Hope you have a big trunk...

I wrote this up for my company blog post, but I felt I should share it here as well, even if it is a bit of a repeat...

After my first week at Intel, I'm starting to find my groove.  One tough spot has been my commute from the SE everyday.  I know, why did I live that far?  Since I'm here for 6 months from Seattle, I thought I'd take the opportunity to live in Portland and try it out.  That said, the first week of driving was pretty bad; nearly an hour one-way in rush hour traffic.  It only took a few days for me to realize that I needed to change my route.  And that's where the idea of biking arose.  I've done this many times before (as illustrated below), but this was the longest commute by far (20 miles).  I'm here to share my story of commuting by bike, provide tips, and possibly encourage you to also give biking a shot, even when it seems out of reach.

The Story

Like any high school student in Michigan, I wanted nothing more than to have my license so I could drive.  And that I did.  At the same time, I loved (and still love) to bike.  My dad and I used to ride all over town as well as participate in touring rides such as the Five Boro Bike Tour (NYC), the L.A.T.E. Ride (Chicago), Apple Cider Century, Blue Water Ramble, Hell Ride, Peach of a Ride and Big Mac Tour.  

When I moved to California to start college at Cal Poly, I got a car my second year and started driving the 5 miles to campus each day, fighting for parking and paying hundreds of dollars for a pass just so that my car could get dinged (which happened the first week).  I soon learned I was big road trip fan and gladly volunteered for excursions up the PCH to Monterey, down to Santa Barbara or just the In-n-Out in Atascadero.  I was also biking quite regularly for exercise, but I never thought of driving to campus, even when my car was in the shop.  Bike?  ALL the way to campus?  That sounded crazy.

Then one day it hit me: why can't I bike to school?  I mean, I used to bike 50-75 mile rides all the time back home, so what's five measly miles?  The worry wort in me came up with a million excuses: what if I get a flat? what if I'm late to class? what if it rains?  To quell those fears, I experimented, testing bike routes when I had time, figuring out how to pack clothes, tools and books into my backpack and dealing with flats as they arose.  Turns out, it was pretty simple, so I began riding every other day.  Soon, I switched to a Timbuk2 bag because the backpack wasn't cutting it and I started picking up more gear to keep me warm.  Sure, some people looked at me weird when I washed up at the UU (the union), but I was proud to wear my rolled up jeans and a messenger bag strapped diagonally across my back.  Not only did it cut down on gas and reduce my carbon footprint, it was also more relaxing and energized me everyday, not to mention giving me a chance to get some exercise in.

San Luis Obispo (5 mi)
Bike: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Car: Tuesday, Thursday (or as needed)

Graduation day came, and I found myself working for HGST in the sprawling mass that is San Jose.  I slogged the 15 miles along Highway 85 every morning from Campbell to South San Jose, enduring the traffic and Bay Area driving skills (no blinkers, merging across all lanes, etc...).  I chatted about biking with my coworkers, but bike 30 miles a day across a not-so-bike-friendly city?  Oh, now you got to be kidding!  However, after surveying the shower situation at work, calculating my routes and planning my gear list, it didn't seem too crazy after all.  People at work (and still those I tell about this today) think I was probably a little mental, but I'd say we're all a little bit crazy in our own way.  Skeptics aside, I began biking roundtrip 30 miles every other day.  I picked up a lot more repair skills (broken tires, flats, lost pedals...) as well as clothing (rain and cold weather gear) and fitness know-how.  I strained this and that, and even gave myself carpal tunnel from improperly adjusted handlebars.  No matter, I still pulled it off, biking roughly 6000 miles during my two years at HGST.

San Jose (15 mi)
Bike: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Car: Tuesday, Thursday (or as needed)

Next up, grad school at UW and biking through the lovely Seattle weather.  Again, more rain gear (and even some snow gear) along with more knowledge of riding in not-so-ideal conditions.  I'll be honest though, on my 5 mile trip from Ballard along the Burke Gilman trail, nothing is more fun than riding in the pouring rain, if properly geared up of course.  Now, I've taken a 6 month hiatus to work as an intern at Intel and I'm so happy I have the chance.  As I mentioned before, I'm taking advantage of my time here and have decided to move to the SE, keeping in mind how bad my commute to JF was going to be.  After just my first week on the job, I was over the commute.  Upwards of an hour hauling myself through stop-and-go traffic along the Sunset and I-405 was just not my idea of a pleasant weekday evening, so I started eyeing the MAX.

