Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Drive or Bike to Work? - Guide to Making an Informed Decision

Here is a list of questions to consider when deciding between commuting by bike, car, or bus.  Obviously this blog and its author have a strong bias towards trails and biking, but I tried to make these as objective and fair as possible.  Let me know if I missed anything!

1.  How far do you live from work? Is the distance by bike different than by car?

Most beginner bike commuters probably aren't interested in biking more than 5-10 miles each way.  Distances of less than 5 miles are often faster door-to-door by bike, especially in urban or high traffic areas.
If you live farther than that from the office, you might want to conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis looking at how much money (and time) you pour into transportation vs. how much you benefit in terms of housing cost, quality of life, etc.  Thanks to the RiverTrail in Little Rock and the expanding Razorback Greenway in NW Arkansas, there are many examples of bike commutes being shorter in terms of distance and/or time.

2.  Do you go jogging or hit the treadmill at the gym after work?

Converting your 20 minute drive to a 20-40 minute bike ride can actually increase your free time if you count it as your cardio for the day and get to skip a trip the gym.  My bike commutes have averaged about 10 miles round-trip, which at my pace means I get 40-45 minutes of exercise a day just getting to and from work/school.

3.  How much do you spend on gas or  bus fare

Even with short commutes, for many people this is $80-$200 a month.  Depending on your situation that may mean nothing or it might be a big deal.  If (big if) money was your main reason for living out in the country 30 miles from the office, then this additional cost should be factored in to your rent/mortgage comparisons.

4.  How much do you enjoy driving in rush hour traffic?  How much do you enjoy biking?

This is a little fuzzier than the dollars and hours discussed above, but for many it is of equal importance.  If driving in traffic drives you crazy (like it does me) then you may get quite a benefit from leaving your car behind.  However, if you happen to hate biking and love listening to the radio while sipping a coffee in a climate conditioned environment then the opposite is probably true.

5.  Do you have access to a shower or other ways to freshen up at the office?  

If your office doesn't have a shower and you are expected to be clean and dressed in a wrinkle-free suit then biking to work might not be a great idea.  I have worked at some places that have showers and I've also just tried to take it easy on the bike and let my co-workers deal with any odor-related consequences, but I've never had a shirt-and-tie job.  I sometimes drive to work one day a week and drop off clothes.  Bike bags are getting pretty snazzy these days and many people either bike in nice clothes or pack them.  You can go a long ways towards neutralizing any bike-related odors by reapplying deodorant and wiping down with a moist towel.

6.  How safe is the route you'd take by bike?

If most of your route is a bike/pedestrian trail physically separated from roads carrying car traffic then it is pretty safe.  Biking on roads with low speed limits is also fairly safe, but you don't want to spend much if any time on busy roads with cars zooming by at 45 mph.

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