The Secret

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta’ do it

I get a lot of questions about bike commuting from my coworkers and people I meet on the train and bus. They’ll ask how far I ride, how long I’ve been bike commuting, how much my bike cost, how much money I’m saving, etc. They’re often congratulatory, while sometimes also stating what a sacrifice it must be, and how they “could never do that”.

But here’s the big secret: bike commuting is no sacrifice at all. As a matter of fact, I often feel a pang of guilt for doing it. It’s so much fun, and I derive so many benefits from it (health, wealth, peace of mind), that I sometimes feel as if I’m cheating the system. Bike commuting, so it seems, defies the capitalistic logic of “getting what you pay for” by requiring very little, while providing copious benefits in return.

So now, when someone asks why I commute by bike, instead of expounding on the ecological and economic benefits, I first talk about how much fun it is, how good it makes me feel, and how little effort it takes. I tell them about the things I see along the road (birds, kids, dogs, turkeys, hawks, squirrels), the way it clears out the cobwebs in the morning and flushes out the stress in the evening, and what an utter relief it is to be free of driving related stress and anxiety.

I hope that by sharing my big secret—the fact that bike commuting is not a sacrifice at all, but a richly rewarding endeavor—people will be more likely to consider it for themselves.

44 Responses to “The Secret”

  • Justin says:

    w00t!!

  • Richard Masoner says:

    Yeah, the whole “I do it because it’s good for the planet / my health / my checkbook is a bit of a turn off for many people. It’s just stupid fun!

    I thinkyou’ll like this story.

  • Bill says:

    My line: A bad commute on a bicycle is better than a good commute in the car anyday.

  • Pete says:

    Nice post. People are so obsessed with the percieved “inconvenience” they forget it’s actually a fun thing to do.
    I recall reading a very similar thing about the difference between riding a motorcycle, out in the open air, having fun, versus driving. People so often think of driving as some chore that has to be endured to get to the thing they actually want to do. Time in the car is “wasted.” The author said when he rides his motorcycle, that experience becomes “time spent living” rather than wasted as “time spent driving.”
    Just as apt for bicycles!

  • Fergie348 says:

    Bill beat me to it – my worst day on my bike is a normal car commute at best.

    Here’s another selling point – it’s a real time saver. I get my workout and my commute done at the same time, saving time for my family later in the day. If you have coworkers who commute by car to/from work and go to the gym or to a spinning class during the day sometime, suggest riding in or home together. Fridays are easiest for most people because of the ‘casual Fridays’ ethos that’s very common at least on the west coast. Once people try it (who like to exercise anyway), they’re usually hooked..

  • Brad says:

    My commute is all city streets. That picture is strikingly beautiful. I wish my commute looked like that.

  • Andrew says:

    I’m with Brad. I imagine Alan and I have pretty radically different commutes, both in terms of distance and appeal.

    Commuting is just about the least enjoyable time spent on my bike, since it’s spent in busy urban traffic (or sidling up along it to get by).

  • Alan says:

    @Brad & Andrew

    Are there more pleasant alternate routes you can take? I go well out of my way to make my commute more pleasant.

    Alan

  • Pete says:

    @ Brad-
    Me too.
    My description would be more like:
    “I tell them about the things I see along the road (getting flipped the bird, juvenile delinquents, rabid dogs, broken bottles, pigeons, dead squirrels)…”
    So I usually leave that part out!

  • Paul says:

    Isn’t the capitalistic logic (and goal for that matter) getting the most out of the smallest amount of cost?

    And by that virtue, wouldn’t bike commuting walk hand in hand with any other capitalistically oriented venture?

    Or do I render those capitalistic perks moot by my lofty intangibles such as happiness and health?

  • Brad says:

    @Alan & Pete

    Well its about 16 miles as it is so going much farther out of the way is tough. It would just be more city streets anyway. The first part of it does go through Forest Park, St. Louis. The park is nice but the rest of it is more like Pete’s description. It’s not always that bad but not always better either.

  • dW says:

    I chuckle to myself when people tell me that they could never take the time to bike commute…right after telling me how healthy I’m looking these days. ;-)

  • Sam says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

  • don in portland says:

    I think a lot of people don’t get that when one rides to work you don’t have take the same roads that one would take if you drove your car, which is generally the fastest . Case in point, if I drove to work, I would be on a four lane highway with narrow to nonexistent shoulders for about 7 or 8 miles. Instead, I take roads that roughly parallel this highway which has little traffic because of same highway though rolling farmland with gourgeous views of the valley to the west and Mount
    Hood on the east. This adds about 1/2 mile to my commute and a little climbing, but oh what a difference!

