Growing up in the 1980’s/1990’s in Southern California, it was frowned upon to ride your bike to work. People who did that were thought to be a little off or looked down on for not being able to afford a car (at least in the circles I grew up around). It just wasn’t (and probably still isn’t) the culture there. I then spent a summer in Holland in college and was blown away by the integration of bikes into their daily life. Bike commuting is everywhere and done by everyone- young, old, business types, granola types, rich and poor. I fell in love with the intricate and well-maintained bike paths throughout the country. They actually have villages where the main streets are bike lanes and cars stay on the periphery of the town. I still have it on my wishlist to take my wife and kids for a bike adventure to Holland where we can ride from Amsterdam to various villages and the North Sea coast for a week or two. It’s high hopes I have.
I am pretty blessed to live less than 5 miles from my workplace. As reported in another post, I didn’t even consider biking to work until the past 3 years or so. Looking back on that now, I must have been crazy. Crazy for a few reasons, which I will unpack below:
The Health Benefits
If I bike to work more than half the work days in a month (lets say 15 days per month), and we round up to 5 miles (it’s actually about 4.6, but for simplicity sake lets say 5 miles), that is about 150 miles per month that I can log on my quickly defined legs. If you consider the time factor, biking to work adds only about 10 to 15 minutes to my commute. That’s a good day’s commute with no traffic and easy parking if I am driving. If there is traffic, then the ratio is even better. It is easily worth a few extra minutes to get a full 50-minute workout in nearly the same amount of time it would take me simply to drive to and from work. It helps keep my weight in check and I have some base for half marathon training I hope to do this fall. As a bonus, when I am able to get out on my mountain bike and hit the local trails, I can shred up the hills with the best of them because I’m already in decent riding shape. Win-win-win.
The Mental Health Benefits
Lucky for me, I have one of the best bike commutes I can imagine. It is almost all nearly neighborhood streets for the first 1.5 miles (nothing special neighborhoods, but safe to bike through). The next 3 miles is a mix between greenbelt along a gorgeously wooded river and a historical neighborhood. It’s been a great way to get my blood flowing and brain cells working prior to even getting into the office for my morning coffee (my second-morning coffee, but I digress). During my ride in, I usually have time just to think or pray over some concerns I didn’t get to or was too tired to get to with my morning readings, or just enjoy a sunrise and the sight of nature waking up along the river. I have seen wonderful nature scenes such as huge cranes flying overhead, families of baby ducks learning to swim, and a herd of deer eating the local foliage. I honestly can’t think of a better way to get to work (well, unless I lived by an ocean, that might be nicer…maybe).
The ride home is just as good, if not better for my mental health. I can unplug from the office. There isn’t a radio blaring, there are no screens to look at. I get to see the same gorgeous river lazily flow in the late afternoon. It also allows me time to burn off the stress of the day and mentally prepare myself for whatever might be waiting for me at home (you never know with a 3 and 5-year-old). Overall, I just feel better when I can do this regularly.
The Financial Benefits
Although I have a short commute, and my MPG on my 17-year-old car is adequate at about 21 city MPG- I am still saving a considerable amount of money by burning my calories instead of gas. I guestimate saving about 50-100 bucks per month on gas money. Yup, anywhere from 600 to 1,000 bucks a year. I love that. For more on the financial benefit, Mr. Money Mustache has a fun article on this.
Given I live in a more NorthWestern climate, winters can be a bit cold. It’s not impossible to ride, but much more difficult, especially in February. I need to invest in better cold weather gear and see how long I can hold out this coming fall/winter.