I ride my bike to work ... by choice. Yeah, that's right. On a daily basis, I mount my trusty steed bright and early and take off for my eight-mile commute. By the time I arrive downtown, I've already gotten in a decent workout and all I did was commute to work. Many of you may think it's nutty (sometimes I think I'm a little nutty) to traverse this town by bike, but I love it. And, by the way, I'm not alone. On a near daily basis, I see other folks just like me, riding their bikes for transportation.
I began biking to work quite by accident. When I moved to St. Louis in 1992, I was driving the only car I had ever owned, a 1962 Ford Falcon Futura sport coupe. It was a cool car that had taken me on a number of trips to college and St. Louis. Soon after moving here, my beloved Falcon decided that it had had enough. It was as if my car sensed my recent bike purchase (my first since junior high) and felt confident that this new two-wheeled vehicle could deliver me to work each day. Fortunately, during these early days, my commute was quite simple: Dogtown to U City. Another bit of good fortune was that Maddie (my then girlfriend, now wife) lived one block from my office, so I had a convenient place to shower and change clothes.
Eventually, I moved to U City, and took a job downtown. Figuring this would be a good bike commuting challenge, I mapped a route and rode the seven-plus miles to my downtown office. Although I did not ride daily, I would squeeze in a ride whenever I could. As a matter of fact, my first winter ride came on the day of the pope's visit to St. Louis in January 1999. On that day, the TV news was predicting 10-mile traffic jams as pilgrims flocked to the city for a glimpse of the pontiff. Most of my colleagues took a day of vacation to avoid the madness, but I decided to beat the traffic by biking in. All layered up in way too many clothes, I found the roads nearly empty. What a lovely ride I had that day!
Fast forward a few years to 2002. Biking had become a more integral part of my life as I had begun riding more for pleasure and had participated in some distance cycling events. I knew I wanted to bike commute more regularly, but some days the second car made it too tempting to drive. When an opportunity arose to get rid of our second car, Maddie and I seized it and decided to live with one car and a couple of bikes. I decided this would be the year that I started bike commuting on a daily basis, rain or shine, heat or cold, which was one of the best decisions that I've made.
Why make a conscious decision to forego the comforts of an automobile to ride a bike in all types of weather? Well, the reasons are numerous. The most obvious benefit is the daily exercise that biking to work provides. Why drive to the gym to work out then drive to work, when you can just bike to work and get an equal (if not better) workout. Two birds, one stone. (Note: no actual birds killed in the creation of this article).
Another reason for biking to work is that biking is an incredibly efficient endeavor. My vehicle is powered by me, so as long as I eat my motor works. Whereas drivers of today's super-sized "canyoneros" feel a significant pinch when gas prices increase, the impact on the cost of my commute is minimal at best. The decision to go by bike also pulls one car off the roadways and replaces it with a bike. The more cyclists there are on the road, the more drivers become aware of our existence and, hopefully, our legal right to the roads. Biking as a political statement how great is that?
Biking to work has also provided me with a number of experiences that I would not likely have had speeding up the highway at 65 mph. Every morning (except in winter), I get to see the morning sun over the Mississippi River from Bellerieve Park on south Broadway, and during a few weeks each spring and fall, my timing is such that I am able to catch a beautiful sunrise. Were I still driving to work, I would not have had the opportunity to meet some of the interesting people I've met along the way. I find that bike commuters are a friendly lot. Moving at a comfortable pace and without the hermetically sealed exoskeleton of an automobile, casual conversations can be carried on between folks who, until that moment, might have been perfect strangers. As I tend to take the same routes in to and home from work each day, I typically run into a lot of the same cyclists. These random encounters provide a unique opportunity to meet new folks and build community.
My hope is that people seeing me on my bike will engage with me in a conversation about the benefits of bike travel. Ultimately, my goal is to inspire someone else to use his or her bike for transportation. You don't have to have a super-high-dollar, hand-made, Italian-carbon racing bike to do this. All you need is a bike that is in decent working order and the desire to power yourself to work.
If you think that you may be interested in bike commuting, there are plenty of resources available to get you started. I highly recommend checking out the website for the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. Their page on bike commuting provides some very good information. Trailnet offers a "Bikers Wanted" program to promote bike commuting as well. Their webpage provides quite a few tips and tricks to assist those who are considering integrating their bikes into their normal transportation routine. For help with routes, you can email one of Trailnet's Bike Mentors who have first-hand experience with local roads and traffic patterns.
So, if you've never ridden your bike in to work, give it a try. It's great fun, great exercise, great for the environment and great for our community.