The World Needs More Bike Commuters

A personal argument for riding, riding, riding, and riding.


“Just do it, f@cker.” This is what my brother Brendan told me when I asked him for bike commuting advice. It is, by the way, the most Brendan response possible, except for maybe snarf, snarf, snarf. BrendO is justified in his snarky retort though. Really, bike commuting is quite simple. Step one, get bike. Step two, sit on bike. Step three, now bike, silly. But if you’re like me, talking myself out of a cruise on my townie for a chores run or a coffee shop visit is far too easy. Ya know, because it’s kind of gray out or it might start to rain later or I might have to carry something cumbersome or blah, blah, blah. I’m just acting lame or lazy or I feel indolent complaining justifies a three block drive. The snow has almost all but disappeared on the streets of my Colorado hometown. It’s time to roll and roll often, and so should you.

My current schedule is a little funky. I have been traveling for work a lot recently, which in the outdoor industry is known as super duper rad, bro. But all this travel means that when I come home I draw the blinds in my office, lock the door, drink 17 pounds of coffee, and write most, if not all, of my ass off. I’ll do this for a few days and then it’s back to travel time for a handful of days doing something cool outside. During time at home, a Main Street cruise can unfortunately be my only outdoor adventure, so talking myself out of it is not only lame, but also a poor mental, physical, and spiritual health choice.

A healthier lifestyle is a positive byproduct, sure, but being a kid again made Phoenix resident Ed Buckel get on his road steed. “I was big into bikes when I was younger but my priorities changed once I got a driver’s license,” Buckel recalls. “A few years ago, kind of out of nowhere, the idea of cruising around my neighborhood sounded like fun. So, I did and it immediately rekindled my long lost love of bikes. I jumped in headfirst. Riding my bike just takes me back to my childhood. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the ride.”

Buckel rolls through his neighborhood daily now and rides nearly 20 miles each way to work a few times a week. At the beginning of each week, he brings extra biz clothes and toiletries to work. Riding to your job is awesome but attending a meeting in sweaty chomois and a pitted out Lycra jersey ain’t cool.

Along with deodorant and some clean slacks, Buckel changes his route every few months to keep things fresh. He uses apps like Bikemap, BikeBrain, or Google Maps to plan his path. “I’ll admit, it’s a thrill to walk into the office with my bike and see everyone’s amazement that I didn’t drive,” Buckle explains. “It’s an even bigger thrill to have people in the office say I inspired them to buy a bike or ride their old bike that’s been sitting in their garage for years.”

For Denver-ite Meghan MacDonald, after years of highway frustrations, returning to her bike was a relief. “I used to work out in Aurora and had a 40-minute commute by car each way,” she says. “As soon as I got a job that was a 15-minute bike ride from my house, I immediately got myself a sweet new commuter bike.” It’s faster for MacDonald to bike than it is to drive. Denver, you may have heard, is a bit, ahem, crowded these days. She takes great pride in blowing past idling cars filled with traffic jam angst. No matter the time of year or weather—her new snow bike is the bee’s knees—she rolls to work.

According to MacDonald, the key for a happy bike commuting life is not pinching pennies. “The cheap man pays twice,” she kids. “Spending a little extra money for a decent bike is huge.” To make the ride more enjoyable and to keep her back from breaking, MacDonald packs her belongings in her bike’s panniers and reminds herself that she is not in a peloton. “Commuting is not an athletic event. You don’t need to go overboard with the spandex to ride your bike. I ride in the same thing I wear to work, heels included. No problem.”

My brother Brendan O’Connell also wears high heels when he’s bike commuting (Burn!). Just kidding. He wears whatever his wife Yvette lays out for him that morning (Double burn!). Brendan started biking around Chicago more than a decade ago, both out of financial necessity and to combat the lovable O’Connell pudge from getting too out of control. “I think it was a combination of wanting to get some physical activity, save money by not spending it on the train, and environmental concerns,” he says. “I’ve been doored only once, which is pretty good for 12 years of biking…knock on wood.”

