Posts Tagged ‘ commuting

Good Exercise

When I tell people I bike commute, there is something a general flow to the conversation that follows. It doesn’t vary that much now that I live in San Francisco, though my perspective has changed now that I don’t even own a vehicle other than my bike. In general, there’s admiration mixed with some incredulous statements (good for you!, I don’t think I could do that, etc) that segues into questions/statements about the general danger of biking. Now, I don’t need anyone to tell me that biking isn’t the greatest here. I bike on Market Street several times a week, and I get all the examples I could ever want. But something else curious happens every time I have these conversations.

I generally don’t pay much credence to Willie Brown’s columns, and this one is no exception, but there is an odd observation at the end about bikes. I’m not gonna link, because he doesn’t particularly deserve the clicks in my opinion, but here’s some random text from the end of his most recent opinion piece:

Willie Brown

People say things like this a lot about cyclists. I’ve gotten used to hearing it. I’ll give you a minute to get past the astonishing random sexism there. Perhaps I’ll save that for another time, but right now, I’d rather focus on the other aspect of that which I hear a lot: an unsubstantiated opinion about cyclists. That isn’t based on anything. I don’t even know how you could determine the age of the cyclists you see. There are plenty more where that comes from. Sometimes people tell me that cyclists should stay in their lane (even on roads where signs explicitly say cyclists have full use of the lane, even in situations where motor vehicles are parked in the bike lane); other times they just say they shouldn’t even be in that place (even though bikes have just as much right to be on the road as other vehicles, so much so that it’s recognized by law), or follow the laws of the road if they want to ride on the road (while ignoring the differing mechanics of biking versus driving or ignoring the fact that drivers frequently don’t follow those same rules). Most people will profess at the beginning of the conversation that they do not bike commute, and don’t even go out much except for an occasional social ride, yet they seem to have “the solution” to whatever the bike woes of a place are. I rarely have conversations like this with other cyclists. In those situations, I tend to have conversations about routes, preferences, secrets, gear, whatever. The conversation might be focused on bikes, but it’s quite a different conversation.

San Francisco likes to tout its mileage of bike infrastructure, and looking at a map like this leaves you with the impression that there’s quite a bit. I guess there is if you are counting the roads where they drop an arrow on it and indicate bikes will be present, but as someone who’s ridden quite a bit of it, I still haven’t found a good east-west route from the Financial District to Inner Richmond. Perhaps my perspective is skewed by the fact that my east-west ride in the Twin Cities was Summit and The Greenway, two really fine examples of on-street and separate bike lane systems that I didn’t have to share with pedestrians or even cars all that much, but there’s definitely nothing like that here. San Francisco certainly does some things really well (the green waves are quite nice) and has strong organizations like the San Francisco Bike Coalition fighting to make things better here, to make more bike-first routes. I am not saying that I have any brilliant new ideas. I don’t honestly. I think a lot of the ideas I’ve seen are good, but it’s a matter of getting from “we have an idea” to “we have the means to accomplish it” to “it’s done”. And no matter what that is, that’s a tough thing to accomplish in this city. Plus, I get that it’s not just going to become the bicycle utopia I’d like to see. I want East Bay bike infrastructure in San Francisco, and that’s just not going to happen overnight. Of course, there are different elements that created that infrastructure in Oakland/Emeryville/Berkeley. Perhaps we will get there some day, but it’s a long game. Which is why, even if I jest a bit about the protected contraflow bike lane on Polk (which I’ve never used since I’m rarely in a position to), I know that what is two blocks today could be two miles in five years. It is an important step, and nice to see.

