We Try It: Biking to Work

Five years ago, I got a bicycle for Christmas. I had just moved to Arlington, VA, and told myself that I was going to become one of those People Who Bike Everywhere. There were bike trails literally all over the place! It was going to be a huge lifestyle change!

Except, no. Literally the first trip out, I missed the sign for the entrance to the bike trail. (I was coming from Virginia! The signs were very clear if you were coming from DC!) I wound up going down what definitely looked like a bike trail initally, but quickly became a steeply declining, ever-narrowing strip of blacktop, with a decent drop-off on either side. I fell, and I fell hard.

Of course I did.

A few months later, I found the right bike path, and took it occasionally – but not frequently enough to not feel guilty about this nice bike I wasn’t really using. I moved back to DC proper, and the bike moved with me, but I didn’t use it. Volunteering for a theater festival, I somehow got myself to bike to and from the festival headquarters and the theater I was volunteering at, but that was on sidestreets and on the weekend. Still, once I’d done that, I started biking a few places semi-regularly – to my gym, to a nearby concert venue – places that didn’t involve using major streets, were bike lane accessible, and light on traffic.

Oh, I should mention – I don’t drive. I don’t know how. (This might sound odd to many of you, but I grew up in New York, and the few times I tried to learn were complete failures.) Traffic scares me. If I’m waiting for the bus on a busy road, I stay far away from the curb, because cars moving fast fundamentally scare me.

But still. I have lots of friends who bike to work, through heavy traffic, and they seem to be okay. My route would be a lot less less traffic-intense than many of their routes. And it was barely two miles!

So one sunny day last week, I somehow was ready to leave for work earlier than usual. It was gorgeous outside. I’d just ridden my bike the week before, to a concert, so I knew I had air in the tires and my bike was easily accessible. Something in my mind went, “Fuck it, I’m going to bike to work!”

And I did. And it was great, mostly. I hyper-vigilantly looked at parked cars, worried about getting doored, which has happened to a few people I know. And then there were the two blocks where I was followed by a garbage truck, which I found stressful. There were a few blocks without bike lanes, and I walked my bike for a bit, rather than wrangle with DC rush hour traffic south of K St, but other than that, the ride itself, while stressful. was, in total, pretty good.

The big difference was when I got to work. Normally, I drag myself out of the house, force myself onto the metro, and spend the first hour or so trying to wake the hell up and ease into the day. (I don’t drink caffeine, for headache-related reasons, so the sweet nectar of coffee is not for me.)

When I get to work after biking in, though? I am AWAKE. I got more done that first morning than I usually get done in an entire day.

During the day, I consulted a friend who bikes all over the place, all the time, and she suggested an alternate route home – one that was entirely comprised of bike lanes! (And that took me through Lafayette Park, by the White House – always a nice reminder that I do, in fact, live in this city.) This route was even less trafficky, but was really crowded with other bikers. I got passed a bunch of times. But you know what? Who cares. I was going home, I wasn’t in any particular rush! (And also, heading home was literally an uphill battle.)

I commuted by bike two more times that week, and each time was easier, though my calves seem a little upset with me. My calves will get over it, though, because the rewards are immeasurable – it’s a reason to get out of bed and get moving in the morning that doesn’t involve, you know, actually being at work. It’s something to look forward to at the end of the day, and hell, it’s a motivation to get to bed earlier, so I get enough sleep that I trust myself to be alert enough to bike.

So biking to work is kind of my new favorite thing, which is to say I’ve done it three times. But I’d like this to become a constant thing on fair weather days, and I think it will be. If biking to work is a possibility for you, I strongly recommend it!

Stray Observations:

  • If you’re going to bike, be a good cyclist. Obey traffic laws, don’t be an asshole. If this means letting other cyclists pass you so they can run red lights, that’s fine.
  • If you’re biking anywhere, but especially in urban areas, please please PLEASE get a good helmet. They make some cute ones now!
  •  Check out the biking regulations where you live. Is biking on the sidewalk illegal? (In DC, it’s only illegal south of Mass Ave, but is still considered rude most places.) If you’re biking at night, you may be required to have lights on your bike. Get’em! There might be other requirements I don’t even know about.
  • Google maps has a bicycle function that shows you where bike lanes are, if where you live has bike lanes. You can even get super sneaky and zoom in with Google Satellite to see where exactly on the road the bike lane is! (DC bike lanes, for the most part, are between the parked cars and traffic, though there are some smack in the middle of the road, with traffic on either side in opposite directions. There are a few lovely roads where the lane is between the curb and angled parked cars, significantly cutting down on the potential for dooring.)

