Reflections on a Year of Bike Commuting

05 Sep

One year ago this week I challenged myself to ride my bike to work every day. It wasn’t to save money or to lose weight or to save the planet. I was just getting burned out from my usual road and trail riding, and I needed to slow down and do something different. I will admit, though, that I did feel a little guilty driving my car in freeway or city traffic to a job less than five miles away when I could ride there in less than 30 minutes.


After working out a few details like buying a briefcase pannier for my laptop and finding some better lights, I was all set. Bike commuting every day was much easier than I expected, which is why I’m still at it a year later. When I reflect on what I’ve learned the past year, it falls into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  • There are far more overly nice drivers who wave you through stop signs than jerks that buzz by you or honk.
  • Riding to work actually saves me time. I trade 40 minutes of driving for 60 minutes of exercise every day.
  • If I ride slowly, dress cold and peel off layers as I go, I barely sweat, so I can ride in street clothes.
  • With flat pedals I can wear almost any kind of shoes, even heels. Platform shoes don’t work, though.
  • Even when I wake up tired and don’t feel like riding, I feel better by the time I get to work.
  • I can pick up groceries on the way home if I bring the right panniers and leave my laptop at work.
  • With good lights, riding in the dark is much safer than at sunset.
  • For some reason, my chronically dry skin isn’t so dry anymore. Sweat therapy?
  • No car maintenance! I only drove 1800 miles, so I haven’t even had a oil change. This makes me happier than saving money on gas.
  • Even in a rainy year, it doesn’t rain much on the peninsula. Unless it was already raining in the morning, I rode. I only got soaked twice, and both times it was on the way home.
  • When cars drive 20 mph vs 30 mph it’s not only safer for pedestrians and bikes, it’s much quieter.
  • On my bike, I’m more in touch with my neighborhood. I see the same dog walkers, I smile at the kids walking to school with their parents, and I get to see and hear teams practicing sports after school.
  • My city and its neighbors get high marks for making bike commuting easy, safe and comfortable.


The Bad

  • The noise pollution of fast traffic grates on my nerves. Riding on a freeway frontage road is not relaxing.
  • The closer drivers are to the freeway, the more they drive like they’re already on it.
  • When the freeway backs up, aggressive drivers spill onto nearby local streets and try to make up lost time.
  • Few drivers respect 25 mph neighborhood speed limits, and I resent laws that make enforcement difficult.
  • Street parking for cars often takes precedence over bike lanes. I resent that valuable roadway space is used for free storage of private property when it could be used for bicycle traffic.


The Ugly

  • Twice, women honked at me for taking the lane on very narrow, but short, stretches of 25 mph street.
  • Another woman yelled at me for waiting for a red light on top of the bike sensor instead of in the crosswalk.
  • A teenager in a BMW floored it on a straight stretch of a neighborhood street, blowing by at about 50 mph.

So the good far outweighs the bad, and the ugly is rare, with only three significant incidents. Not bad for 6-7 days of riding every week for a whole year.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that bicycling makes my suburban city “walkable.” The only thing within a 15 minute walk from home is a grocery store, but 15 minutes on my bike gets me to restaurants, specialty stores, drug stores, farmers market, bookstore, the movie theater, and lots more. My bikes give me the advantages of a more densely built city, but without giving up the green spaces and small town feel of the suburbs.

How does my list compare to yours? What’s the good, the bad and the ugly of transportation bicycling for you?


Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Around Town, Issues & Infrastructure


2 responses to “Reflections on a Year of Bike Commuting

  1. Martin Delson

    August 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I started bike commuting in 1974 (!!) during the oil embargo — 45 minutes each way — and stayed with it until I started working at home. (Now I commute bare foot in the summer, and in slippers in the winter.)

    The reason I’m commenting, though, was to ask about where you took that photo of the cars parked in the bike lane. You REALLY should complain to the Dep’t of Transportation and to the BPAC of the city involved. Or, if you don’t want to get involved, let me know and I’ll follow up for you. That would really burn me up, if I encountered that on one of my rides.


    • ladyfleur

      August 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks, Martin, for taking the time to comment. The “bike lane” in the photo was probably built around the same time you started commuting!

      I put “bike lane” in quotes because the sign on the sidewalk indicates that it’s actually legal to park there. I featured this bike lane in my “Bike Lane FAIL” series last month.

      I pinged the old-time bike advocates in Palo Alto to find out the history, but got nowhere. All I learned is that when this street is re-paved, the bike lane markings will go away. They already did that for another segment. Everyone is OK with that since it’s a neighborhood street that doesn’t need a dedicated lane anyway.

      Since you’ve been commuting for almost four decades I bet you’ve seen a lot of changes. Have you written about them? I’d be interested to read about it.


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