Drive My Bike

3 Challenges With 100% Bike Commuting
August 2, 2008, 10:49 am
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I’ve been reading lots of bicycling blogs lately. Yeah, pretty much every bicycling blog I can find… probably too much. I’ve been inspired as I read about people that have managed to live their lives 100% by bicycle. Some of them don’t even own cars anymore. The thought of no car payment, no car insurance, and no worry about gas prices is certainly a compelling idea. Right now I don’t think it’s realistic for me to not own a car, but I have been trying to move as close to 100% bike commuting as I can. In the last month I have come up against three challenges, so I thought I’d mention them here to see what ideas readers have.j0402711

1) Last Minute Trips (with close deadlines)

Several times last month I had to make short to medium length trips that would be great for a bike ride, but they came up at the last minute and I had to be there as soon as possible. I was going to be late, or almost late, if I drove my car, so I would have been quite a bit later had I ridden my bike. The problem is not just that the actual ride takes longer, but that it takes a bit longer for me to get ready to ride than to just grab my car keys and hit the road. One morning last week I was planning to work from home, but when I sat down at my laptop I realized that my DSL was down and I had no Internet access, which is essential for work. I needed to be online within 45 minutes for a team meeting. I knew I could drive to the office in 15 minutes, or I could try to hurry and get ready and ride my bike to the office.  I decided to ride my bike, and it all worked out ok, so I was glad I made that choice. I left almost an hour later than I normally do, and the heat of the day was already present, so I was quite a bit soggier than normal when I got to the office, which leads into…

2) Showing Up Hot & Sweaty at Social Engagements

Like most people who ride their bikes to work, I have a strategy to deal with my sweaty, stinky self once I get to the office. My commute is just over 5 miles, and takes a little under 20 minutes. If I leave early enough the air is still cool from the morning, and the temperature is reasonably pleasant, so I don’t perspire that badly. When I get to the office I usually take about 15-20 minutes to cool down, during which time I’ll get my work area setup, check my email, catch up with my co-workers, etc. Once I’ve cooled down then I will towel off with a moist towel, spray on some good smelling stuff, change my shirt, and deal with my “helmet hair”. No big deal.

But… what about riding to other social engagements? Last month I decided to get more serious about bike commuting, so twice I rode my bike to have dinner with a friend. The first place we went was just fast food, so I didn’t feel too bad showing up red faced and drenched in perspiration. The second place we met was a decent restaurant. It was in the early evening, and the ride was HOT (upper 90s) so I was thoroughly drenched when I got there. I was about 5 minutes early, and felt a bit self conscious as I walked in the door all hot and sweaty with my helmet, gloves, water bottle, and panniers. (I had to stop at the store on the way home, so I brought along my Novara grocery panniers, but brought them inside with me so they wouldn’t get stolen). I told the host that I was waiting for a friend, and he had a puzzled look on his face as he asked if I wanted to be seated right away. I told him that I’d just wait a few minutes, and I sat down in the waiting area, trying to cool down.  Once my friend arrived and we were seated I went to the restroom and splashed some water on my face and tried to towel off with paper towels as best i could. It worked out fine, and I don’t think I offended any of the other guests, but it was a bit awkward.

Another incident happened just last week when I got a late night phone call to go visit a friend who was in the hospital. The hospital is very close by, but that is not the kind of social call where I wanted to have to worry about my bike, my gear, and my sweaty self, so I drove my car.

3) Hauling Big Stuff Around

I play guitar in a band at my church, and we practice one night a week. I just go straight to practice after work, so on that day I am hauling my music stuff around with me. It can be anything from a backpack of music and an acoustic guitar, to several guitars and a bag of electronic equipment. Needless to say, it is not the kind of thing that is easily carried on a bicycle. Notice I use the words “easily carried”. I have seen some amazing pictures of the way some bicyclists use an XtraCycle or a trailer to haul things around. Someday that might be an option for me, but for now I don’t own that kind of hauling equipment, so I’m limited to what I can fit on my back and in my panniers. I have tried to be creative, and just leave my music stuff at church. That almost works, but it means I can’t practice at home, which isn’t an option. I have had my wife drop off my music stuff at the church if she is out running errands in the neighborhood, and that works out very well, but she can’t do that every week. So, for now, this is probably my biggest challenge to always riding my bike for my daily commutes. I am riding my bike for most things, but getting to 100% is still something I haven’t been able to accomplish yet.

One of the things I have admired about passionate bike commuters is the creativity they have shown to solve these kinds of challenges. Where there is a bike commuting will there certainly seems to be a bike commuting way.  So what about you? Do you have any creative solutions for me? Do you have any challenges that you would add to my list?


18 Comments so far
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Living in what has become a bicycle centric area (Portland, Oregon) people are accustom to seeing someone carrying a helmet and panniers, so I never feel awkward.

For me the main component in 100% bike commuting is time, but making the time available is sometimes tough to do. Having the time to ride to my destination allows me to arrive early enough to cool off, do a quick cleanup in the restroom and if needed, to change my clothes for the occasion. I just need to manage my time better and I could start by not reading, writing, or commenting bike blogs.

I would love to be 100% car free, but I am happy being 100% bicycle independent and use my car as needed.

Comment by Bob

Carrying weighty stuff is hard to do. Do you have to go directly from work to church? If so perhaps this is an ideal time to rationalize that purchase of a second guitar- one for church, one for home. Perhaps you could leave the amp at home and plug directly into the sound system at church via a direct box (a sound man’s dream) using only a pedal for effects. Or just go acoustic and mic the ‘stay at church guitar’ (it has a smooth feel once you get used to it).