BrendO is many things, a talented musician, a grower of a disgusting neck beard, and an incredible father. He’s passing along bike commuting altruism to his children. “We try to talk to the kids about our carbon footprint with cars, public transportation, and biking as much as we can,” B says. “Of course they complain occasionally but learning to bike whenever possible is an essential lesson for the health of our planet and yourself. More often than not, they dig it.”

Carbondale, Colorado biker Brian Holcombe is also passing along a life on two wheels to his children. “I remember cruising all over town when I was a kid,” he says. “It was such freedom. And our world is facing some big issues, obviously, from a resource-scarcity and ecological perspective. I like to think that riding bikes is one small thing, among many, that our family can do to make a difference in our little town.”

Holcombe started cruising in college and has tried to ride or take mass transit ever since. In fact, biking is at the center of his family’s origin. Holcombe’s “meet cute” with the love of his life, his future wife, and eventual mother of his children was on a bike. Holcombe and his future bride, Tracy, met at the local watering hole. After close, when Holcombe was stranded due to a bike lock malfunction—combinations are hard to remember when you’re a few pitchers deep—Tracy rolled up on a tandem with an empty backseat (place audible “awwww” here). “I had been immediately interested in her when we met, but it was full on from that moment,” Holcombe recalls. They used that same tandem in their wedding two years later.

As for advice to those thinking of making cruising a more significant part of their life, Holcombe offers similar advice as my brother, albeit in a PG manner: “Do it! Get a bike that you love, put on a front and rear light and baskets, and make yourself some reasonable goals. You don’t have to start out by demanding that you ride to work every day. How about twice a week? Or that trip to the grocery store? Pedal it. Who knows, in 15 years you might be the wonk that’s putting on every layer in the closet to commute when it’s 15-degrees out and snowing.” It’s time to roll, friends.

Photo by Ezra Caldwell/Fast Boy Cycles

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Showing 30 comments
  • Jay C
    Reply

    Spot on! I had to stop driving my car for medical reasons so dusted off my Marin Muirwoods and haven’t looked back. I could drive again, but why? Biking is just more FUN. Plus: No tax, fuel (unless you count pork stir frys), no insurance, no parking fees, minimal service costs. Where I live is flat, and I mean really flat, and I had a hiking trip in the Pyrenees planned with little opportunity to get hill fit except for biking around my flat locale maybe 80 miles a week. Well I lost over a stone and felt great hiking in the Pyrenees. So even without hammering it on my trusty steed, just commuting, I’d saved money, explored my local area plus got a workout in the fresh air. Did I mention it’s FUN?

  • Quasimoto
    Reply

    I found the author’s two attempts to rib his brother distasteful. I appreciate and applaud the desire to poke fun at siblings – my sisters and I do it plenty – in fact, more as adults than kids. However, I think the choices here are just inappropriate. The first “burn” pokes fun for wearing high heels; cross-dressing is often used as an uninformed way to make fun of someone for being gay. Even if that wasn’t the intention here, the text insinuates that cross-dressing is worth making fun of someone for. The second “burn” – “his wife picks his clothes for him” – just plays into existing cultural stereotypes that (a) a man needs to stand up to his wife, to not be ‘ruled’ by her, that he needs to ‘wear the pants’; or (b) women are controlling shrews. While the jokes, I think, were intended to be harmless, by holding these examples up for laughter the author is reinforcing patterns of belief that have real, negative consequences. Ever talk to someone whose job it is to work on preventing sexual violence? What about supporting LGBT youth who are absorbing cultural messages as they are also making sense of their own sexualities?

    The inappropriate nature of these two jokes seems pretty obvious to me, and I would have expected an AJ editor to intervene.

    • triggered
      Reply

      lol

    • Barry
      Reply

      For reals, don’t get you panties in a twist (Burn!). Bothers are gonna rib, don’t read to much into it and get on with your life.

    • K
      Reply

      I definitely think this is fair. As one of three brothers, it’s fine to “burn” each other, but do we have to do it this way? Aside from this small fact, FANTASTIC article and I agree wholeheartedly; it’s just unfortunate this small throwaway line was used to detract.

