When I lived in Vermont, I regularly drove from where I lived to Burlington, the largest city in the state. It was a beautiful drive following the spine of the Green Mountain, and my trip took about an hour for the roughly 40 mile journey. It was in many ways a wonderful drive, delivering and picking up film for my work as a photographer, going to the movies and all the rest of life, but I did it often enough that it wore on me, and I prayed to whatever god might be in charge of travellers that I could be given back the hours I drove up and down to Burlington.
I moved to England and built a new life here as an academic, teaching and living in Coventry. When I realised that England was my home, I took the driving test three times and never passed, and then I decided I didn’t love driving enough to be bothered. My wife drove and that was enough. For a while, she dropped me off near my office on her way to work, and then her job changed and dropping me off wasn’t so convenient.
I walked once or twice and then I dug out the old mountain bike my brother-in-law had given me and cycled to work. That was really nice: about 2 ½ miles in 15 – 20 minutes. I did that for about a year before getting a Brompton through the Bike Scheme. I was shocked to discover when I looked back that I’ve been cycling to work for more than eight years, and my cycling has kept on expanding. It’s the longest sustained period of cycling since I was a kid.
My route isn’t difficult, and, even doing it twice a day so that I come home at lunch to give our greyhounds a toilet break in the back garden, it only adds up to about 11 – 12 miles. I once shared a house with a woman who tried to find a different route to work every day; living in San Francisco and commuting to Daly City gave her lots of options for small tweaks. My route is more constant, though being in touch with the weather and changing light means it varies daily.
I drop down this hill past a school; I’m seeing more and more cyclists commuting across the winter with me. As spring arrives they’re dead common, and I love it.
First thing in the morning this intersection is quite busy. Aside from the common factors limiting cycling, like wind and tiredness, traffic and traffic controls keep me from improving my travel time. I ride either the Brompton or a flat-bar Specialized to work, and, though I’ve never systematically checked, my travel times are pretty similar with either bike. If you over-think your cycling—and since you’re reading a cycling blog, I expect you do—you might enjoy an entertaining and accessible article published in the British Medical Journal by Jeremy Groves in which he did a random controlled trial to find out whether a lighter and more expensive bike would improve his commuting time over the steel bike he’d been riding (Groves, 2010). His commute was ten times mine, 27 miles. The carbon frame reduced the bike weight by 30%, but the improvement in his commuting time was negligible. As he writes, “Evidence based cycling is not high on the bicycle salesman’s agenda.” If you’re an anorak, you might want to replicate his study.
Much of my route consists of bleak British suburbs and the city centre, but I have about 100 meters of cobbles. It’s not Paris – Roubaix, but it’s a jaw juddering stretch that reminds me how roads have improved, in large part because of the invention of the bicycle.
As I said, my commute isn’t hard, even in the winter. Chasing Mailboxes has a guest post by Liz MacGregor, who does a 29 mile commute (Liz’s post in Chasing Mailboxes). Liz’s deeply moving post about cycling to live goes far beyond my small rides. Nevertheless, I realize that whatever god watches over travellers answered my prayers (perhaps it’s Exu, the god Liz evoked in naming her bicycle). She or he returned to me the hours spent driving to and fro; it’s not often prayers are so generously answered.