It is the annual Bike Commute Challenge here in Portland, Oregon, which reliably gets wobbly fresh commuters on the roads and gets me thinking about why a person might choose to start commuting by bike for the first time.
I’ve been a bike commuter for as long as I’ve been in town: my family sold our car two weeks after arriving. So for me, the bike ride– complete with a cargo bike preschool drop-off for my kids– is pretty routine.
Riding bikes has obvious large-scale advantages: Reducing our fossil fuel usage is good for the environment, and reducing traffic in our cities makes them more pleasant and more functional places to live. Gridlock is bad for everyone. Riding a bike every day also makes me a better consultant. Here are three reasons why.
1) It connects me to people
Being on a bike is vulnerable. In my experience, when I am driving, I tend to relate to other drivers as though they were their cars. “Gah, why did that blue Civic cut me off?” On a bike, it is easier to connect with other road users as people– lots of visibility means lots of smiles, waves, hand signals, gestures, and so on. I feel like riding a bike in traffic every day makes me a better communicator, and more aware of our shared humanity, every day.
2) It makes me flexible
Due to an office mix-up, my bike wound up locked in a closet to which I do not have a key last Friday evening. I was the last one out the door, and so was stuck with no bike to get home. Fortunately, getting around primarily by bike means I’m used to having a back-up plan– because bikes break, I get sick and injured, or whatever else might complicate my travel. Last Friday I took a bus, but could have also grabbed a Car2Go or, with a bit of extra time, walked. Not owning a car makes me more aware of my transportation options, and better able to switch from plan A to plan B.
3) It helps me wake up… and cool down
Working life with small children can result in a lot of groggy mornings: working or socializing late and then slapping at the too-early alarm. In those moments, especially when there is rain or heat or snow to contend with outside, getting on the bike is the last thing I want to do. But research and experience show that physical exertion before work makes you smarter faster, and I know my bike commute does that for me. Similarly, at the end of a long work day, having 20 minutes in the saddle helps get me ready to be “mom” again when I get home, without lugging all my work baggage with me into playtime.
Does your commute change the way you think about your job? Tell us about it!