo, and it had small gears for getting up hills. I ended up swapping it for a cyclocross bike since it’s easier to commute on a ‘cross bike than it is to race ‘cross on a commuter bike.
My recommendation is to buy a bike with drop handlebars and STI shifters, that can one day accommodate fenders and/or a rack. Other than that, just get the nicest used bike in your price range.
A note on bike sizing: there’s no standard for bike size numbers. Each company measures a different part of the bike to determine the size. You can google for sizing guides with charts but there’s no substitute for getting on a bike and seeing how it fits your body.
Step 3: Bike gear
Some people go crazy with this stuff, but you don’t need that much. What you do need depends on what type of riding you do.
Here’s a list of the essentials, that can all be had for under $50 total:
Floor pump (the #1 way to reduce flats is checking tire pressure every few rides)
Little bag (e.g. that goes under the saddle, between two bars of the frame, or in your big bag)
Repair kit that fits in little bag: spare tube, patches, a small pump, 2 little tire levers, a small multi-tool
Yep, that’s it.¹
You should get a lock if your workplace doesn’t offer bike storage in the building. But before caving in and locking up outside, I’d put up a fight on this point. Mention how much more productive an employee you’ll be knowing that your bike is safe through the day. Some cities have a program, like Bikestation, where you can lock your bike indoors for a yearly fee. An oft-overlooked defense against having your bike stolen is to not have a valuable-looking bike!
Step 4: Route selection
This one’s more of an art than a science. Get a bike map for the area you live in, and plot a route. Remember that the shortest path isn’t always the easiest. It took me a while to stop thinking like a driver. Go around hills. Follow other cyclists to see what they’re doing (when they merge, roads they avoid, etc) or ask them when stopped at red lights. I’ve found that cyclists are very friendly to each other and love to help out. Sometimes a busy road with a bike lane is actually less safe than a side road without bike facilities.
Steps Five through infinity: Ride safe
This is the most difficult one to write about because it literally is a matter of life and death. The first few times I rode through downtown, I got that panic warning from deep in my reptile brain. Same thing I used to get as a child when we had to swim at summer camp (I had a terrible fear of water).
I’m going to keep this simple and only offer one tip because it’s the most important safety thing I’ve learned, but it’s somewhat counterintuitive to a beginning rider: be a predictable part of the flow of traffic
The tendency for a new rider is to timidly hug the right edge of the road, always yield to cars even if you have the right of way, or ride on the sidewalk. Counterintuitively, none of these practices make you or the people around you safer!
You have the same rights and responsibilities as a car so the more you ride like a car, the safer you’ll be. The only legal difference between you and a car is that a cyclist is obligated to ride “as far to the right as safe”. Other than that, you’re just a very slow and slender car.²
For example, when you’re riding on a street with parallel parking, “as far to the right as safe” means “far enough away from parked cars that when a car door opens, it won’t hit you,” even if that means riding in the middle of the lane. Cyclists call this “claiming the lane” and it’s the most counterintuitive of all the safety rules.
“Share the road” goes both ways. So when cars are around don’t be a jerk and run lights, ride excessively in the passing lane, etc.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’d love to convert one of you into a bike commuter!
¹ You can add more gear later after you figure out what type of riding you do most. If you plan on riding…
in the dark, add: bright/reflective clothing, front and rear lights
in the rain, add: front and rear fenders, and optionally pack a poncho
longer distances, add: water bottle and water bottle cage, bike shorts or bike underwear (padded undies that turn any shorts into bike shorts)
while hauling lots of stuff, add: rear rack, paniers (bike bags)
[Sorry for the light posting recently. By the time you read this I’ll be in Israel for my sister’s wedding. Mazel Tov, Mindy! Oh and don’t think about robbing my house. We have a house-sitter and she’s a rugby player.]
August is over so let’s take a look at how I did on the Gallon Challenge. Here were the car trips I made in the month*
The bad news is that I used almost 2 gallons of gas, twice as much as I wanted to use.