Comment by bikingbristol

Good feedback guys… thanks for your comments!

Comment by Scott

I work at home, but I drop kids off at daycare. It’s about 4 miles round trip. we do have a trailer for them, but some days it is NOT an option. Once my son is in Kindergarten, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to tkae my daughter by bike to daycare. The bus comes by kind of late-ish (7:42) to be able to do that. we’ll see.

I have taken the kids trailer to the grocery store to do some shopping, it does keep me in check for those impulse buys.

I am in awe of those who commute 100% by bike, rain or shine. Keep up the good work!

Comment by Randomability

Maybe you could move down from the car to a motorized scooter (Vespa, etc.) for the “quick” trips.


Comment by Greg

If your area has Car Share or a Zip Car program you could use that for the rare occasion you need to transport something large or heavy. Still wouldn’t help on those last minute trips though.

Comment by gaytodecember

I like your french bread…quite a long loaf you’re carrying there. : )
If (When) I move to Paris, I’ll ride a bike and carry my pre-toasted bread on it with bungee cords like that as well.
Love you daddy.

Comment by daughter

It would awesome if we could go 100% car free, but in reality, for 90% of us this just isn’t possible. I think the fact you’re conscious about how much you use your car vs biking puts you ahead of alot of people who just complain about high gas prices and don’t do anything about their usage. I liked the idea of having a scooter for those “i’m in a hurry” situations. I have a bunch of friends that have one. They cost around $1000 for a decent 50cc one, which isnt that much when you think about how much a car is to insure, gas, and gas mileage on those 3-5 mile trips. Then biking all the other times where you have more time would work out. I actually just saw someone yesterday that was pulling a small trailer behind their bike. It was nice and compact, but it looked like it could hold quite a bit. I’m not sure of the pricing but i think it’d be one of those things that would pay themselves off if you used them enough.

Comment by hurleyfreestyler

I share you lament. When I ride I have to plan to get to work a half an hour earlier than normal. And since I use a combo of bike/train, I’m at the mercey of Denver’s still very new lite-rail system. So getting to work a half an hour early means leaving my house an hour and forty-five minutes earlier. This has affected my sleep patterns leaving me exhausted when I normally have tons of energy. Sadly I’ve to scale back from 4 to 2 days of biking to work. 😦

Comment by joelsopinion

Night commuting and in the rain would unpleasant in %100 commuting. I love it when its right but why commute to a wedding in the rain? I am a 20% commuter and love it. That way I commute because I want to not have to.

Comment by Brad Beaman

Congrats for trying to go 100% by bike! I’ve been car free for almost 3 years now. Making the transition is somewhat of a learning process, but give it a little more time, and you’ll find ways to get around any difficulties you’re having now. Good Luck!

Comment by jenniferyumyums

My family is also car-less. I agree that it’s kinda tough at the start, but once you get used to using cab, renting cars and giving yourself a bit more time to get stuff done, it’s a pretty easy lifestyle to live. Best of luck.

Comment by slandry04

Sometimes lifestyle adjustments need to be made which maybe more far reaching than the bike issues. The way you described one of your “last minute” trips sounded desperate and urgent. Sometimes we believe that we must live life at a certain pace and we get so caught up in stressing ourselves to meet that.

For heading to restaurants and such, you could plan a more relaxed pace for the ride. Not every ride needs to be a cardio workout. This is a tough piece of advice for me to follow, but it is very hot and humid here, so I must learn it.

For me the biggest challenge is torrential downpours and typhoons. On those days, I have to be encased in something that will keep me reasonably dry.

Oh, I forgot… second guitar or I’ve seen folks with guitar cases with backpack-like straps. How humble are you? This is not your average-guy fitting-in look. 😉

Comment by びっくり

Interesting thoughts. It seems to me that the biggest thing you’re running into here is the actual lifestyle change necessitated by your change in values. We have gotten so comfortable with our car lifestyle as Americans that we are used to last minute trips with large amounts of luggage.

I lived in Korea for one year where I didn’t have a car and it taught me the ability to plan my trips better. Since I was walking or taking the subway everywhere, I didn’t get the American “luxury” of doing it my way.

Keep trying. It sounds like you’re in for some great adventures if you continue!

Comment by Joseph Taylor

[…] I started thinking, “Why shouldn’t I ride my bike?”  I was thinking of Deb and Scott when I headed off.  Besides, we didn’t ride the bike this morning to bring the kids to […]

Pingback by another good ride « Accountablility

For carrying really heavy stuff, I use a Cycletote trailer. It’s great, and rated to 300 lbs. Last minute engagements? Hot and sweaty to social engagements? For those occasions, you might consider using your bike with transit, to cut down on pedaling and perspiration. Carry a damp towel, and make your first stop on arrival in the washroom. Or take your bike in a cab and pedal away after the appointment?

Comment by Paul Dorn

Wow, Paul, thanks for stopping by! Your Bike Commuting Tips site was the first site I found when I started thinking about bike commuting. It’s a great site and a wealth of info. Thanks for your ideas! I’m going to take a look at those trailers.

Comment by Scott

Hey, just came across your site. I’m not sure where you live, but in southern california, there are a lot of kids with racks on the sides of their bike to hold their surfboards. That would probably be perfect for a guitar case. here are some low budget plans:

Comment by tim

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