A Year of Bike Commuting

About a year ago, I started biking to work. From our front door to my office is just around 9 miles, and there’s a path that allows me to take back roads with solid biking paths and sidewalks, meandering from our home, through golf courses, past canals and bays, and fancy neighborhoods, and end up at work. It takes around 35 minutes (a little faster with a tailwind, and a little slower with a headwind), but is a truly excellent way to start and end the workday.

When I started biking, I thought it would be a “once in a while” or “when the weather is nice” type of thing. However, just a short year later, we’re getting ready to list our second car for sale and happily transition to being a one car couple.

That really over-compresses what the year of biking has been like, and why we’re prepared to make it a permanent adjustment to our lifestyles.  Here are some more thoughts on what it has been like.

Finding Bike Paths Is Now Second Nature

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Something “wrong” with this picture?

I don’t ride on main roads. Maybe if we had bike paths on them like the one picture to the right, I would. But the reality is that Florida has plenty of 6 or 8 lane roadways with posted speed limits of 55mph (which we all know means plenty of people are going 65mph), and I have no desire to share that roadway.

Instead, we take back roads and sidewalks and have yet to really find places that are within a reasonable biking distance (I consider this about 10 miles) that we can’t get to via these methods.The last year of finding new routes to familiar spots has been interesting, though.

Sometimes I look up a way to go on google maps (rather than trusting their biking directions, I go with the satellite view and look for sideways and smaller parallel streets), but other times we’ve just gone with intuition and felt our way to and from the local parks and found new routes that are great for biking. We never would have known these lovely tree lined routes existed were it not for just trying it out. Sometimes you just have to do it.

Weather Has Been Less Of A Factor Than Expected

When people first hear that I’ve been biking to work, they ask about the weather. Isn’t it too hot in Florida to bike? Isn’t it too rainy in the summertime? No and no. The weather is great – and by great I mean the imperfections of Florida weather (mild heat and humidity, along with strong summer storms) are nothing that can’t be worked around within reason.

  • My coldest morning ride to work was in the low 40s. I am a wuss and for the first half mile or so that was COLD, but I actually layered too much (two pairs of running tights, 2 pair of socks, a long sleeve dry wick top, a sweatshirt hoodie, a rowing jacket, a scarf, and two pairs of stretchy gloves) and was sweating by the time I got to work.
  • My hottest ride during the year was in the high 80s. This was obviously during the summer, but didn’t feel too hot even in long sleeves because I was moving and had a breeze.
  • My windiest rides have had gusts of wind over 30mph. Head on, the ride is HARD. Coming perpendicular, I make sure I’m on the sidewalk since the gusts knock me around a bit from side to side. I have yet to have the benefit of a 30mph tail wind, but I eagerly await that day.
  • Rain sucks. It does. But out of the last year I’ve really only been rained on less than 10 times (and only got soaked with rain 4 times) since I can watch the weather and leave when I have an opening when it looks like I’ll avoid the heaviest rain. Only one of those rains was on the way TO work. That sucked. It’s not fun showing up to an air conditioned office when you’re wet.

Gear Helps, As Does Having A Handy Husband

I’m still riding GoGo, my trusty nearly 10-year-old Jamis commuter with a metal removable bike basket, but we have added a little more gear since I started riding last year.

The first addition was a set of LED lights, red for the back, and a headlight for the front. These weren’t cheap (around $60 for the set at our local bike shop), but the LED is much more efficient on battery life than the old lights I’d had in the past. Hopefully that means we’ll save some money in the long run on batteries.

The second addition to the bike (though really it should have come earlier than it did), was a nice set of fenders for the bike. We got these SKS Longboard Bicycle Fenders and they have since made a world of difference on days when I manage to avoid the rain, but catch a bunch of puddles on the way home as the spray coming off the wheels used to soak my butt on those kinds of rides.

Mr PoP has also taken a lot of time learning how to tune up my bike, and has done a lot of tinkering as well as replacing my rear derailer to give me a smoother ride. Since the new year, he’s been tuning my bike up about once a month, which is around every 400 or so miles and that makes a world of difference.

You Must Follow The Laws of the Land

Lastly, I’ve learned that I can’t ever forget that I am a vehicle and need to abide by traffic laws (even if no other cyclists ever seem to).

How did I learn this? Well, about halfway through my year of biking, I glided through a stop sign and got pulled over by a motorcycle cop.

