By Bike Why I Ride My Bicycle to Work - A Manifesto of Sorts

that's a lot of traffic
this is part of my route home.

I'm not a hard core bicyclist type. No tats of chain rings. I think fixed gear bikes are fun but kinda dumb, really. But I've been commuting by bike for about six years now...and it's just so freakin' sensible on so many levels, that I don't understand why it's not more adopted by the mainstream, and not more supported by various levels of government.  What follows is my case for why I ride.

Reasons Why:

  1. Health & Fitness: doctors say that at least 30 minutes of exercise a day is imperative to living a long and healthy life. So, rather than sitting in a car or riding a train, and then going to the gym, why not get exercise while getting to work, which you have to do anyways?  In my case, with a wife in medical residency and a rambunctious youngster I am often in charge of, it is not easy to muster the time and/or discipline to exercise, otherwise.
  2. Time: My commute takes negative thirty minutes.  How so?  Check it: riding from my house takes 30 minutes, all told, between gearing up, unlocking, etc. T takes 45 minutes each way, and driving takes 20 minutes on a really, really, really good traffic day (often double that). So on average it's basically a wash between biking and driving, but biking is much more predictable.  And I am killing the proverbial two birds w/ one stone by exercising and commuting all it once.  If I drive, but want to exercise for 30, that’s 90 minutes total. Bike and it’s 60 minutes total (and I get an extra 30 minutes of exercise). And this is extra time I get to spend with my hella cute daughter.
  3. Money: I ride 12 miles a day rather than driving. 60 miles a week. 3000 miles a year. Current IRS Reimbursement Rates for driving (based on cost of gas and maintenance) are $.50...which is $1500/year.  Yes a bike costs money to maintain...but not $1500. Let's say it costs $250/year for gear, and a tune up and a new bike every 3 years. That's over $1000 in savings a year.   Plus – I am lucky enough to have showers at work. During the week, I take all of my showers at work on Microsoft’s dime. (Thanks shareholders!). OK, yeah, that’s like $2.73 a week of saved hot water costs.  But don’t laugh.  Every bit counts when you need to pay for daycare, OK?
  4. Sitting in traffic sucks Every morning and evening, I zoom by the poor suckers sitting in long lights loking annoyed on the Jamaica Way. And the Riverway. And Route 9. And Memorial Drive. Traffic Jam
  5. Social Benefit: Global Warming In case you missed it, we (humans) are causing the earth to get warmer and it ain't a good thing, despite what Rush Limbaugh and his goons say. So according the REI’s “Bike Your Drive” iPhone app, I save 11.4 lbs of CO2/day by not driving, which is worth $.10 according to (low) EU carbon prices. You're welcome.  Purchases of carbon offsets accepted – just paypal me, and I’ll send you a certificate. Or something.
  6. Social Benefit: Congestion I'm one less car causing the traffic jams on the Jamaica Way. And the Riverway. And the BU bridge. And Memorial Drive. You're welcome, again. Traffic offsets can also be purchased. Same paypal deal. You know it.
  7. Marginal Cost = 0 (Parking & Subway Costs) How many times, when you are going out, do you not do it b/c you don't want to deal w/ parking? Or paying for the subway? Biking gives the flexibility of parking anywhere lockable, and coming/going whenever you want. If I want to have breakfast or lunch or dinner with a friend somewhere in Cambridge or Boston, I don’t stress.
  8. Updated 9/16/2010 - Some additional ones!
  9. My commute time is predictable How often do you hear: "How's traffic?" or "When's the next train?" for people trying to get to and from work. As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, "Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day." Not knowing how long a commute will take is a maddening kind of stress. Not on a bike.  There are very few variables, and now that I have my routes perfected, it takes me 25 minutes, give or take 1 minute to get to work. Yeah - 1 minute variance. (Truth be told, there is the very occasional outlier of a flat tire - maybe once every 3 months - that adds 20 minutes - watch out for glass, and always carry a patch kit and/or spare, tire irons, a co2 pump!)
  10. 9 - I'm not a rush hour hostage As the end of the day rolls around, many of my colleagues will groan when they look out the window at traffic jams, or check highway reports, or hear the redline is delayed for some strange reason. Not me. I happily leave smack in the middle of rush hour and fly by the cars backed up bumper to bumper like these poor suckers on the Mass Ave bridge.  I am, however, hostage to the daycare-pickup-time-pay-for-overtime which is arguably an equally dastardly tormentor.

