The Power of Commuting by Bike

“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.” -Udo E. Simonis

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Cycling to work everyday is the best part of my day. It’s thirty minutes where I can’t be doing anything else; where I’m in my own head with the wind in my hair. It’s more than just a cheap way to get to work, it’s a way of life which connects you with amazing people who are interested in the outdoors, responsible living, and an active lifestyle. I commute by bike because I enjoy it. It’s refreshing to begin and end your day on the bicycle, alone on a river path, or zig-zagging through stopped cars. I commute by bike because it does not pollute the air. Because it does not clog up the streets. Because it does not harm our planet. I commute by bike because those thirty minutes twice a day act as an antidepressant. Or cheap therapy. Or just simply time to reflect on your day, year, or whole life. I bike to work everyday because it’s an inexpensive and effective form of transportation and because it encourages a healthier lifestyle. I cycle to work every single day because no matter what the weather looks like, there is no other way I would rather arrive.

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I stand out in Astoria, OR where we are currently living as very few people cycle to work, even though the majority live close enough to comfortably do so. Many people hold back a chuckle or offer some carpooling option when they see me arrive because they see cycling as a poor-person’s desperate way to get to work, instead of as a deliberately chosen lifestyle. It’s been frustrating to see how far from the norm it is here, and disheartening for where I had hoped the direction of our country would slowly be heading. All of which is why my trip to Portland earlier this week was a much needed positive eye opener.

In Portland, commuting by bike is truly the norm. I was astounded by the cycling infrastructure – thousands of kilometers of bike lanes, bike stop lights, and full on bike paths – but more importantly, I was impressed with the number of people actually using all of these resources as they cycled around the city. I passed, or more accurately was passed by, thousands upon thousands of commuting cyclists, racing along with a pannier or two carrying whatever they needed for the day. It was faster for me to cycle the ten kilometers across town to my friends house than it would have been to drive, and more than just being faster, cheaper, and less harmful to the environment, it was actually incredibly enjoyable. (And this is coming from a gal who typically only enjoys quiet backcountry roads without a car for hours.) Lance Armstrong once said; “Portland, Oregon won’t build a mile of road without a mile of bike path. You can commute there, even with that weather, all the time.” And boy have they ever done a wonderful job turning an otherwise normal city into a two-wheeled commuters paradise.

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Logistically cycling to work or even to the store doesn’t have to be all that difficult, even in a rainy city like Astoria. I always have one of my touring Ortlieb panniers on the bike – which holds my lunch and my purse – that comes in with me when I get to work, while my homemade bucket pannier – which holds my rain gear when I’m not wearing it – always stays on the bike no matter where I am so that a) I always have my rain gear handy, and b) I always have a place to store groceries for unplanned shopping trips. I’ve found that between the half empty Ortlieb and the five gallon bucket pannier, I can easily carry home groceries for multiple days.

I recently bought a twenty dollar set (coat and jacket) of rain gear that is completely waterproof and also breathable. Though the rain gear looks almost disposable – it’s composed of a material comparable to a reusable shopping bag – and doesn’t have pockets or anything fancy to tighten the the hood, it really does keep me 100% dry which is something I’ve never been able to say about my much more expensive rain gear of the past. I’m able to arrive totally dry to work after I strip off my wet outer layers, and put on the small slip on shoes I keep in my panniers to wear at work instead of my clunky twenty dollar rain boots.

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I began cycling to school when I was in sixth grade and though I never could have imagined it at the time, I think this important dose of independence early on has shaped my life in many ways. Though I was never crazy about the actual cycling part of commuting, I so enjoyed the freedom and independence it allowed. I loved showing up where I wanted, when I wanted, because I wasn’t waiting for someone else to drive me around as was the case with all of my friends. And then, when all of my friends started getting their driving licenses, I saved my money (which allowed me to travel) and just kept cycling along. Though my mom could have driven me (she drove my brother every day) I, even at that age, decided that I would rather bike instead and I am now proud of my younger self for consciously making that decision and then adamantly sticking to it. Though I had never heard of cycle touring at the time, and never would have believed that I would someday spend years doing it, I think the bicycle lifestyle was already gently taking hold.

Nowadays, I cycle everyday because we only have one car; a car which is twenty years old with over 230,000 miles but still needs to last us for a while longer since we don’t want to waste our money on a newer one (since we do enjoy having a running vehicle for ski/kayak/camping trips). I cycle everyday because, if I’m really going to be honest with you, the car we have is a stick and I’ve never learned how to drive a stick (I’ve hardly even learned how to even drive an automatic) so driving isn’t even an option at this point. But if I’m going to be really really honest with you, I’m glad I don’t have a car at my dispose to tempt me on those wet windy days, because then I’m forced to hop on my bike instead. And every time I do, every single day when I pedal away from our apartment, I remember just how much I love riding that bicycle, even if it’s just to work.

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*Check back in again next week for the continuation in our “Favorite Routes” series!*

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

21 thoughts on “The Power of Commuting by Bike

  1. You hit the nail on the head for me with:

    “I commute by bike because those thirty minutes twice a day act as an antidepressant. Or cheap therapy. Or just simply time to reflect on your day, year, or whole life.”

    That is so much the truth. People don’t realize how getting out of the synthetic climate of their cars and out into the world – even the world of their work commute can charge up the happy chemicals in their brains. All five senses are engaged out on the bike and every ride to work is its own small adventure.

    I’m so glad that after so much international riding, you are finding the simple joys of biking local and encouraging bike commuting.