I could try and justify it, and when I tell locals which (minuscule) intersection it happened in, they laugh because cars regularly run the same stop sign as it’s so useless. But I won’t.  Instead I am now the only cyclist that comes to a full and complete stop at every stop sign and sits and waits for red lights to turn green even when it’s raining and there’s no traffic around.

I don’t do this because I love the law. I do it because it’s a $300+ ticket (almost $400 by the time you include paying for traffic school to avoid points) if I get caught again. And that’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

 

So that’s been my year of bike commuting. One year down, and many more to go.  Just around the corner, May is National Bike Month in the US. What’s stopping you from giving it a try?

 

Have you ever been a bike commuter?  What would have to change in your life for you to give it a try?

52 comments to A Year of Bike Commuting

  • It’s great that you can commute by bike. I’m really impressed that you can go 9 miles and stay off the busy roads. Score one for your local urban planners. I am also surprised weather hasn’t been an issue….the winters down here are lovely, but summer t-storms and steamy mornings?! I tried to get my previous employer to put in a shower at work, so I could shower after my bike ride. No dice.
    -Bryan
    Income Surfer recently posted..If You’re A Dividend Growth Investor……My Profile

    • The summer mornings aren’t too bad – as long as you’re riding at a leisurely pace and not trying to race, I don’t get too sweaty and can change and clean up when I get to the office without much trouble (and without a shower – baby wipes to the rescue!). As for our evening thunderstorms in the summer, it’s not the end of the world if I’m sticky or wet when I get home since I just hop in the pool or the shower right away. =)

  • I want to bike to work! But it would take twice as long and Texas weather is really extreme. If I lived where you lived, I would definitely bike to work.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..I’m Automating Some of My Finances In My LifeMy Profile

  • I commuted by bike before I was pregnant with Daughter Person. Now, I’m the primary kid driver, and hubby doesn’t think that it’s safe to have her in the trailer on some of the roads I’d need to ride on to get her to daycare. My office just moved, and we’re looking at possibly moving her to a different daycare, in which case, we *would* be able to bike to it, and I’d be able to continue onto work – as soon as some construction is finished later on this summer. We’re not sure we want to move her though – she likes her teachers, does well, etc.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Rediscovering the Public LibraryMy Profile

    • I’ll be curious to see what you guys decide after all the construction is over later this year. How many more years does Daughter Person have in daycare before kindergarten?

      • She’ll be in daycare for about another 2.5 years (because her birthday’s in January). Once the construction is done, it’ll be 4 miles for me to get to work, and I may negotiate with Dad on taking her to daycare 1-2 days per week so I can ride to work for my own benefit. Until the construction is done, there’s no shoulders on that road, and it’s very busy, so not safe for me on a bike – once it’s done – there’ll be a 10ft wide multi-use path along it!
        Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Dipping my Toes into the Points GameMy Profile

    • SLCCOM

      If you love your daughter, give her a fighting chance to live by traveling by car. It only takes one drunken driver, or texting driver, to kill if she is in a bike trailer. And there is zero protection for here there.

  • Wow that’s crazy you got a ticket. I used to always follow the traffic rules same as a car when I biked more. I just do that to be more predictable to cars. Here though it seems you can get away with a lot and not get a ticket. Good for you for being able to do this!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..Progress, Not PerfectionMy Profile

    • Luckily the first time it was a written warning, but another offense and I’ll definitely be looking at around $400 in fines/fees…

      • SLCCOM

        I am glad you got that warning. I strongly suspect that if you had tried any excuses it would be a ticket. You’ll probably find that your new habit of full and complete stop will save your life someday.

        Transfer the habit to the car, too, and you might save a bicyclist’s life someday.

  • Awesome! I never bike commuted, but I love commuting by walking. I’ve done that several times in my life. My walk now is actually pretty short (3 minutes or so). I really enjoyed the 15 minute walk I had when I was at Michigan, because that was long enough to wake me up or clear my head after a long day at work.
    Leah recently posted..ChangeMy Profile

  • ugh! you’re reminding me that I REALLY need to start biking to work again. I did it in the summer time last year and I actually enjoy it but it’s a pain to prepare the night before. Also, my excuse was that I take workout classes after work and need to drive to those (which is true), but my membership ends at the end of this month so I have NO MORE excuses. MUST bike. Will do starting May. Yay, you just added another bike commuter to the road!