    Yeah, but...

    1) I don’t like riding in traffic. It would suck to die Indeed it would.  In 6 years of commuting by bike almost daily, I’ve been hit once, at a slow speed, by a jack-ass who drove right through a stop sign, ruined my bike, and then drove away.  I was fine. This is a risk for sure, mostly b/c (in my opinion) drivers do not pay enough attention to cyclists. On this, I can say a few things: 1) You have a legal right to the road. 2) Respect Newton’'s laws, especially the 1st and 2nd 3) Always watch for drivers opening car doors 4) Take the longer route if it means safer roads, as I do on my route. 5) Wear bright, garish, reflective stuff.  No shame in being visible. Geared out[/caption]
  1. 2) I don’t wanna get all sweaty Luckily, I work in software (I dress casually), and luckily I have showers available at work.   If you have to wear a suit (sucker!), that certainly complicates things. But it can be done.  Keep your jacket and shoes at work, pack in a change, and shower.
  2. 3) It’s cold or rainy I don’t like to ride in the rain. Or snow. Or sleet. Or when roads are icy.  But you’d be surprised, even in Boston, how rarely that is – I drove maybe 20 days total in the last year.  With regards to warmth? Suck it up. Wear a jacket and gloves and warm shoes and you’re fine.  Have no shame about what you look like (see picture to the right…looking very much like my 8th grade science teacher who rode every day and I used to make fun of – sorry Mr. Howard!)
  3. 4) Need to get my kids to school/get groceries/etc… I purposefully lived near schools and day care centers.  I take my daughter three blocks on a bike seat, which she loves.  And actually think I got a great price on my house because “the market” did not appreciate how easy it is to get around on bike from where I live.  As for errands, I have a rack and a bike bag, and often pick up burritos at the Kenmore Square Boca Grande, or a half gallon of milk at Harvest Market Co-op.  Plus, remember that half-hour a day I got back?  Can use that for additional tasks.

So yeah – this all sounds great - where's the love from the government?

You’d think with such a massive win(health)/win(global warming)/win(congestion) that cities would go out of their way to support and encourage bicycling.  There’s some support from cities like Portland and San Francisco, and increasingly Boston But bottom line is that I still feel like a second-class citizen of the road, and would like to see more work done w/ new bike lane construction and ongoing maintenance.

Even though most of my ride is very pleasant and safe, I do need to cross the most unfriendly bicycling intersection ever twice every day.

But what really irks me is the IRS. Rather than support cycling, it actually, in fact, does exactly the opposite.  The IRS allows for tax-free employer reimbursement payments of up to $120/month for public transportation, and up to $230 a month for parking. As of 2009, bikers can write of $20 tax free, but (prepare of the madness of government) anyone who claims the bike benefit cannot claim any other fringe benefit (like a backup T pass) if they do so!  So all told, with this incentive scheme, the federal government is urging you to drive to work - essentially subsidizing exurban, car-based, living.

While the government could and should certainly do more, I do want to give big ups to Microsoft (my employer) for supporting bike commuting. We have showers on campus at Cambridge NERD campus. Every 6 months, Microsoft pays for a bike tune up where the Broadway Bicycle school comes to campus. And best of all, there is a “stay fit” benefit that provides $800/year for fitness related equipment, including (most of) the Trek Soho I purchased last year.

I will capitulate that there is one thing I really do miss about driving, and that’s my time listening to NPR. Sorry Linda and Noah. But I do catch my man Kai on Marketplace when I get home. (I just learned he flew airplanes in Navy for 8 years.  Bad ass!)