Seattle (5 mi)
Bike: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Bus: Tuesday, Thursday (or as needed)

I can happily say that despite this being my longest commute ever, I'm successfully managing to bike and train to the campus without adding a ton of time to my commute.  Of course the first few days of the commute have been a little rough (this being day two), but I'm learning a lot each day.  For example, I had no idea how to get my bike on the different trains, but now I understand.  I also realize that carrying two bags (a pannier and my Timbuk2) is a little cumbersome and have consolidated them into one.  Using a combination of bike > train > bike, I can get to work and be ready to go in a little over an hour; not too shabby.  And in the interim, I can read, plan a trip, whatever I feel like.  It's great!

Portland (20 mi)
Bike/MAX: Monday - Friday
Car: As needed

Here are the external links for Google Maps:  SLO | San Jose | Seattle | Portland

Quick Stats
What am I getting out of this?  Besides exercise and better feeling knowing I'm helping the environment a bit, here are some rough statistics regarding my route:
Driving commute: [20 mi * 2 trips/day * 20 days/month * 6 months] * 1 gal / 25 mi * $4.00/gal = $768.00 + wear/tear

Biking commute: $92/pass - $30 Intel discount * 6 months = $372.00

As you can see, over my 6 month stay, I will save $396, not to mention wear and tear on my car while also getting exercise and keeping the air cleaner.  In that same time period, I will cover roughly 1440 miles by bike, or roughly the distance from Vancouver, BC to the Mexican border.  Not too bad.

Tips and Tricks

I feel that anyone, with the right mindset and equipment, can easily bike or commute with a car, even at a great distance.  Of course, not knowing where to start can leave anyone skeptical.  With that, here are some items and tips to have at the ready if planning a bike commute:
  • Lights (front and rear, always charged)
  • Helmet w/ rain cover
  • Thermal skull cap
  • Sunglasses / rain glasses
  • High-visibility waterproof jacket
  • Bike gloves (with and without fingers)
  • U-lock w/ extra cable
  • Panniers or messenger bag
  • Tools (allen wrench set, multitool, extra tube, mini-pump, tire boot, tube patch kit, pedal levers, chain tool)
  • Biking clothes (Lycra shorts, jersey, arm/leg warmers) or commuter clothes (jeans and a shirt) - your preference
  • Rain pants
  • Bike shoes and socks (if you have clips)
  • Shoe Covers 
  • Normal clothing (if wearing biking clothes)
  • Towel & toiletries (if you need to shower)
A few tips for riding on the road:
  • Always have a backup: a bus, a train, or a car.  For those days when you can't bike or you have an emergency.
  • Check conditions before heading out.  Rain and cold are fine if you have the gear.  I bike when it's above freezing and the wind speed is below 20 mph.
  • Check your tires and lights before leaving.
  • Roll up your right pant leg (or use a reflective ankle band) to keep looser clothes out of your gears.
  • Know your route; bring a map of the city if needed.
  • Time your bus/train segments.  Make sure you know the rules of bikes on the bus/train and have a schedule.
  • Have a phone for emergencies.
  • Leave some gear such as toiletries and a pair of dress shoes at the office.
  • Bring your bike with you if you can.  If you have to leave it at a station, be sure to properly lock it, with the U-lock through the front tire and frame and the cable between the two tires and attached to the U-lock.
  • Be curtious and follow posted street signs.  Use hand signals to indicate turns to car and bike traffic.  Slow down and check intersections before barreling through them.
  • Stretch!  It might seem silly, but it can save a lot of pain down the road.
Last of all have fun, bring a book on the train, and relax.  Biking is a lot of fun, gives you some exercise, saves you money and helps the environment.  I hope that this (rather long) post helps you on your way to consider commuting by bike.  Who knows, maybe I'll see you out on the road :-)

Until next time...


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Lesley said...

Love this post! I am going to start biking to work...once I buy a bike...but this was very helpful! I've been trying to figure out if I could do it or not.

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