  • Brian
    Reply

    I live in Winnipeg and ride to work everyday. Somedays this winter were below minus 30 degrees Celsius and all was good. The commute is most often my favourite part of my workday!

    • Dan Murphy
      Reply

      I’ve been to Winnipeg in the winter. You, sir, are da man.

  • Mike D.
    Reply

    Scoop: is that the author’s ride? Equal parts sexy-sinewy and almost Soviet spare-utilitarian. Well played.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Nope-that’s Ezra Caldwell’s creation. Really wish I’d bought a bike from him before he passed away. I didn’t have the bank, but it still would have been money well spent. To this day, no one’s frame aesthetics have moved me like his.

      • Cory
        Reply

        That’s my bike! Ezra was a dear friend of mine, and I’m thankful every day that i was able to know him. Having this bike that he created is a wonderful reminder of the man and important things in life.

        • Steve Casimiro
          Reply

          Cory, thanks for weighing in! I think about Ezra all the time—about how incredibly talented he was, but also how brave and honest he was through the worst that someone can go through. I would guess you cherish that ride.

  • Stephanie
    Reply

    Commuting by bike is the BEST! I love not having to worry about where to “park” on a busy, crowded campus or downtown. The feeling of riding around on a beautiful day is unmatched.

  • Velophile.Au
    Reply

    An article about bicycle commuting but it’s a street bike with beers in the front rack? here can you bring beers to work? I want to know so I can apply for a job! And that saddle looks to be tilted upwards a little too much. Can’t imagine it being comfortable for a man or woman to sit on for more than a few miles.. 😉

    But yes.. if you live withing 7 miles of work then bicycle commuting is really the fastest and most rational option. And, unlike sitting on a train, bus or in a car, it’s actually FUN. 🙂

    Happy cycling amigos

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Well, you could argue, by the title, that it’s literally about commuting. Or you could embrace the spirit of it—townies, etc.—and understand that it’s all about the joy of simply riding.

    • Eli Dougherty
      Reply

      Maybe you should ask for your money back.

  • tom
    Reply

    i live in mesa, Arizona (phoenix sprawl) and for 11 years commuted 10+ miles daily on a commuter bike to my job. the year around for the most part. and brother let me tell you we have heat in the summer! in the winter, more often than not i would get home sooner on a bicycle than a motor vehicle as we get inundated in the winter with “snow birds” (winter visitors from osh kosh, st paul, etc) and they (usually) drive half the speed of the posted speed…..there is not only great xercise with a bicycle commute, there is a strange sense of independence from the motorheads in their humdrum travel…..

  • Michael Q
    Reply

    What’s the pictured bike? Looks beautiful…

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      It’s a Fast Boy. See comment and correction on photo credit.

  • andrew
    Reply

    The photo you used in this piece (that was not credited) was of a bike made by Ezra Caldwell. Fast Boy Cycles. He died of ass cancer (his words, not mine). He was stunningly talented and creative. If you are going to use his work to push your readership at least do your homework. Maybe you didn’t know, but damn. Come on.

    • Steve Casimiro
      Reply

      Ezra and I were friends and we’ve used his images in the past, with his permission. We’ve also done articles on him and I personally own a number of his photo prints. So, the homework was done, but I did him and those who knew him a disservice by neglecting to include his credit. That has been corrected.

