Category Archives: Commuting

Thoughts about commuting by bike

Everyone needs a bike buddy sometimes

This morning I woke up before the birds in our backyard, the kind of early I used to do all the time when I was teaching. Why? Because I have a friend who’s still teaching, and I was determined that before the school year ended, he would bike to work at least once.

He’s been talking about biking to school all year but he’s not a huge rider and was somewhat concerned about the route, not to mention nervous about what he would do if he ran into bike issues. To help him feel more comfortable, I promised to ride with him. And today was the day.

We talked over the route on the phone yesterday, him looking at GoogleMaps and me at my Metro bike map (yep, I bought a new one;) to figure out what the best way there and back would be. Since he lives near me in SE Portland and works in Gladstone, there’s a killer hill between him and school on SE Flavel Drive–fine on the way to school, but a little hard on the way home. We tried to find a way back that avoided it.

kraxberger(it wouldn’t be a legit Portland-area school without these fishies on the fence:)

I met him at his house just as he was strapping a little bag to the back of his bike. Because we’d planned this on Sunday, he used yesterday to bring to school all the stuff he needed to be ready for work today, which meant that his towel, soap (they have showers there!), nice clothes, and whatever else he wanted for work today was already there. All he had to do this morning was roll out of bed and get on his bike. Okay, I’m sure there was more to it than that, but still:) This struck me as a good way for people who feel that they have too much stuff to carry to at least bike some of the time: drive to work on Monday, drop off all the clothes and whatever else you’ll need for the week, and then bike the rest of the week:)

It turned out to be a super pleasant ride. That early in the morning there’s basically no traffic to worry about; we could bike next to each other and chat without pissing people off even in the few spots where there was no bike lane. In 40 minutes of biking, we got a chance to catch up more than we have in probably the last three months. And we made it the 9ish miles to his school even faster than GoogleMaps estimated we would:)

He totally could have done this without me. But sometimes, a friendly and persistent presence who is damn well going to show up at your door and bike there with you is the difference between wanting to bike and actually doing it. And on my end, I get a super awesome bike ride, a chance to hang out with my friend, and a wonderfully early start to my day. We both win on this exchange, I think:)

Bike buddies are the best:)

Little commute things

When I bike home from work, it is often dark. I don’t mean dark merely in the sense that the sun has set (which happens so early these days!). I mean dark, like no streetlights, no reflective paint on the road, no indication of where the road is, no light but whatever I have on my bike: dark, dark, dark.

There is another way I can take, I don’t think much longer, that goes through a residential neighborhood with streetlights and sidewalks and cars–the more urban way, I suppose.

But in all of my time of working at the zoo, I think I’ve taken that way about–oh, 3?–times.

It turns out that I like the dark way. I like the eerie quiet of the woods and the feeling that I’m far, far away from civilization, even just for 10 minutes. I like how my focus zooms in 100% on finding my way, on the experience of biking. I like how every so often, I will come across another cyclist on his or her way up, and almost all of them will say hi back to me even though all we are to each other is a bright pinprick of bike-light zooming past.

I’m certainly glad for civilization and infrastructure and safety–but I’m glad there are still dark places in the world, too. And I’m glad one of them happens to be my commute.

Those miles add up…

Back when I was a teacher commuting every day, my standard complement of biking was about 100 miles a week–a little over 19 miles every day of work, plus extra miles now and then for errands, side trips, the long way home. Really, I usually ended up over 100, but that was kind of my baseline: if all was well for the week, by the time I reset my odometer on Monday morning, it should read at least that.

I stuck with that 100-mile mentality for a long time after I quit teaching. Partly it was pride, partly it was baseline fitness, partly it was wanting to make sure that even without a steady job I got out of the house, but for a long time–even after my odometer broke and I kept track based on memory–I still tried to make sure I biked at least that far.

And you know what I realized? Even without a steady 5-day-a-week job with a built-in 19-mile commute, I still had no problem biking at least 100 miles. I still have no problem doing it. And it’s not because I take long rides (although I certainly do that too:), it’s that a lot of little trips adds up.

It’s only a little over 4 miles to downtown Portland; about a mile to the grocery store; a mile and a half to the library; about 3 miles to the Hollywood Farmers Market–if I run a few errands in the course of normal daily life, it’s pretty easy to get home at the end of the day and have gone 16 miles, say, without ever feeling like I took a long ride. Without even being on my bike for more than 25 minutes at a time.

The moral? There are two:

1. Much of my travel, and I bet much of most people’s, is little trips–maybe even under 4 miles. Those trips are super feasible by bicycle.

2. All of those little trips add up to a lot of miles over the course of a week, a month, a year. If you took even just a few of those little trips and made them by bike instead of by car, think not only of how much more exercise you’d be getting without even feeling like it, but also of all the non-gas-using miles you would have covered over the span of a year.

As in much of life, it’s not necessarily the big, impressive things that count, it’s the persistent, consistent little ones that, repeated, add up over time. It may not be the sexiest way to bike 100 miles a week, the way that you would brag about to your coworkers on Monday, but it’s definitely the most sustainable.

Zoo cyclists climb like mountain goats!

It’s September! Which means that in Portland, mobs of cyclists hit the streets for the Bicycle Commute Challenge–basically, a giant contest to see which workplace in Oregon or SW Washington can have the highest percentage of trips to and from work made by bicycle.

I don’t usually get super into this contest anymore since September is when I can often take a significant amount of time off. And when I’m not really around for most of the contest, I have a hard time getting really excited about it. Although I do love it so very much in theory:)

BUT, I did work all week this week, and yesterday and today I managed to convince a bunch of other people to eschew the MAX and actually ride all the way up the hill to the zoo with me.

zoo climbers(Today’s crowd of cyclists even showed up despite the morning downpour! And they were still so excited by the time we got to the zoo that they stuck around for pictures!)

Of course we had to take a celebratory photo with the mountain goats, since zoo cyclists climb up that hill like spry little goatsies. We didn’t do too well getting the real goats to show us more than their butts, unfortunately, but hey! We look cute! In that wet-Oregon-biker kind of way! ;)

I’m kind of sad that I’m going to miss the rest of the Commute Challenge, actually. But the last week has me (re)thinking about how awesome it is to be that little voice of encouragement that pushes people ever so slightly out of their comfort zones. Or the voice of excitement that gets people re-invigorated about something that’s become normal. Or just the person who provides the safe opportunity to try something new.

So go forth, everyone! Volunteer to bike with someone new to work! Pick them up at their house. Arrange to meet at a coffee shop and bike the rest of the way together. Tell them silly stories and distract them when the going gets tough. (Heck, if you can throw in some wildlife like the barred owl we saw on the way up on Thursday, it’s even better!:)

Sometimes all someone needs is a bike buddy. In the spirit of September bike commute month, be the biking buddy you’d like to have in the world:)


Oh–random bonus of today’s ride: after we took that picture with the mountain goats, we were already in the zoo with our bikes. Which meant that I got to fulfill my three-year fantasy of biking through the paths in the zoo to get down to my office. I biked past tigers!! Best thing EVER! :)