  • We have been living in employer-provided housing at husband’s work, and I have been working only part-time from home. But he’s starting a new job in Denver soon, and since we’re already a one-car family, we’re looking for a place where he can bike to work and I can bike/walk/take public transit to most places I need to go with the kids (and maybe some potential work places, as I’m thinking of getting a “real” job).
    Frugal Paragon recently posted..Making from Scratch–And NotMy Profile

  • I obviously don’t commute anymore, but you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to ride my bike to work when I had a 9-5. First, I had no desire to lug my kids to daycare in a bike trailer. Second, I had to be in full makeup and hair and there wasn’t any place to shower when I got there. Third, I live in Indiana and also have no desire to bike in the sleet and snow!

    I also wouldn’t want to spend the time- I had limited time with my kids as it was- I wouldn’t be willing to give up anymore daylight time with them.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..I Hate Spam: A RantMy Profile

  • My work has showers and I could easily use them if I was too gross to be presentable at work, but… I don’t. Mostly because I have to be on a super dangerous highway (many accidents specifically with motorcycles because drivers don’t see the little guys) that is 80 km/h but most drive about 100 km/h. I think I would be down for it if the commute was possible by back-roads… but there aren’t any.
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted..I’m Planning A Trip.My Profile

    • Are you sure there aren’t any back roads? When I showed a colleague from work the path I take, he had no idea it existed even though he’s lived in the area for 15-20 years! I’ve definitely found a lot more back roads and paths since I started getting out on the bike.

    • I have to agree w/ Mrs. POP. Somehow, some way, people got from point A to point B before highways existed.
      CincyCat recently posted..Overheard…My Profile

  • Kim

    I can make a million excuses why I don’t bike to work, but really I just don’t want to and would always be running late. Maybe someday we’ll move to a more bike friendly place, but I don’t ever see it happening as long as we live several miles from the school. That’s awesome that you made it work and get so much exercise while commuting. I love a good multitask.
    Kim recently posted..Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival-My Financial Aha MomentMy Profile

    • As multi-tasks go, this is a great one. Is it common for the kids to ride their bikes to school in your area? A few miles on a bike doesn’t seem so bad when your daughter gets a little older and wants to have a little more autonomy getting to school on her own.

  • That’s very kind of Mr. PoP to research bike maintenance and regularly tunes up your bike, as well as resourceful of you to look at the satellite view on Google (my friend relied on a bike route and it ended up being a pretty dangerous 2-lane freeway). We usually use our bikes to go to crowded areas where parking can be challenging, but still haven’t tried commuting to work. The routes I know usually have cars which makes me skittish, but perhaps I’m just not trying hard enough to look into it.
    anna recently posted..My Biggest Money A-ha MomentMy Profile

    • Double yes to using bikes to go places where parking is a PITA! Since we both have them now we’ve definitely done that… no need to worry about parking at the beach when you’re on a bike.

      One of the eye openers for me was thinking about how I’d run places rather than drive them, since you don’t need much more room on a bike than when running. That brings me through back entrances and areas that are blocked off to cars, but a-ok for bikes and those on foot! It definitely keeps me further away from cars.

  • Now’s a good time to start biking in the Bay Area… The weather is starting to get really nice. I biked all summer last year and it was great… Scary at first riding out on the main roads and freeway overpasses… Funny thing was I never had an incident biking… but one day at lunch when I was walking a trail, I got smashed into by a bike and ended up in the ER… Go figure!
    FI Fighter recently posted..There’s Much More to Life Than…My Profile

  • That’s rad! And good on you for following the traffic laws, if only for safety. I heard once that most car/bike accidents are caused by the cyclist breaking a traffic law.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Bill and Ted’s Excellent InvestingMy Profile

  • Here in NYC, it’s illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk so you must ride in the road. But dooring is a problem with cyclists in the city and many have been killed that way. As a result, you rarely see bike lanes on the right side of the street now.

    There is also a shockingly low amount of speeding tickets in this city due to the burden of proof for police officers on speeding drivers so it’s kind of the wild west to ride a bike on major thoroughfares in this city. I could bike commute to my work (as it’s 2.5 miles away) if I had space to store my bike but I don’t, so I just take the subway. But I would never ride a bike to Manhattan… too dangerous.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted..Cut your losses and run?My Profile

  • Mrs. PoP, that’s awesome that you’re bike riding everywhere!! We’re a bit too far for Rick to bike to work (not to mention the fact that it’s almost all highway) but we do have a nice little town about 6 miles from here that we like to bike to in the warmer months. Considering that we just got ANOTHER foot of snow this week, it might be a bit before we can start biking again, but we’re looking forward to it.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..Our “A-ha” Money MomentMy Profile

