News Flash: Bike Commuting is NOT Base Jumping

I’m always amazed by the number of people who seem impressed that I commute by bike. I’m sure people in bike-friendly cities like Portland and Davis don’t get this so much, but around here riding your bike to work garners the kind of awe and respect normally reserved for speed skiers or base jumpers. Of course, I live in a suburban town overrun with Escalades and Hummers, so the sight of someone walking or riding a bike to get somewhere can be quite a shock to the psyche.

Well, for all you suburbanites who seem to think commuting by bike is a super-human feat, I’ve got news for you: it’s easy. Really. You only need a few things to get started.

  • You need a bike. Any bike will do as long as it’s a bike you like to ride. Racing bike, recumbent, cruiser, your Grandmother’s three-speed, it matters not. As long as it makes you smile when you think about riding it, it’s the right bike for you.
  • You need some cool clothing for the summer and some warm clothing for the winter. It doesn’t have to be specialized cycling gear; most of what I wear on the bike is the same clothing I wear everywhere else.
  • You need some way to carry your stuff. This could be a backpack that you already have, a messenger bag, a bike-specific bag/pannier, or even a cloth grocery sack. Again, it doesn’t really matter what type of bag it is as long as it’s large enough to accommodate your stuff.
  • You need a secure place to park your bike. You’re not going to enjoy riding your bike to work everyday if you spend all day worrying about it getting vandalized or stolen. Don’t be afraid to approach your employer to work out a secure bike storage solution.

People often use the fact that they don’t have showers at their work as a reason for not bike commuting. This is a silly excuse. I assume your work has a bathroom? If so, all you need is a towel, a change of clothes, a hair brush, and some deodorant to get you through the day. Also, bike commuting is not bike racing. Leave 5-10 minutes earlier and slow down to a pace that keeps your heart rate comfortably below the point of huffing and puffing; about the same as if you were taking a casual walk. I’m assuming you don’t take a shower every time you walk across the office or go out to lunch, right?

That’s about it. You can get way into it, and there are websites that go into great detail about specialized techniques and equipment for those who have an interest (see below), but in reality you only need those few things mentioned above to become a bona fide suburban thrill-seeker (aka bike commuter).

More Information
Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips
Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages

23 Responses to “News Flash: Bike Commuting is NOT Base Jumping”

  • Diane Bailey says:

    I just wrote a similar post on my blog. I also live in a city that could be considered suburban. For years, people would always make comments like oh I could not that, be careful there are crazy drivers out there, and so on. This really suprises me when I consider how many car-car accidents I see as I ride around town. Sometimes, as many as three in one day. (No joke!) I think I should tell people to be cautious as they jump into their cars, not the other way around.

    Now that there is more people out on their bikes, I do not get those comments. People are now starting to realize how easy it is to jump on to a bike.

  • RJ says:

    HE HE HE– I like the post title. It made me laugh and I knew exactly what you meant right away!

  • Adrienne says:

    Everyone at work has got used to me riding, so I don’t get may comments at this point. Unless it is raining, then I get a lot of people humoring me or telling me I am nuts. Sometimes, when I am quite damp, I tend to agree :)

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Hey Alan:

    Could we have a little less of the debunking? :o)

    I’ve gotten used to the idea that folks in the office think I’m an Olympic-Level Athlete … and one tough hombre to boot (riding in the winter).

    If everyone figures out that it’s really pretty easy then I won’t get the credit that I don’t deserve….

    Nate (SLC)

  • Alan says:

    Sorry Nate – just keepin’ it real.. :-)

    BTW – Did anyone watch the base jumping video linked in the post? If not – do it now. It really is some of the most insane footage of any kind of sports activity I’ve ever seen. Be sure to watch past the first 60 seconds to get to the good stuff…

  • Carson Blume's nail through tire rim - Cult of the Bicycle says:

    […] him at the bus stop if there are no adults at the stop.Bike Co-Ops in LA and beyond.Bike commuting is not base jumping! :-)Warrent T discovers the happiness of wool socks.Carlton has a wondeful job.Not quite a bicycle […]

  • Stefan says:

    Kudos on being succinct, accurate and encouraging.

    The only thing I tell potential cyclists that you didn’t mention is that it’s always okay to walk your bike. I think the reminder keeps people thinking about staying in their comfort zone, which (like you pointed out) is right where you should be on your bike.

    Cheers from Ottawa, Canada

  • cafn8 says:

    People who I really wouldn’t expect to react with amazement upon hearing that I ride to work often do too. For example, a local bike shop bike shop worker once told me “You must be pretty brave” when I mentioned that I commute on my bike. I’m reasonably sure that it wasn’t sarcasm, too. Not really the way to encourage more bike riding, I’d say.

  • Elisa M says:

    It is the same way in Birmingham. I get stares and lots and lots of “ARE YOU CRAZY!”. When they hear I ride in my work clothes, their heads explode.
    but I just keep on pedalling.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I have commuted by bike in suburban NY, in NJ, in Munich (Germany), in Beaverton(OR), in Seattle. I have also used my bike for work in MA, Tri-cities, WA, Bend OR, and many other cities. It is easy. You can easily ride with regular clothes and a simple backpack for 90% of your commuting. I have only had showers accessible in Beaverton and Seattle. They are not needed.

    I have commuted with a kids BMX bike, a 80’s era 10 speed, a crappy MTB, a Fuji Cross, a recumbent trike, a recumbent hi-racer, and an recumbent SWB set up for off-road. They are all fine for the purpose. A bike is much faster than walking, I walk with regular people at a speed of about 3mph. My commute pace averages between 11mph and 16mph depending on what I am riding and my relative shape.

