Car Free and Carefree – Making Commuting by Bike Routine

Paananen-Commuter Summer commute by the Capitol in Boise.
Summer commute by the Capitol in Boise.

Every morning I arrive at work at 7:30 a.m. Pretty much like clockwork. As the coffee is percolating in the break room it’s there that I overhear the daily chatter: “traffic was awful, there was a wreck on the freeway, State Street was backed up for miles, I couldn’t find a place to park so I circled and circled….” The daily struggles of daily drivers. Not this kid.

My commute used to be 12 miles round trip through some difficult and not very bicycle friendly areas. Did you know, 50% of all work commutes are 10 miles or less each way? In late 2013 we moved closer to downtown and to work. We had a car and truck. One for me, one for my husband. We have the luxury of working at the same place so that gives us some great options. I can ride my bike, ride the bus for free with my employee I.D. or carpool on really bad weather days.

Three years ago we said goodbye to my car. My little MINI Cooper that sat on the street looking lonely as each day I hopped on my bike. I’d say about 48 out of 52 weeks a year I ride my bike to work. There are challenges for sure, for example, the weather; after work events; what to wear as a professional yet functional on the bike—but all of those are not insurmountable with a little planning. A personal favorite is the Versa Barrier Jacket for its understated look yet function for commuting. There is something to be said about having that time to yourself in the morning hours as the sun is coming up. Besides, biking to work is good for you and makes you happier.

There are things you see on a bike that you would never see in a car. I once rescued two little owlets that fell from their tree near a park I pass each day. The smell of wood burning fireplaces and freshly cut grass, pockets of warm and cool air that wash over you, neighbors walking their dogs and waving good morning as they stroll out to pick up the morning paper. Even the rain isn’t so bad.

Paananen-Commuter-The Early Days photo with her bike
The Early Days - My old bike and still with a car.
Paananen-Commuter bike to work day
Bacon Powered - Bike to Work Day breakfast stops are the best.

I got so into to commuting by bicycle that I found that my workplace needed to amp some things up to encourage more people to ride. In 2014 I spearheaded our Bicycle Friendly Business campaign and we were able to add new and improved bike parking, two Fix-It stations, and a Green Bike bike share station. I literally camped out at the bike racks and asked people about their commutes to help get more resources and more riders involved. I would ask how far they traveled by bike and how they got started commuting, which then we formed a committee made up of about a dozen employees with like-minded interests on improving biking accessibility. The goal was educating and mentoring other coworkers who may be reluctant to take that first step into commuting. All of these improvements got us a bronze level designation with the League of American Bicyclists in 2015!

I won’t say that every day is easy, especially when it’s 20 degrees out or raining, but I feel better for it. Not only do I save over $555 in car payments, parking, insurance and gas, I reap the rewards of being healthier, less stressed out and feel good about reducing Co2 emissions. Curious about how much your car is costing you every year? Here’s a calculator to find out.

Let’s not forget the fitness or bike handling skill gains. Even riding at an easy pace to work is beneficial for your fitness for those rides you are out there to get after it and ride hard. Handling a bike on less than ideal roads in weather helps prepare you for those surprises you occasionally find out there on your non-commute rides. Commuting has improved my bike handling skills by being fully aware of my surroundings. You learn to be ready for the random opening car door and preparing for evasive maneuvers, this helps a lot when I ride in a group setting also.

And just think, the more coworkers we get riding, the safer we all will be to commute more often. Eventually, hearing talk at the coffee pot in the morning about difficulty finding a bike parking spot could become a welcomed discussion to have, with fellow cyclists. Until then, I’ll be carefree racking up the commuter miles.

Paananen-Commuter-BioViz commuters
Hi-Viz Commuters - me and my husband arriving at work.
New Park-A-Bike parking stations at the Courthouse in Boise.
New Park-A-Bike parking stations at the Courthouse in Boise.
Coffee stop in front of my favorite local spot.