Category Archives: Commuting

Thoughts about commuting by bike

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! :)

Commuting by bike is the best thing ever

One of my absolute favorite things about commuting by bike is the ability to run into and actually talk to other people you know while you’re out-n-about.

Today, for example, as I was leaving work, a familiar face zoomed by. Nathan, a fellow I know from teaching Bike Club with the Community Cycling Center but who I haven’t seen forEVER, works in Hillsboro and apparently comes by the zoo on his way home. Recognizing me, he stopped, waited for me to put on my helmet and backpack, and we biked and chatted the few miles down to the river together. It was lovely to catch up, and as he went north and I south, I had a giant smile on my face, the kind you get when some random act of chance totally makes your day.

This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in a car. Sure, if someone were walking and you drove past them, I suppose you could give them a ride–but mostly what happens is that you see someone else also in a car, maybe you wave and smile, and then you both zoom off in your separate metal boxes.

After Nathan and I took our leave, I kept biking homeward and ran into yet another fellow I know, one of the masterminds behind Velodirt. “Donnie!” I yelled. He stopped; I pulled off the road to give him a hug and say hello. He was on his way somewhere and we didn’t chat for long, but it was another reminder of how nice it is to be nimble. I can easily stop my vehicle and pull it off the road should I see someone I know. Harder to do with a car, even if it is a small one.

Add to these example all the times I’ve run into someone and, if I’m not in a hurry (which I’m usually not:), can actually turn around and bike with them for a while–or any of the times when someone has asked me how to get somewhere and I can just escort them there instead of trying to break it down into directions that they probably won’t remember anyway. Or times when James and my commutes cross paths and we can sidewalk stop-n-smooch before we both head our separate ways.

I love that being on a bike makes me part of the world in this way, allows me to actually stop and interact with people instead of zooming past. Especially now, when the weather’s nice and tons of people are outside anyway, it makes for a world that seems wonderfully inviting and friend-studded, every minute a potential reminder and reinforcement of the community I’ve worked so hard to create around me.

Do any of you guys have this experience? Tell me bike stories:)