I’m sure I’m not the only one here who is fond of bicycling, and most of you are probably more experienced than I am. So what am I forgetting, and what would you want to tell your fellow cyclists?

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18 Comments We Try It: Biking to Work

  1. Avatar of BirdyBirdy

    I used to bike to school all the time– a solid 7 miles, with pretty much the last third steadily uphill. But I loved it, because I could take the bike path by the river, where there were no cars to freak about, most of the way– and when I finally did have to get on the real road, it was usually pretty empty. And then the ride home was a breeze! Downhill for a mile and a half! Wheeeeeee!!

  2. Avatar of olympiadeluxeolympiadeluxe

    Congrats to you! I also just started biking to work a few weeks ago, and it’s been a bit challenging but mostly rewarding. I live almost 10 miles from work, but there’s a decent bike path along a river for at least 7 miles of it. Not too hilly and no traffic, aside from other cyclists and pedestrians/runners. Still, I’m in no physical shape to bike almost 20 miles a day, so I’ve managed to do it about two or three days a week. I’m kind of obsessed with it, though. I want to bike everywhere now.

  3. Avatar of sarahmcnamarasarahmcnamara

    I love biking to work! The only time I don’t is when it’s raining (my brakes don’t work in the rain) or there’s snow on the road (brakes don’t work and tires have zero traction). In Philadelphia it really is so much easier and faster than public transportation, and saves me about $60 a month!

  4. Avatar of wannabemusicologistwannabemusicologist

    Great article! I love biking and use it as my primary form of transportation. I just wanted to add, because I don’t think it is mentioned, but get a bell or some sort of noisemaker for your handle bars. I live in a big Canadian city and they are actually law here. Bells are great for when you are passing parked cars and one of them is running with breaklights on or has someone inside about to get out. I ring my bell as I am just parallel to the rear of the vehicle, so then they know I’m there and won’t open the door on me. Also, if a car is careening towards you in an unsafe manner or not yielding appropriately your bell can make your presence known.

    1. Avatar of olympiadeluxeolympiadeluxe

      Seconded. I just started riding my bike to work in Boston/Cambridge, where cycling is kind of starting to become popular. The exercise of choice here seems to be running. There’s a great bike path along the Charles River, but in the best weather, it’s covered up with pedestrians and joggers. Which is fine, but a bell is essential for letting them know you’re there, especially since so many people listen to headphones while jogging. And text while walking.

  5. Avatar of LizBRLizBR

    This sounds really great, and I would love to do this, especially because I only live about three miles from work. The trouble is that I’m afraid of biking on these busy country highways without shoulders or bike lanes. I really need to decide if I’m up for the challenge or not.

  6. Avatar of [M] freckle[M] freckle

    Okay okay as soon as the weather turns better, I’ll start bicycling to work again. It’s a thirty minute ride for me so I don’t want to be bothered by wind and/or rain. Arriving drenched in sweat/weather is not cool. But what you say is true, you start your day more energized and awake and you can immediately tick of the box of Excercise today.

  7. Avatar of AJAJ

    I bike to work everyday, and I love it. I am healthier, happier and richer because of it!

    My suggestions:

    1. Yes, you can bike in the rain. Just dress for it, wear a beanie type toque under your helmet and good gloves!

    2. Keep clothes at work. I have a bra, some shirts and a couple of pairs of pants at work and I change there.

    3. Babypower is the shit. It wipes up any sweat (or rain) from your morning ride, and makes you smell nice.

    4. Get to know your bike, so that you can clean the chain, change the brakes and fix a flat. It’s super easy.

    5. Panniers – 100% times better than a backpack. Love them.

    6. Lights and reflective stuff is your friend. Some drivers watch for cyclists, and some don’t, so I try an make it easy. Some drivers are assholes, but most are between good and okay. It’s important to remember that.