Here’s what I see when I bike. Yes, I do see bikes run lights and stop signs. I also see cars do that. I see buses rumble through intersections when they should probably wait. I see pedestrians step into the flow of traffic even though there’s already a car coming and at that time they do not have right of way as dictated by the traffic signals. I see cars block pedestrians by trying to get through an intersection when there’s no space. I see cyclists ride through pedestrians when they don’t have right of way and probably shouldn’t. I don’t know what the impulse is that drives that behavior. I’m not going to claim to be immune to it. I am definitely not claiming I haven’t done some of these things (in most modes of transit) I don’t know if it’s just that we all think our time is more important or that we are all in our own little worlds at times. I am sure there are probably studies on these issues that point all sorts of ways. What I do know, what I do observe, is the mode of transportation isn’t what drives this behavior. It’s us. So it feels a little strange to lay it on a particular vehicle type. For me, I know not all bikers are like that, just like I know not all drivers are and not all pedestrians and so on and so forth. But that attitude does have impacts.

We all have a lot of affinity with drivers because most of us are or have been at some point a driver. I do think that affinity matters. It influences our perspective I live in a city where most people are multimodal when it comes to getting around. That increased modality leads to increased affinity, whether it’s with transit or walking or bike or driving. What I think would be a good exercise is for people to increase that modality. There are going to be people who still make lazy judgments and assessments with no experience. But something I’ve noticed in other areas of my life is what people are most frequently missing is perspective and exposure to different ways of thinking, of being, of doing things. I don’t say this to justify some of the things I observe when biking, or even some of the things I do (like I said, I’m not immune by any means), though, like I said, I think there’s a far broader reason than “it’s a bike”. But I do think it’s an important exercise, and not one that is all that hard. It takes me less time to bike to work than any other means of getting there. It takes me less time to bike to just about anything here in the city. It is the best way for me to get around, the least time consuming, the most flexible. I also live by myself, have no kids, and am able, which invariably affects my perspective on the flexibility of this means of transit. Biking isn’t the right answer for everyone, but it probably is a good answer for a lot more people than just me and the others I see riding around. And even if it isn’t something you end up doing full time? I think you’d be amazed at how you might see your city, your commute, and your fellow travelers differently. Besides, it’s good exercise.

Confessions Of A Serial Cyclist

As I was riding my bike home last night at 2 am, large puffy clouds were cutting across the sky, obscuring most of the stars, but not the 3/4 full moon. It was quite a sight on the occasions that it was in the direction that I was riding, and therefore not unduly risky to look at. The streets were extremely quiet, more than I thought given that it was bar close on a Friday night, but it was appreciated, if unexpected. More than once, it hit me that it’s a bit odd to be riding my bike at 2 am on the way home from something, and it is certainly not something that I would have done a couple years ago, but now, there’s not much more natural than hopping on the bike to get to or from something. Be it work, or a show, or an impromptu gathering at a friend’s, it seems more often than not that I get there by two wheels instead of four these days. But it took quite a while to get to this point. I know a big part of it is motivation; secondarily, there are concerns of many things, but the hardest thing of all for most of us is getting it into our head to do something and then getting it out of our heads and into our lives. Really, this is the fruition of about 6 or 7 years of attempts to make myself do this, and it took me that long to deal with many of the barriers I created for myself to prevent me from doing something that I wanted to do. Biking accomplishes a lot of great things at once, but there’s a trade-off lurking somewhere.

It’s 11 miles one way to work. First off, 11 miles is not that far. I know it seems like it is, but it isn’t. Second, it’s not crazy, so don’t look at me like that. I can feel you across the internet giving me that look, so stop it. I am not riding at any speeds that are going to make anyone blush on either commute. I usually average between 14-15 miles an hour these days, which is good, but is no land speed record. Generally, between trying to make sure that cars don’t hit me, stop lights, pedestrians, obstacles, and the general nonsense that seems to fill roads and bike paths, it takes me about 45-50 minutes to get to work, though the bike timer always says a little less since it doesn’t go when I’m not moving. It takes a little less time to get home, because it’s more downhill and I believe that I’m probably a touch more motivated to get home than to get to work. On the other hand, there’s a lot more traffic of all kinds at 4:30 pm than at 6:30 am. I have gotten a lot more comfortable with road riding and people not paying attention and all the other things that are now a part of my daily commute.