  • Logan says:

    Fantastic strategy. We have similarly found that people love stories and hate lectures. Weaving a narrative experience in with a thoughtful conclusion is a great way to introduce folks to a new perspective. :) Wonderful work Michael and Alan. :)

  • David says:

    After several years of biking to work on a route similar to what I drove I spent some time rethinking/remapping my route. I “discovered” the Erie Canal towpath. I have to bike about 5 extra miles to get on it, oh darn, but it is a beautiful commute without any vehicle traffic for about 15 miles.

  • Archergal says:

    In an urban environment, there are only just so many ways you can get from point A to point B, and many of those ways involve traffic. My community has very few bike lanes or paths, so I’m almost always out in traffic.

    Add to that summer heat/humidity that leave me looking like I just got out of the shower at every stop. Some days I ride just from sheer bloody-mindedness. Some days the thought of fighting through is just too much to deal with. I can’t wait for cooler weather.

    OTOH, I’ve been sick the last few days, and I really find myself missing the bike. I’ve also used the same amount of gas that would normally last for two weeks when I’m riding my bike.

  • voyage says:

    Alan’s latest is good in that it implies the real crux: learning new habits. Motorists already have a habit-set but for those motorists who are open to alternatives that might benefit them, it may best to explain that they only have to try it and learn new habits. They can do this for relatively low monetary outlay: the key is to get the “new habits, new ways of doing things, new ways of planning the day” thing going. Some people just need a nudge, advanced topics such as equipment and component fetishism can wait for those who become so inclined.

    A story:

    http://www.salon.com/news/bicycling/index.html?story=/tech/htww/2010/08/22/a_happy_bike_story

  • graciela. says:

    Awesome post. I don’t have a nice country view like that but I like my city scape just the same. I like looking at cute houses and businesses I wouldn’t notice if I was in a car. Then later when I don’t know where to go for lunch I’ll remember a place I saw on my bike.

    I sweat like mad and that’s probably the biggest drawback for me. But a bike/bus trip in the morning gets me to work still looking decent. Then I bike all the way home and by then who cares what I look like. It’s so much fun!

  • Val says:

    Like this: http://tinyurl.com/28cs4uz ?

  • Derek says:

    I don’t think I have ever been able to convice someone to get on their bike to commute.

    I need to try harder. It is easier than most people think. It is fun.

  • JIm says:

    I commute round trip approximately 18 miles per day in Rhode Island. The first half of my commute on the way in is city scape with traffic and the second half is a beautiful bike path along the water in Providence. Weather and traffic aside I have to say that choosing to commute by bicycle has been probably the best lifestyle decision I have made in a very long time. I am slowly loosing the much needed extra 25 lbs I put on over the years and have never felt better. I agree that convincing others to commute by bicycle can be a daunting task. But for now, it is working for me. I loath the times that I have to drive my car. Added shallow benefit #1: my newly chiseled leg muscles get much more attention from the single ladies! LOL

  • CanberraRider says:

    I also don’t feel inconvenienced at all by cycling to work. I have a dedicated bike path that starts near my home and takes me all the way to work. It passes streams, cuts through fields and often there are flocks of cockatoos or gallahs feeding on the side of the path that bring an extra dimension to the commute. Life in Canberra, Australia, is good like that.

  • michael says:

    Commuting by bike is great, not to mention how you live in the ideal climate for it! I’m hoping to kick myself back into gear this year with much more regular bike commuting. Only problem is I live in a land of hills and very wet winters… motivation in the face of those factors seems hardest to come by.

  • Bomber says:

    Amen, I tell folks that I’m too lazy to hit the gym so I do this instead. They look at me funny, but it is true.

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  • Moopheus says:

    It’s true–I ride mainly because I’d rather be riding my bike than the bus or subway. It’s just more pleasant, even when it rains, even when drivers are rude or careless. There are the obvious benefits–use less gas, more exercise, etc., but it does really come down to actually enjoying it. When I go shopping, I invent excuses to go to a market on the other side of town, rather than the one in my neighborhood, because it means more time on the bike.

