Driving + Cycling

[This commute story is from Dale Oswald. -ed.]

I live in a medium-sized metro area with a lot of tech jobs going away. Though the economy is suffering, there are still jobs out there, but they’re with smaller companies that pay less and are scattered about. My situation put me at a new job, farther away from work (32mi/50km). Despite the lower pay and longer commute, I am fortunate to find work that matches my skills, experience and temperament.

My medium-sized metro area also has spotty transit coverage. My commute starts on one side of the city and ends at the other. Park & Ride busses aren’t scheduled to make this kind of connection, and using local buses doubles my transit time. I only use transit when no other option is available. Combinations of bike and bus don’t work well, either.

Walking out your door in street clothes and arriving at work ready to go is simpler and faster than changing clothes, locking up your bike and covering the seat, walking back and forth from your work area to where you change, doing extra laundry and managing your clothing in variable weather.

My solution is to drive about 20 miles and ride 13. The night before, I load my bag and lay out my cycling clothes. I drive an older car with little theft value that is large enough to put my SWB recumbent inside. I park in a shopping plaza near a multi-use trail, then use the trail plus suburban streets to ride to work. The process starts at 5:45 am and ends at 8:00 or so. At night, I leave my desk at 5 pm and am home by 7 pm. When all is said and done, this combination takes me about 1:50 longer than driving, but it’s all riding time. And at today’s fuel prices (6/08) I have reduced my daily fuel cost from US$11.25 to $7.

The only glitch in this is that the last half mile is on a busy arterial with no shoulders. I found a way around by obtaining permission to cross private property (church grounds) to the back of my place of employment.

Commuting to work will always be more of a hassle than driving or using transit. Walking out your door in street clothes and arriving at work ready to go is simpler and faster than changing clothes, locking up your bike and covering the seat, walking back and forth from your work area to where you change, doing extra laundry and managing your clothing in variable weather. Yes, you can minimize this by getting your systems down pat, or if your work facilities include a locker room and shower. It’s also easier if you can work and cycle in the same clothes. But it is worth it to me, for the health benefits, money saved and the clearer conscience on reducing my footprint on the earth.

5 Responses to “Driving + Cycling”

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Sounds like you might want to seriously consider something like a Stokemonkey, or an electric scooter.

  • Barry Gardner says:

    Alan: Can you write something about raingear that works? It was raining today in Chicago and I became conscious of how silly it was for me to reach for the keys to my 3500 pound umbrella on four wheels.

  • Alan says:


    Hi Barry,

    Any decent breathable rain gear from an outdoor supplier like REI is fine; it doesn’t need to be cycling-specific. Plan on spending at least $150-200 for a good breathable rain jacket. I’ve owned various brands over the years and they’ve all worked reasonably well. You can either go with a full rain suit (coat and pants), or just a coat and wool tights which remain fairly warm, even when damp. You’ll want to layer underneath the shells with fast-drying, wicking fabrics (I like Patagonia Capilene).

    Another option that works amazingly well is a waterproof poncho. I’ve only used hardware store nylon cheapies in years past, but I hope to purchase a Carradice waxed cotton poncho before next Winter to give it a try.


    The fact that they’re loose fitting and open underneath makes breathability less of a factor with ponchos. If it’s not raining hard and you’re not riding too far, you can sometimes get away with wearing street clothes under a poncho.

    Of course, the most important accessory for riding in the rain is a good set of full coverage fenders Without fenders you’ll get far wetter from water thrown up by the tires than from rainfall.

    Whatever you wear, it’s a good idea to slow down in the rain; for the obvious safety reasons, but also so you don’t soak yourself with sweat under all those layers you’ll be wearing.


  • KevinInBoston says:

    I have a 2 week young Carradice waxed cotton poncho that I finally got to test this week. It was pouring here in Boston, but the poncho kept me absolutely dry on my 4.5 mile commute home from work. It’s only $90-something, compared to a more expensive rain coat, and it doesn’t seem to have even a gram of plastic on it. The downsides are that it’s somewhat bulky, not super light (maybe 375g just going by feel), and it might not be bright enough for the extremely safety-conscious (it’s a dark green fabric, which I actually prefer compared to bright yellow just because it looks nicer, and it does have a reflective patch or two (so ok, probably a little plastic, or at least shiny chemicals :) )
    (Shamefully, however, while the poncho was protecting me from falling water, my old mountain bike was not protecting me from the dirty street water, and I got thoroughly drenched on my lower half. Fenders are a must!)

  • Mark says:

    If the goal is to live a car-light/oil-light lifestyle, then I would consider a motor scooter for your current work situation. A bike is an incredible tool, but it’s not necessarily the right tool for every job, and a bike commute that involves driving 2/3 of the way with the bike in the trunk sounds very much like scooter-territory to me. Eg the vehicle with the smallest footprint that gets the job done (although if there was a good way to haul a bike on a scooter I would be super interested in that). I also love the idea of electric bikes and electric scooters, and longer-term am optimistic about them, but still feel iffy about current battery technology.

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