Bike commuting: Why?

This is the first in a multi-part series on bike commuting. Other posts cover How?, Safety, and Weather Issues.

My History

I got my first bike when I was 6. It was a Coast King 5000 BMX-style bike that I literally beat into the ground. My parents were smart enough to get me a helmet back in the days before helmet laws. I rode that bike to school every time I could, which was quite often. I handed that bike down to my brother when I picked up a Diamond Back Viper for my 11th birthday. I rode that bike to school through my Junior High days and off-road into my teen years until the frame broke (joint between the down tube and headset).

When I was big enough I started riding my Dad's Schwinn Varsity road bike to school, complete with 70's all-leather Brooks saddle. I'll have to dig up a pic of that bike in its hey-day before my brother and I destroyed it with years of abuse and poor maintenance. That road bike got me into doing longer rides. I even rode it to my first job as a teenager at the local Kmart. One of these days I'll write up the story of my night-time encounter with the skunk.

At the age of 19 I served a mission for the LDS church in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. If you have ever seen Mormon missionaries then chances are you saw them on bikes. My mission bike was a Schwinn High Plains mountain bike which I bought new in 1993, outfitted with rear-rack and full fenders. I took much better care of that bike and, 17 years later, I am still riding it as my primary all-weather commute bike. All told I estimate that I put nearly 3000 miles on that bike in 2 years. Then, with only a few random bike experiences, it sat nearly idle until 2005. I did try out a couple of bike commutes around 1999 but wasn't very commited to it.

Reason #1: Fitness

Between 1997 and 2005 I really let my health slide, gaining a lot of weight and paying no attention to it. That is until I went to get a physical exam from my doctor and found out that my cholesterol level was 235 and I had high blood pressure and hypertension. This scared me into action. Several folks from work recommended the 20/20 Lifestyles program at the Pro Club, just down the street in Bellevue, WA. To make a long story short I lost 65 pounds and redunced my cholesterol and blood pressure to very managable levels and put my life back onto the fitness track.

In an attempt to maintain my weight I set a goal in 2007 to complete my first Triathlon. In order to do that I had to have a bike, of course. My bike shopping experience was a little overwhelming (more on this in a later post). In the end I purchased a Scattante CFR Comp road bike and started riding. I race in Triathlons as a goal but the primary method I use to get there is bike commuting.

My "How?" post details how I use bike commuting to maintain fitness.

Reason #2: Gas prices

In 2008 gas prices in my area spiked up to almost $4.35/gallon. This pushed me to do more bike commuting than the year before and eventually do 3 triathlons and my first century (Bike MS tour in Mount Vernon, WA).

Has bike commuting affected the amount of miles that I commute? ABSOLUTELY.

Reason #3: Reduce commute expenses

With significantly declining mileage each year it is obvious that bike commuting has positively affected the amount of money I spend on commute expenses. The primary cost is not gas but vehicle cost (less than $1800/year): I drive an older car and have no current plans to replace it, assuming no accidents or unforeseen mechanical disasters. Defering the cost of that replacement and extending the life of that older car does come with a higher maintenance cost (older vehicles are inherently more expensive to maintain). That maintence cost is much less than the initial purchase price of the vehicle spread out evenly each year over the life of the car (i.e. depreciation for you accounting nerds)

Now this whole idea of cost savings may be a pipe dream. Why? Bike commuting isn't cheap if you go for all the gadgets, clothing, bells/whistles, etc. that are being promoted out there by everyone and your dog. If you aren't familiar with this phenomenon go to any REI, your local bike shop, or any online bike store and you will see the vast array of things for which they will gladly give you for a price. I have accumulated a lot of gear over the past 4 years but it has been very gradual. I am also a big fan of the clearance rack and wait until I can find things at very low cost before I make a purchase. The "normal wear and tear" items will rack up quite a bill as well: tubes, tires, chains, cassettes, shorts, shoe cleats... More on this one later too.

Reason #4: FUN!

I love to ride. My commute is beautiful. I have met new friends and re-enforced old friendships while riding to work. Local commute challenges and contests make it even more rewarding. The miles I ride get me in shape for the really cool stuff such as Tour de Blast, Cycle Oregon, Crater Lake Century... the list goes on.

So there you have it. I ride because it keeps me healthy, might save me money, and it's a heck of a lot of fun. Why do you commute? Share your thoughts in the comments!