If you believe everything you read, commuting by bicycle is soaring in popularity, particularly in areas of the Western world dominated by motorised traffic. Figures released by the London Mayor in late 2005 — at about the same time I started cycling — revealed that cycling across the capital had leapt by 100 per cent in just five years. Judging by the amount of people I see on the road, even when the weather is miserable, I reckon the boom is still happening.
But what makes people decide to get on the bike, and what is their average commute like? What do they like about cycling? What kind of kit do they use? And what advice would they give to someone thinking about becoming a regular cycling commuter?
I thought I’d put these questions — and a few more — to some fellow bike bloggers and post their responses in a new series I’ve dubbed “Cycling 10”, which I’ll post on a semi-regular basis.
The first kind soul to answer my 10 questions about cycling is Richard Masoner, aka Fritz, from the US-based Cycle-Licious, a news-based blog that’s always jampacked with interesting cycling snippets…
How long have you been commuting by bicycle, and what made you decide to do it?
I used a bicycle to get to class and work while in college 20 years ago and I just never stopped. There was a pause of a few years when my children were very small and my commute distance was long (20 miles). I started up again when my truck (yes, an evil SUV) broke down in 2002. I just hopped back on the bike and somehow I never got around to fixing the truck.Can you give a brief description of your route? These days I live 40 miles from work because my wife attends graduate school; we decided that one of us should be close to the children during the day and the housing situation worked out where my wife is two miles from her school campus. My usual commute is mixed mode bike-bus-train-bike, with the final bike leg being a 3.5 mile (6 km) jaunt on surface streets through very busy San Francisco Bay Area traffic. I sometimes extend this last leg by stopping at a different train station.
What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
Even after 20 years I still love riding to work. Cycling puts me close to the people around me and to the environment. Rather than segregation in an enclosed cage, I’m completely exposed. It’s exhilarating and reminds me that I’m alive.
And the worst?
In the San Francisco Bay Area, heavy exposure to car and truck exhaust is my greatest concern. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about the air pollution. I can drive, but that only adds to the problem.
What sort of bike do you ride?
Bikes get banged together on the train, so my usual commuter rig is the bike I bought as a college student in 1987 — a CroMo steel Centurion road bike. I converted it to a fixed gear about four years ago because I lived in Colorado at the time — derailleurs and brakes aren’t always compatible with ice and snow. I also ride a 2002 Trek 1000 (aluminum or “aluminium” for you Brits) and a 2007 Specialized Roubaix (carbon fiber ooh la la). If I feel like punishing myself, I’ll occasionally drag out my old, heavy, fat tire GT hardtail mountain bike. All of my bicycles are equipped with SPD MTB pedals.
What’s your favourite piece of cycling kit/clothing/gadget?
My bike commute is short enough that I normally wear street clothes while commuting. I’m in the computer industry, but I’m not really a gadget freak — I prefer minimal clutter on my bike and body. My bike computer is usually the only accessory. I always ride with front and rear lights in the dark.
Helmet or no helmet?
I completely oppose all efforts to mandate helmet use for casual and transportational cycling. Nonetheless, I do usually wear a helmet. I may doff the lid in very warm or humid weather.
Cycle lane or no cycle lane?I appreciate bike lanes and use them where available, though I won’t go significantly out of my way to use a path or laned street. My commute is a mix of narrow streets through commercial and residential areas that are striped and not, and a very busy arterial that crosses a major highway with striped and non-striped areas.Are you a member of any cycling organisations/clubs? If so, which ones?
I’m a member of the League of American Bicyclists and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. In the past, I’ve been active with Bicycle Colorado and Bicycle Longmont.
What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to get on board their bike?
The big concern most people seem to have is safety. Even if they have the intellectual knowledge that cycling is about as safe as driving in the U.S., the visceral fear can be difficult to get past. I offer to meet the newbie bike commuter at their home or at the train station and ride with that person. I’ll set a date — “I’ll meet you tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m.” — and I’ll show up. They’re now obligated to ride with me to the office.
Fritz leads virtualization technology bringup for the x64 group at Sun Microsystems. He lives in the hills near Santa Cruz, California, where morning fog waters the towering coast redwood trees. His blog is at www.cyclelicio.us/