    1. Avatar of [M] QoB[M] QoB

      Number 6! I don’t drive regularly but when I do it scares me how easy it is to miss someone on a bike wearing a dark jacket, no helmet, no lights, no reflective gear…

      (ok I do have to get some of those for when I bike. But the public bikes in my city at least have lights).

  8. Avatar of CorinaDee

    This is something I so desperately want to do and I live in a great city for it! You know, minus the absolutely bonkers driver types who are liable to murder you in between their mouthful of french expletives. But seriously, the only thing holding me back from biking all over the place here is that I’m afraid to buy a bicycle. Bikes are routinely stolen or demolished for their parts in Montréal and my poor, poor budget couldn’t handle that kind of loss. I’m in the beginning stages of trying to convince my boyfriend to let me get a Bixi subscription (it’s like a rent-a-bike program that has stations all across the city where you park a bike and pick up a new one as needed), but I missed the early bird subscription rate.

  9. Avatar of [E] Sally Lawton[E] Sally Lawton

    I would LOVE to bike to work, but I live in the Detroit area, and my job is a good 15 miles or so away from my house, and public transportation would take waaaaaay too long. I do try to walk/bike places during the weekend, though. My dream is to someday never need a car, but that takes living in a city that is bike-friendly both in terms of distance and things like bike lanes.

    1. Avatar of DormouseDormouse

      I’m with you–I would love to be able to do this, but where I work and where I live aren’t super close. It takes 30 minutes by car–fortunately, I can carpool with my husband–and if I were to take public transportation, it would be an hour or more. :(

  10. Avatar of twiddletwiddle

    Yay for biking to work! I lived in a somewhat large town/small city for three years where I definitely biked everywhere. I even got panniers (saddlebags, but you know, not really having a saddle…) so I could do small trips to the grocery or other errands. It helped that the town was really all of three miles across at it’s worst. Best few years ever. Now I live in a more rural place where I’m seven miles from my work. And I’ve done longer bike rides and trips with friends before, but in my small town I could get to work and still not be sweaty. Luckily for me, my boss is a big cyclist, lives even farther away from work than I do, and still bikes in most days.

    Key tip: I have some awesome travel wipes (that I would otherwise normally take camping) and keep them in a desk drawer, plus I usually bring a change of clothes on hot days so I can do a full clean-up and change before disgusting everyone else in the lab with my sweaty stinkiness.

    But yes- so awake in the morning! And then getting home I don’t feel like I’ve just been sitting at my computer all day. I was biking!

  11. Avatar of CesyCesy

    Where I live, they are just putting in dedicated bike lanes, well off the road between the main city and the “village”, a small town/suburb that’s about 5 kms away through a semi-rural area. It will be good when it’s finished as Mr. Cesy will be using it when he has 1pm starts and I have outreach clinic (that is of course if he gets his tires fixed first….)

    I absolutely have to advocate helmets. It’s illegal here to ride without one on the road and I just want to scream at people who don’t. When I was 10 I biked head first into a tree and was unconscious for 10 minutes. My helmet was smashed to bits, but apart from a bloody good concussion, I was ok.  Around the same time a girl I know fell off her bike down a steep hill and scraped most of her face off. Had she not been wearing a helmet, it would have been worse. I believe the story was that the mother of the friend she was with said she didn’t need one, but she insisted. She would have been 9.

    We actually have Police officers who go out to schools and skills test kids to make sure they are safe on the road before they ride their bikes on it. That is pretty cool. I think I failed that test but at that stage it was ok, I didn’t bike on the road, just up and down our very big lawn.

  12. Avatar of SilverwaneSilverwane

    I would totally do this if the place I’m at right now had any real way to make sure you don’t bike in the middle of traffic! The bike lanes here SUCK. If they’re even there.

    Hell, there’s plenty of areas that don’t even have fucking sidewalks.

    All of a sudden writing this post just made me incredibly angry and sad.

    1. Avatar of twiddletwiddle

      I have actually never lived in a place that had bike lanes, but I still bike all over the place. It helps to stick to less busy roads, be really brightly colored, and know the bike laws (it comes in handy those rare times when a driver yells at me when I’m perfectly within my rights as a vehicle).

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