The good news is that I only made 3 car trips for the entire month! Instead of driving, I did a lot of walking and biking (which is better than free, since it’s free + I got exercise). I also rediscovered the joy of reading a good book on the bus (which is free for me since my employer provides a bus pass), and prevented over 100 pounds of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.
Instead of all that driving, I biked or walked about 100 miles. This included running errands, commuting, and exercise. By not needing to refuel the car, I spent a whopping $0.00 on gas this month, as opposed to an average fuel spend of $97 per month. If I got rid of the car and permanently invested that $97 every month, it would add up to over $17,000 in ten years (including compound interest). Imagine how much more that would be if I also didn’t need to buy auto insurance, oil changes, parking, etc.
As a side note, I also got my blog idol Mr Money Mustache to join in the challenge. He upped the ante by having his wife join in, and the two of them pledged to only use a gallon of gas combined!
All in all, I’d say the positive aspects of this month far outweigh the negative. Oh, and you should see what biking the boys to camp did to my leg muscles. I’m ripped!
* remember, family vacations are excluded. I also excluded times I kept Venessa company in the car while she was delivering food for her catering business.
My uncle gave our family free tickets to a concert last week. It was Pink Martini, one of my wife’s favorite bands, so we couldn’t pass it up. The concert was a blast (especially for the kids who got to dance around) and I don’t regret going, but the evening came with an important lesson about the hidden costs of “free” activities.
Transportation: it was too far for the little ones to bike, and the bus ride would have been inconvenient with our picnic supplies, so we took the car. This put me over my limit in the gallon challenge, so although it wasn’t a huge deal to drive for the rest of the family, it was a personal defeat for me.*
Food: we were in too big of a rush to prepare dinner, so we ordered a pizza to go (and they forgot to put tomato sauce on it, WTF!?)
Other temptations: the concert was in a park that had a carousel, so the children wanted to ride on that. Only a couple bucks, and well worth the price for the nostalgic fun. Grandma bought the children some treats too. That’s what grandmas are for, right?
The point here isn’t “don’t leave your house” or “never take anyone up on an offer” since that would make life boring. The point is that it’s rare when things are truly free, and it’s important to think ahead about the actual cost of your choices.
* For those keeping score at home, this trip brought me up to 1.85 gallons.
That’s a wrap, folks! Last night I drove the babysitter home and used the final few drops of gas in the gallon I gave myself for the month. Now I have 3 full weeks to not drive, otherwise I’ve failed the challenge!
Here are the final results:
Drive babysitter home
I’ve picked up some car-free tips in the past 10 days. For the days I don’t ride my bike to work, I can take a city bus (though it takes almost twice as long). Also, Venessa and I went on a bike date last night (hence the babysitter). The weather was perfect, and riding to and from our destination made the date seem longer.
It’s strange to visualize a gallon milk jug filled with gasoline, and know that I used it up in just 10 days of trying not to drive. Multiply that times everyone in the world and you can see why we’re headed towards a fossil-fuel driven catastrophe! I’m still optimistic about infrastructure and technology improvements saving us before it’s too late. Let’s all do what we can!
(I also took a family camping trip this weekend, which was very fun, but doesn’t count for the challenge.)
So with just one trip, I used almost all of my 20 miles. This is going to make the rest of the month even more challenging! It was worth it though, to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday with the rest of the family. Had I been better prepared, I could have taken the bus to the restaurant and then caught a ride home with the rest of my family, saving half the mileage. Or I could have suggested a restaurant closer to my house, but I thought that would have been selfish. My dad only turns 60 once!
On a brighter note, I’ve managed to do the camp drop-off by bike every day, with only a few minor setbacks. At least I wasn’t ever late. Venessa and I also rode our bikes to a BBQ/pool party Sunday evening. I pulled Lillia (and all our gear) in the trailer*. It felt pretty awesome to get there all warmed up and then jump right into the pool. (Seattle had unusually hot weather this past weekend).
How’s your August challenge going?
* Another great craiglist find. We split the cost of the trailer with a neighbor family that has a son Lillia’s age