  • David Moore
    Reply

    Ive been a cyclist for almost 40 yrs. Commuter, racer, fitness rider etc. I still enjoy riding my bike. 200+ mi per week. I’m 60 yrs old. As much as I want everybody to be on a bike and not in a car, bike riding to work or running errands on a bike is not for everybody. I say this because riding a bike in traffic in the US is a challenge for the casual rider. The mentality of American drivers does not take into consideration the safety of cyclist’s.Our roads need to be upgraded and laws need to be made to protect and uphold the rights of all road users but especially cyclist’s and pedestrians.Drivers need to be educated on how to navigate a road that has bikes on it. Money needs to be collected and spent directly on projects that encourage this change of behavior. This can be done somewhat at the grass roots level but ultimately has to be addressed at a State and National level to change the policy and public perception regarding bikes and what their value is to health and community. I’m not sure that telling everyone to get on a bike and ride to work is the answer to the issues I encounter on the road with cars, irate and ignorant drivers and dangerous roads. I dont think government or Law enforcement is on “our” side when it comes to defending a bike riders right to be on the road. If you are thinking about becoming a cyclist consider contacting your elected officials and ask how they feel about bicycle advocacy and what they are willing to do to promote it.

  • Chris S
    Reply

    It’s raining this morning in Houston. I’ve been bike commuting everyday, rain or Texas heat, for over a year. Enjoying my coffee and the lightning, I came across this article. Yours is a perfect summarization of how to commute by bicycle; don’t skimp on the equipment (especially good lights) and ride it.

  • Sharon
    Reply

    My little town of Moab is the perfect place for biking everywhere. During high season, traffic and parking can turn a 3 minute, 1/2 mile drive into 15 frustrating minutes to get where you need to be. That’s just dumb. And when you are in your car, you are part of the problem with no right to complain!

    • David Moore
      Reply

      Sharon,

      Respectfully I think people do have a right to complain. As I stated above in a comment, I am a cyclist but I respect and defend a person who is not comfortable riding a bicycle with cars speeding by them. Sitting bumper to bumper in Moab? Ironically Moab redefined itself as a tourist town…Mountain biking Mecca…but now has cars loaded with bikes sitting in traffic so they can ride the trails there. We have created an “us vs them” culture of people who ride and people who don’t and as an avid cyclist we the bike riders are on the losing end.

  • Tony Lima
    Reply

    I appreciate that you highlighted the mental health aspect of riding a bicycle. As outdoor enthusiast we know how beneficial just being outside is for our state of mind. I’ve noticed myself being a lot more patient and kind to the people in my day to day after beginning to bike more often.

  • Lynn
    Reply

    I really want to start biking to work, but everything David Moore said above makes me pause. Here in DC, it’s scary. But not just cars. I’m scared of other bikes. They whiz by so fast, don’t obey traffic laws (for the most part), and the few times I was out on my bike, I felt like they were just as likely as a car to hit me. (This is just me personally, though, because I am slow af and not very confident on a bike.)

    • David Moore
      Reply

      Lynn,

      We as bike riders are our own worst enemy at times. I do hope you can find a way to get to work by bike. The point of my comment’s is not to deter riders like you but to make them think before taking the leap as you are doing. I dont believe that fear should guide us but a dose of common sense and consideration of the reality of the situation is needed. It seems that certain things, bike commuting , are hip and promoted and marketed to the masses by the bike industry, journalist’s and outdoor lifestyle media without considering the individual or the area they live in. That being said, the short term answer for a person like you is to find a mentor to help you ride safely to and from work. Maybe a bicycle club in your area can help. Bike advocacy groups in your area would love to hear your story and help you I’m sure. Good luck to you!

    • Rich
      Reply

      I commute by bike in DC, and what helped me get started was Bike-To-Work Day (http://www.waba.org/aboutbiketoworkday/). Folks of all skill levels will be out biking, so you don’t have to feel like your the only one not competing in the Tour de France.

  • Brian D
    Reply

    I want something similar to the bike in the picture. Can anyone help me out and suggest something similar?

  • doug moore
    Reply

    Commuting to work is slowly inching its way to being mainstream. Not there yet, but traffic is so bad, those that have the ability to do it are giving it a try.

    And yeah, no need to start with the idea you need to do it every day, or it’s a fail. Just try it once. Figure out how to improve the experience then try again sometime. It starts to grow on you.

    Thankfully practical bikes are more common now – so rack up, fender up, pannier or bag up and go for it. If you’re a naturally timid weekend rider, commuting at 7AM street side with traffic won’t be for you. I get it.

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