    Why do people complain about traffic when the solution is just to ride to work. Or drive halfway and bike the other half.

    Quick question: Is that the Surly Nice Front Rack on your bike? Do you like it? Been thinking that I need a front rack that can hold a top load as well as panniers.

    Good luck out there,

    Steve

  2. Can you tell me where you got that awesome rain gear? I need to get some! I’m really heartened after moving to Seattle – my boyfriend is able to commute all the way to his work on a dedicated pedestrian/bake path, which is awesome and is always full of other commuters and people just enjoying the outside. The bike infrastructure around the city is really quite decent and though there could (and will before), it’s orders of magnitude better than when I was living in Nashville. Keep pedaling and being a positive example in Astoria!

    I just spent the weekend cycling around the Methow Valley. If you haven’t already been up there I would highly recommend it! It’s known for cross country skiing in the winter, which I am excited to learn. 🙂

  3. A great post. Thanks for writing on this subject. I’ve been bike commuting for the past two years, and it’s one of the best ever lifestyle decisions I’ve made. It took a long time to plot out a safe route, as Australian cities are not at all bike-friendly (we are a car obsessed culture unfortunately). But once I worked out the way to go, there was no looking back. I’ve saved heaps of money, am much fitter and perhaps most importantly, much happier. You’re right – it truly is cheap therapy. I hope your post inspires more people to replace their car journeys with bike journeys.
    Cheers
    Michael

  4. I commute by bike to work most days and although I live only about 4km from work, I use cycling for my summer (spring and fall) fitness so my normal route in to work is about 20km (but when training, I will do up to 55km, ~2hrs) and going home will either be a 22km route or a short 7km route. I too suffer from mild depression and cycling really helps, both because it is exercise in fresh air, in the sunshine, as well as getting my mind off of work for the 20–120 minutes (depending on the route) on the bike.

    I’ll ride in the rain as long as it is not too cold (6C and pouring is horrible, I don’t have good wet gear yet to handle those conditions). I might try riding during the winter but my winter bike with home-made studded tires is still sitting in the garage waiting for me to fix it.

    My home city is not the greatest for bike commuting but the Sudbury Cycling Union Facebook group is trying to encourage the city to improve the conditions for cycling and make it easier for less confident cyclists to find comfortable routes to cycle for commuting or recreation.

  5. I’m with you there, it’s the best part of my day. That is unless I am biking to choir the THAT is the best part, made all the better because I bike there!

  6. Thanks for the post, it was a nice read, and also interesting since many things seem very different compared to Finland where I came from. I also commute by bike. My university is just a couple of kilometers away, so it’s the simplest way to go there and much faster than taking the bus. The hardest part though is that this town is quite hilly! One can hardly find any flat ground, it’s always up or downhill, but that doesn’t stop me. Only in the winter I don’t want to cycle in the snow and ice. Just recently I bought proper rain gear and oh my how much more comfortable it is now that I don’t have to get soaked all the time! 😀

    Here in Finland commuting by bike is completely normal, and I’ve also always commuted by bike, since second grade or something. On the first grade the school didn’t allow us to do it, and I didn’t like walking to school as much as cycling, so that wasn’t nice, but I understand they don’t want to take the responsibility if something happens for the kid on the way. This is not exactly a cyclist’s heaven, but we have quite good bike infrastructure and more people are really recognizing that cycling to work is a positive thing in so many ways, and not only an activity for minors, grandmas and athletes! Sometimes I would also want to have a car for going to nature, but so far public transport has worked nicely enough, and we don’t really need one. Keep on pedaling! 🙂

    • So glad you wrote in. I admire Europe’s cycling infrastructure and so wish we lives there instead where cycling is.normal. I wish more Americans would visit Europe and see a place it is normal, and then being that knowledge home to the car crazy culture of the USA. Keep on pleading as I’m sure you will 🙂 Rain gear definitely helps!

  7. I’ve been enjoying your blog after finding it a few days ago. I love how you make touring look so easy to start. As to commuting, I do it at least once a week most of the time. Sometimes I get lazy. I suspect in one sense it would be a lot easier if I were to do it every day. Switching pumps between bikes, making sure I have the right spare tube, carrying extra clothes, switching stuff from bag to pannier, so forth… it can get frustrating. But it’s true — I’m always rewarded when I do it. One year I rode through a New England winter, including down to 8 degrees F. That was a little crazy — but rewarding.

  8. I too have discovered the joys of commuting by bike. I live about 13 miles from work if I go the quick way, but there are so many great back roads where I live that I can increase that distance and go the long way if I have time. My husband and I are currently sharing a vehicle and while we work next door to each other, we often work different hours, so bike commuting is often a necessity. Which, as you said, is a good thing because it forces us to do it even when it’s raining or cold! I arrive at work much happier when I ride my bike, and I have so much more fun getting there! 🙂 Keep doing what you do, you’re awesome!

  9. Hi,

    I just read through your blog from Ushuaia to this post and really enjoyed it. My wife and I are heading off for a 5 month sabbatical and will be following your route for most of it! Thanks for the great blog.

    James

  10. Shirine, just checked to see where your @, home in Oregon I see, good for you, Keep posting, I’m not very good w/computers , but I’m still riding a bike everyday. They say a generation gap is 20 years, I’ll be 52 in February, soo you keep them kids in line up north there, and I’ll do what I can with these middle of the road’ers down here in. It’s a long rode and a little wheel and it takes many turns to get there. See You again some day friend. Andy Patterson Shell Beach, CA. via Carbondale, CO. via New York .

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