Bicycle Commuting: Guest post

Blogging has opened up my world to some amazing people and  helped me to feel I wasn’t alone in my quest to live a simpler life.  Today, Bethany, a true minimalist, whom I also call a good friend, is here to share her experiences in bike travel.   Making the move from a small town to one of the larger cities in the U.S. calls for a few extra safety measures, which I’m happy to say Bethany is aware of and plans for.

I gave up my car just over a year ago, and while that’s not possible for everyone, Bethany has found that the family car doesn’t have to be used every day, even to get to work.   I hope you enjoy this look into Bethany’s commute and will visit her blog at My Journey to Ithaca.   While you are there you can read my guest post today on the Empty Nest Syndrome.

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52 days ago, I moved from a small, rural town in Michigan, to Houston.

City life brought with it a number of adjustments. Rather than leaving my house unlocked, I carry around numerous keys to places within my apartment complex. I no longer have to do yard work, but I do visit the pool almost every night.

The biggest adjustment, however, has been my daily commute.

Houston is a very drivable city, but there is still a great deal of traffic, especially during rush hour. My commute is 12 miles, but it takes me up to an hour to get to work. I know that I can easily maintain 12 miles per hour on my bicycle, and my time would be spent riding and enjoying the scenery, rather than sitting in traffic.

And so it began. It’s been a challenge–Houston is notoriously bad for cyclists, but that has only made me more determined to conquer it. Through trial and error, I have found roads with large shoulders, safe sidewalks, and beautiful subdivisions to pass through as a part of my morning commute.

As I’ve made this change, in my lifestyle, I’ve noticed a number of benefits. They include:

  • Less stress. I do not start my mornings by waiting in traffic. I’ve found that my mood has been significantly better, as I arrive at work.
  • More energy. Being active has given me more energy and mental focus throughout the day.
  • Better sleep. I have found that I need slightly more sleep at night, than I did before, but I am sleeping much better.
  • Better problem-solving ability. I feel like my brain is getting enough blood and oxygen! Not only has my ability to focus been better, but I am also more able to solve problems during the day.
  • Improved mood. Exercise does a lot to combat the blues!
  • Less mental clutter. I am a pathelogical overthinker, and I often get lost in my thoughts when I am driving my car. Bicycle riding, however, requires my full attention. I notice little things along the way, and really improve my ability to take note of the world around me.

Safety is a big concern, when bicycle commuting, but with a little planning and preparation, it need not be a dangerous undertaking. When riding a bike, you are aware of the risks, and know to watch out for them, while driving a car creates a false sense of security. Car accidents are a major cause of death and injury, and people tend to treat their driver’s seat like their living room recliner.

Here are some suggestions, for commuting to work by bicycle:

  • Get the safety gear. Don’t mess around. I have lights, a mirror, a helmet with blinking lights on the back, and I wear light colored clothing.
  • Dress for the weather. It’s 80 degrees in the morning here, and in the 90’s in the afternoon. So I definitely do not wear my work clothes when I am riding! I bring my work clothes, shoes, and a brush along with me, and change when I get there.
  • Bring water. If you’re in a hot place, bring three times as much water as you think you’re going to need. I keep a lidded cup in a holder that attaches to my handle bars, and take a drink at every red traffic light. If I hit a bunch of green ones, I stop and take a drink after I’m through the intersection. On my ride home, when it is hotter, I stop halfway through and drink a lot of water.
  • Eat carbs. Don’t try to run on empty. I cover bananas in yogurt, then flaxseeds, then almond butter, then walnuts, and freeze them. I eat one the night before, and one for breakfast in the morning. I carry a Larabar with me, to eat when I get there, and I eat something with carbohydrates before I leave (usually my lunch, since I have no longer been hungry at lunch time).
  • Be mindful of the sidewalks. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be bike lanes and large shoulders everywhere. But, for many of us, riding on sidewalks is going to be a part of the commute. So investigate the sidewalks ahead of time! I encountered some that were simply unsafe, due to their condition. Watch out for unevenness, curbs instead of ramps, and sidewalks that just stop. I cut through a subdivision for part of my ride, because the sidewalks on the main road are impassible.
  • Stay in relatively busy areas. Avoid dark alleys. Stay where lots of people see you.
  • Watch out for turning traffic. Whether you’re on the road or the sidewalk, don’t expect turning cars to see or look for you.

Following these tips, I have found bicycle commuting to be a rewarding experience. So, dust off your bicycle, plan ahead, and add a little bit of joy to your workdays!

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38 thoughts on “Bicycle Commuting: Guest post

  1. Well done Bethany .. I still have to master the art of riding a bicycle,… I was into horses even though my parents could not afford to buy me a bike and definitely not a horse as a child.. My children and Hubby would love biking :-) and go off for the day. :-)

    Unfortunately there are not enough cycle paths along our main roads, but there are quite a few good cycle paths out in the country, not far from where I live, which are also public footpaths and bridleways..
    Lovely Guest post Lois.. Sue

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  2. Wonderful guest post Bethany and thank you for sharing your story :)

    I decided early in life not to own a car and have been biking ever since. In the winter months of course I use public transportation, but once spring hits, I’m back on the bike until fall.