    Commuting by bike is relatively fast and easy. It is not rocket science or base-jumping.

  • End Pavement says:

    Good post. I would just add the utility of keeping wipes at the office — after you wait 10-15 min to cool off (i.e. stop sweating), a quick wipe and you’re good to go. Unscented baby wipes work fine, as do those Cottonnelle/Scott wipes you can find near the toilet paper.

  • Adrienne says:

    If you want women to commute by bike to work, do not tell them to wipe down with baby wipes once they get to the office. They will never get on a bike again. Sorry, but true.

  • Karen says:

    Seems like my father always hears every bicycle accident story and asks, “Did you hear about that bicyclist that got killed by a car?”

    Finally I looked at him deadpan and asked, “Did you hear about all those people that die in car accidents every day?”

    He just shook his head and asked why I always have to be so obnoxious.

  • Alan says:


    LOL.. That’s just a Dad worrying about his daughter.. :-)

    BTW – Just discovered Newf World – very cool!

  • Audeamus says:

    I always tell people who give me that kind of reaction (e.g., are you crazy?) that if everyone knew how fun it usually is, the roads would be filled with bicycle commuters.

    Cars are big security blankets for most people. I understand that, because I often feel that way. A gassed-up car in the driveway, ready to go, means freedom, even power. And it’s hard to put on make-up or chat on the cell phone while on a bike (although those Copenhagers seem to do the latter w/ ease and elegance).

    In the end, it’s an attitude thing. It’s not the logistics, or the sweat, or the safety issues. It’s simply attitude, and that’s sometimes harder to change than asking your local government to start building bike lanes. Maybe $4.50/gal gasoline will start changing that…

  • trisha says:

    I get that all the time, too — and my commute is only 5 miles round trip! It doesn’t even take me much longer than driving does. Only time I don’t ride in my regular clothes is the height of summer here in Nashville.

  • Rick says:

    When it’s what I consider ‘warm enough’ here in the Denver area (spring through fall) I bicycle 20 miles one-way to work 2 times a week. It’s mostly downhill from home to work and I never ride hard enough to ‘huff and puff’. Nonetheless, I am very thankful for the shower facility available in my office building, as I am wet with sweat after 90 minutes of riding to get to work.

  • Iain says:

    There seems to be an acceptance of DF commuters at our work but I get a lot of comments when the ‘bent is parked outside the office, the its too low, how can anyone see you etc…

  • Rick says:

    About the only comment I get about my ‘bent (Sun EZ-1 aluminum frame) is “can you climb hills on that?” – very important consideration here in Denver. I just explain that the gearing is equivalent to a MTB and that after conditioning the right set of muscles it’s no different than any other bike except that it’s a little bit heavier.

  • Ken Pendergrass says:

    Do you know the one about the talking dog? The amazing thing is not that it is done so well but that it is done at all.

  • Concretin Nik says:

    Car accidents happen every day, true. But I’d bet if you look at the percentages, major injury/bone breaking and/or death occur far more often with a bike vs. car accident. So it’s not unreasonable for people to feel more comfortable (or “safer”) in their cars.

    I will commute on my cruiser, very leisurely, on the sidewalk even*gasp*, when the weather is nice. Because it’s fun, it saves a LITTLE gas (4 miles round trip), and I really dig the bike.

    I do hope to someday live in a neighborhood with wider streets or maybe even *gasp again* bike lanes. (Because I’ll never live somewhere with “better drivers.”) I’d love to be able to trailer my child to his daycare nearby, but the streets are simply too dangerous. I agree that if everyone knew how fun it was, and they bought a decent bike, there would be many more bike commuters.

    Maybe it IS a bit of base jumping. But that is a great reason to do it.

  • Charmaine says:

    I have biked to work since the mid-1980’s and have loved it. I’ve tried to “convert” other people in various law offices I’ve worked in, to try bike commuting, but I haven’t been very successful…. There are a few reasons people have given….”I have to work long hours” – they don’t want to bike home late. “I live too far to bike in” – though I have suggested they could drive part-way and bike the rest of the way. “I couldn’t bike 3 blocks!” – they haven’t done much exercise at all, and feel it’d be WAY to hard to bike ANY distance. “I live too close – it’s not worth it.” – They think it takes more time to get ready and to bike than it does if they just hop on the subway or drive. Maybe that’s so, but they aren’t getting any exercise that way… “I’m too high maintenance” – meaning it takes them a long time to get ready (i.e., showering, make-up, dressing, etc.). I shower the night before, so that eliminates a lot of the prep time every morning. I don’t sweat much on my bike ride – – though when I do, I just take a wet towel and dry off and use some perspirant and perfume, and I’m all set. “I’d be scared to bike in traffic – – there’s no easy/safe way to get to the office.” I think there are ways to avoid busy streets or unsafe areas – just bike around them. Fortunately, I live near a bike path to ride to work – but if you do some research, you can find a safe way to get to work. I tell people you can park your bike for FREE in the garage, and we have showers in the gym in the building. They could save a TON of money…and a lot of frustration of not having to deal with traffic. Well, I’ll keep trying and encouraging people. One lady I tried to encourage said she gave it up after a day – – that her route to work was all DOWNHILL in the morning (with stop lights) – and UPHILL on the ride home. She complained about the downhill part….! Crazy what people will come up with for an excuse not to bike…… :)

  • Beth says:

    Thanks for the websites with commute tips. I have been meaning to search for some tips, but you just did it for me! Many thanks :)

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