  • Kent Peterson says:

    I did a quick survey a few years ago and the number one reason people give for bike commuting is “fun.” The number one reason people give for not bike commuting is “time.” I riffed on this subject in an essay I called “The Fun Time Continuum”. You can read it here:

    http://bit.ly/c5UtmY

  • Jeff Lock says:

    Even when its pouring with rain and windy as hell. There is still a sense of achievement in commuting that you cant get with a car. Then there are those perfect days when I take the long way home. Which involves a ride along Boston Bay South Australia for about 12Ks with a cool breeze, flat glassy calm water and magnificant views. Who would want to drive.Not me!
    Plus once you start commuting by bike the perfect days are by far the majority of the days.

  • Noel says:

    @Brad

    Hey, I commute in STL too (from University City to downtown), and find the ride wonderful!

    I mostly use Locust St., sometimes dipping down to Forest Park if I feel like a bike path. Topping the hill before Mid-town with the sun backlighting the Continental Life building, or gaping at the the old-school mansions and business buildings of the CWE, or rolling through the campus life of SLU and Harris-Stow…seriously, anytime I get bored I just remind myself to look around ;)

  • SB Mike says:

    I know, when I tell people that I sold my car and that I commute by bike they look at me like I just won the iron man competition for the third straight year. “wow that is so impressive”, “that’s some feat”…. I tell them I really like it, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. But there is this mental barrier… I see it in their eyes when i tell them, they think I’m full of bs. It’s a well kept secret indeed, too well kept in my opinion.

  • Brad says:

    @Noel

    I’m going from South City to Westport

  • Archergal says:

    Dang, I’m jealous of you folks with bike path commutes. The total miles I need to cover in a day can range from about 5 to about 50. I’m still building up mileage again, so I rarely ride more than about 30 miles a day, and I can’t do that more than a couple of days in a row.

    But I’m old and out of shape, and it’s damned hot here.

  • Phillip says:

    I always tell people that I would still bike commute even if it cost more than driving and was worse for you than a pack a day! I enjoy it just that much. I hope that as bike commuting becomes more mainstream it doesn’t become banal as it seems to be in northern Europe.The Danes and the Dutch have better infrastructure but I’m betting that we have more fun.

  • Noel says:

    @Brad

    Yeah, I feel you. Between Ucity and 270 is not friendly. Do you use Ladue Rd or Olive Rd?

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  • Burton says:

    I often practice my elevator pitch on why bike commuting is great, but I rarely actually speak it out loud because I fear I’ll seem self-righteous. Top of the list reasons used to be saving money, the environment and time, and keeping fit, but more and more it’s just about the pure enjoyment of the ride. People can’t comprehend how I can enjoy my current commute–it’s 44 miles round trip–but I’d go insane if I had to drive that far everyday.

    Part of my commute is on a MUP that crosses via a bridge over a highway that is always clogged with rush hour traffic. As I look down at the bumper to bumper cars, I imagine an ad campaign to go on that bike overpass: an arrow pointing down at the highway accompanied by the words “The view from your car commute,” and then a cheeky picture from behind of a fit cyclist, zipping along the lovely MUP, accompanied by “The view from a bicyclist’s commute.”

  • Brad says:

    @Noel

    Macklind to Forest Park then peripheral steets to Ladue to Warson up to Shuetz over to Craig Rd.

    Not terrible at all. I need to do it more often. I don’t do it every day.

    There is another route that goes through Maplewood and Brentwood but I haven’t tried it yet that goes along S. Forty Dr. parrallel to 40 over to Warson.

  • Bob P. says:

    I tell people I ride because I’m a loser – 23 pounds from my body and 60 points from my cholesterol. Yup, I’m a loser.

  • Dottie says:

    Yup! The thought of my bike commute as a sacrifice is laughable. Everyone else is missing out, big time.

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  • tschitschi says:

    so true!

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  • Gunnar says:

    My 2 Cents.

    1. Nice story.
    2. Disagree about the anti-capitalistic thing. I’m not against capitalism and I can’t see why commuting by bike should be. Actually, it’s a good idea from economical point of view, since i’m saving time and money.
    3. To the ones envying the view pictured on the post… well, sorry for you. My favourite time on the bike IS commuting, and the reason is exactly that there will crazy big-city-ruch-hour-traffic. Biggest fun is cutting through busy streets and being faster than anyone. Takes skills and guts too. I’m always looking for places to go when actually all I want is to ride… it’s just that I dont like the idea of riding just to ride, there must always be a destiny. I think I just enjoy the fact that actually i’m doing something normal, quotidian, (going from A to B) but in a really funny and, for many, weird way.

 
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