    Montreal, where I live, has a wonderful selection of bike paths all around the city and you can practically go from one end of the city to the other. It really makes a huge difference! Although, with many bikes on the bike paths, there can be some dangerous moments as well, so everyone needs to be aware at all times of their surroundings regardless of car traffic!

    Thanks again and take care. All the best.

    Lyle

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    • That sounds idyllic, Lyle! I recently found a bike path, that bypasses the most dangerous parts of my route, and that has made me really happy. They have had plans on the books to complete it, so that it would take me along the entire second half of my route, but they have lacked funding. I’m hoping that I can do my bit to call attention to the issue.

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  3. Very cool. I started commuting by bike earlier this year. I have a 10 mile commute and it takes me about an hour. I live in Orlando, witch is also a very bad city for cyclists. Like you, I found the safest route to work and I’ve been riding every day. I really love cycling to work, it sure beats driving. It feels great, I get to enjoy the outdoors, and I’m healthier.

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  4. Hi Bethany!
    I think it is really great that you bike commute. I have a million questions, but I’ll try to narrow it down. I would love to bike commute, and I also am about 12 miles from work. My issues are like you mentioned- busy roads but also I was wondering about your area (is it flat, hill-y, both?) I live in a suburban semi-rural area. Small narrow roads (many with no shoulder), high speed limits, and lots of (steep) hills. Combine that with the fact my husband was hit by a car on his bike and is quite nervous about me riding…
    I can imagine riding 12 miles (24 round trip?) will also make you super physically fit, which is a great side benefit. And, what a great example you are setting for your daughter!!
    Katie

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    • I would be very leary of the no-shoulder and no-sidewalk roads. I’m on one of those only for a little bit (a block, maybe). In fact, I made my route slightly longer, in order to avoid having to spend a lot of time riding with traffic. My advice would be, first, to get directions from Google Maps, and click on the bicycle icon, to get a cycling route. Then scout out the area for alternate routes, in you run into unsafe roads. I really like cutting through subdivisions whenever I can.

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  5. I lived in west Houston for 10 years and am curious about what part of town you are commuting through, although that may be more information than you want to give out. While I wholeheartedly agree with the benefits of cycling, I am worried about the cyclist that rides along the main roads with no shoulder. That is common where I Iive now. Although bicycles have the same rights as cars, drivers don’t always give it to them.
    Back to riding in Houston. I admire you for riding in the heat and humidity because it can be horrible most of the time.

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  6. I haven’t been on a bicycle since I was 8. Portland is a city where there are lots of cyclists but still many places where it’s not safe. Now,my family won’t let me near a bike. The 3 wheelers won’ t fit in the lanes and that’s what I’d need. It would be better than walking everywhere though. I’m glad you can ride. It has so many benefits. Can you tell I’m envious? :D In Germany, growing up, there were bike lanes and motorbike lanes. I think even those are less now with so many cars. I took pictures of thousands of bikes at the train stations last time I was there. It’s a different culture. I’m cheering you on.

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  7. Interesting perspective and glad to see more folks out there. I have been a car-free bike commuter for 5 years and love it. It changes your life for the positive. Not to mention you’re not contributing to the massive pollution of cars that cars do to this planet!

    For prospective riders though, you don’t have to have bike lanes to commute – as long as you’re obviously not on a highway/freeway, bikes are allowed to share the road. Portland, where I live, is a very bike friendly city, but only the main bike thoroughfares have “lanes” per se. In addition, a lot of cities don’t allow cycling on the sidewalks, so it’s important that each person know the laws in their cities – here it’s only allowed if there is no safe way to be on the road – and in most spots the road is just fine.

    Agree very much on the safety items – especially the light for one’s helmet, as the little ones that snap under the seat aren’t enough and the helmet ones make it way more visible for drivers when you’re riding at night or in foggy conditions.

    The biggest benefits to me beyond the quiet time have been a) no gym membership (or gym rats to deal with!), b) lost 20 lbs almost immediately when I started, and c) I never crave coffee in the mornings when I ride – the natural endorphins are awesome !

    For new riders I’ll say this: try it on a Sunday when traffic is minimal. Just try it – I never thought I’d ever be a bike commuter but my coworker said, hey, just try it once and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. But of course? I loved it.

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  8. Hi Bethany! What fun finding you here on Lois’s page! And I so congratulate you on your bicycle commuting. Can you believe that people would rather spend an hour going such a short distance to get to work rather than pull out the bike and do something good for themselves (AND the planet!) It’s good too that you’ve taken the time to collect all the right equipment so you can be safe while you’re doing it…but there is SO much evidence that people who ride bikes and get outside some during the day in nature are much, much happier and less stressed. And consider all the health benefits…people who spend money joining gyms could save the money and ride to work. Anyway, good for you! ~Kathy

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  9. I congratulate you for taking on the challenge of cycling in a bigger city. Someday I just may give it a try, but for now I prefer to walk most places. Thanks for a good post.

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