    • I’m in the same boat as Rick-25 miles on a 3 lane highway is just too much for a bike. If I was to look for another job, having it within biking distance would be part of the consideration. Sorry about the snow-enjoy the activities you can do while the white stuff is on the ground!
      Mr PoP recently posted..A Year of Bike CommutingMy Profile

  • […] Mrs. PoP, from over at Planting our Pennies, had a great article this week called A Year of Bike Commuting, in which she highlighted, get this; a year of bike commuting. :-)  Seriously, though, a very cool […]

  • […] enthusiasts, but we are considering commuting to work on our bikes. Planting Our Pennies has been biking to work for over a year now and shares her biking experience in an insightful and informative […]

  • Now that we’re in Florida, I keep thinking about getting a bike. Haven’t taken the plunge yet, but it’s definitely tempting.
    Matt Becker recently posted..The Mentality of MoreMy Profile

    • I didn’t realize you guys had moved to the Sunshine State – welcome! Are you up in the panhandle? Is that where I remember your family being from?

      Definitely try and pick up a bike at a garage sale or on Craigslist to give it a try. No need for a big investment until you know you love it!

  • Mama Pop

    I just got a great bike at Goodwill and I can’t wait to try it out. $39.99 and it is exactly what I wanted!

  • I sometimes bike home from work, but I have never biked to work. The problem is that I get sweaty when I ride my bike and I wouldn’t want to work all day in sweaty dress clothes.

    Occasionally I will take my bike to work, change into shorts and a t shirt after work and bike home. Of course the problem is that I have to have my wife take me back to the office to get my car that evening.
    Andy@artofbeingcheap recently posted..Home telephone service for $5/ monthMy Profile

  • That’s really cool. Or…uhm, hot, on some days. Especially if you lived here, where summer temps can reach 118.

    It’s neat that you found safe routes to ride. Here, the city is laid out on a grid pattern, with main drags every half-mile. It would be difficult to get downtown without risking your life — the traffic is homicidal and the locals truly, truly hate bicyclists. With good reason, since the few who have the nerve to ride around here also have the nerve to ignore the law, ride down the middle of a 40-mile-an-hour road and hold up the traffic, cruise through red lights, zig in front of you, block you when you want to turn right on the red, and on and on. Love to ride around the neighborhood, but you couldn’t get me on one of the main drags.
    Funny about Money recently posted..BROKE by a Thousand CutsMy Profile

  • I had a professor before when I was in college, his main source of commuting is his bike. I admire him because he has a good body and never heard that he got sick. Some of his co-teachers tried to get a bike also instead of motorcycle or bike.
    Marie @ Financial Debauchery recently posted..How to Become Financially Independent in Three Idiot-Proof StepsMy Profile

    • I had a teacher like that in high school, too. I actually think he might not have owned a car at all, which was pretty impressive in the city I grew up. But every morning we’d be waiting outside the classroom (he was my first class of the day) and we’d hear him ring his bell as he pulled into the parking lot and rode right up to the classroom wearing khakis and a tweet sportscoat. =)

  • […] A Year of Bike Commuting at Planting Our Pennies. I think that’s awesome, although I could never pull it off. […]

  • Oh I’m so happy I found this post (coming over from Eyes on the Dollar). I loved it!

    I try to ride my bike in the summer months. Unfortunately can’t ride year round because I’m in snowbelt country, although there are plenty of diehards who try to. The weather here has been so awful that I haven’t even started yet this year (plus I’ve been working from home a lot more).

    I’m about 40 minutes and unfortunately I haven’t been able to map out a complete route on side streets but I’d say about 80% is on less busy roadways. My husband will sometimes bike to my place of work in the afternoon and we will bike home together. He is always saying he is going to arrest me if I run a stop sign. I tell him he needs to ride in the front (so I can watch him stop at the stop signs instead of him watching me)! Funny how your post is making me take it more seriously than all his nattering!!

    Anyhoo, you’ve motivated me to get riding again soon. Although I have had some bike accidents (a kid ran me off a trail, I fell off when I almost got hit by a car), I still manage to get back on it somehow! Congratulations on your daily commute – I commend you!
    debt debs recently posted..Worth IT Wednesday! ~ The POLLING EditionMy Profile

  • […] Mrs. Pop from Planting Our Pennies shares her lessons from a year of bike commuting. […]

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