When I drive to work, it takes about 30 minutes in the morning, and usually it’s closer to 40-45 in the afternoon. So you can already see that the time difference isn’t all that great. Yes, I get up at 5:50 am, but I would be getting up 30 minutes later if I were leaving from here, so it’s really only taking me about an hour longer adding together both my morning and afternoon commute. And I spent about 90 minutes of that getting exercise. Sure, I have to take two showers, but even after all of that, I’m home and cleaned up and ready to do something by 5:30 if I really need to be, though usually I’m a little more leisurely about leaving work than that.

As gas settles in around $4 a gallon (and sure it might go down for a bit, but I imagine this will be the norm going forward more than the exception), I spend about $50 to get enough gas in the RAV-4 to get 300 miles. This is probably low compared to a number of people, but it’s the facts as they now stand. Let’s say I ride my bike to work 20 times a month at 22 miles round trip, I’m taking out 440 miles, probably saving myself close to $75 a month on gas. Which is great. Except I’m probably spending at least $100 every couple months on parts, gear, etc. Not including whatever the initial cost of the bike might be (only $600 in this case, so not too bad) and the initial investments on gear and such since those are sunk costs, I’m still probably not saving money as on might think of it. What I am doing is investing my money in something I care about more than my car. The more I bike, the quicker I have to put money back into said bike, which means that if I have a 600 mile month sometime, it’s just that much quicker to the next tune-up and batch of parts. Less gas, but more chains and gears. It has taken me a while to understand that concept, and I still think that’s a big gap for a lot of people. One might routinely take a car in to get it looked at for maintenance, but many view a bike as something you just buy and don’t do anything with until it breaks. Well, actually, looking at that last sentence, a lot of us treat our cars that way. But much like a car (or any vehicle) standard care along the way does a lot to make it work better. You are happier, and your vehicle is happier. So any financial realizations are minimal in the sense of saving. Of course, I feel the money is going a better place, which is a big thing. It’s nice to feel like your money is going to something you care about, not something you just have to do or need.

So no, it’s not a big money saver. As to the other general set of questions I get, no, it’s not that hard. But it is a commitment. I guess one could say that’s true of anything in life. The more effort you put in (and time and money and all those associated variables), the more you might get out of it. And this is the same way. It’s a big hurdle, and a bit of a restructuring to say that I’m going to bike someplace. I have to leave sooner, I have to consider the weather in terms of how it’s going to be to ride in, I have to consider whether I’m going to bring a change of clothes. But I don’t have to do that much more than I would anyway. Plus, it makes me think about what I’m going to carry, what I truly need, and what I just want on the other end. Because those are all different things at different times, and frequently what you need is much less than what you have. I don’t need to do much more than look around my apartment to know that. I, of course, have committed to it, and since I’ve got back on in April post surgery I’ve stopped making the excuses. Not that I didn’t bike a lot before surgery, but post-surgery, I’ve just decided there’s no reason not to bike more. Instead of saying, oh, I don’t have time for it, it’s saying how do I make time for it? How do I structure my activities? How does it impact a trip to Target or a trip to the Fetus? Do I need all the things I get at the store, and if so, how do I account for them? These are all valid questions, and I get there are numerous excuses not to ride. My take-away has been to simply be more honest. I know your workplace might not have a shower. Sure that’s a hurdle. Mine does, and that’s great. Yes, it sucks when it rains. But I get a little wet and I have some rain gear that takes a bit to dry out. My neighbors at work probably don’t like it.

And I guess for me, that’s the big thing to do. There’s no problem with saying you don’t want to bike to work. It might not work for you on simple virtue of the fact that you are not going to move around enough other things in your life to make it work, which is perfectly respectable. Or maybe you just don’t want to, which is also perfectly respectable. But there’s no reason to make excuses about it. And that’s something that I can be better about in my own life. But many people can do what I do. They just don’t want to. Just like I don’t want to do many things that they do in their lives that they make more time for. There’s too much to do in life to go about making excuses about not doing things. That’s more time that you could be doing stuff. But, but if you truly are interested in riding to work, remember that it’s something that takes a long time to get going and instill, like any habit. But mostly, it’s a decision, like any decision? How committed are you? Because if you are, join me out there on the paths and roads of the Twin Cities, and for the sake of all of us, please signal.

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