Loving the Commute: Edition #1


This is the first instalment of a series on bicycle commuting by guest contributor, Aaron Madrid. Who better than a newcomer to the world of commuting to talk about their experiences and suggestions to get you doing the same?

Loving the Commute

by Aaron Madrid

While we are all confident that eventually the great financial pendulum will swing back into the black; many have began to look for new ways to save money. Most everyone has to get to work (or their daily protest) and as such, soaring gas prices are always hard to swallow.  For me, as a follower and apostle of the way of the bike, I made the decision to try to begin commuting to work by bike.  In addition to the fact that I was trying to lose some weight and the obvious financial benefits I quickly realized there were other less obvious benefits to commuting to work.  If you are visiting this site, you likely already know the feeling of freedom and excitement you get from riding.  Imagine if you could start and end your work day with that feeling, every day.  Commuting is good for you, good for your wallet, and good for your soul.


Living in a smaller college town I see students riding bikes all over the place.  The recent cycling revolution has drawn even more to the sport outside of the campus as well.  In fact, cycling has become so popular in my town that the city is looking to creating more bike accessible parking as well as extended bike lanes both on and off the campus.  As I spent the better part of 2011 commuting, I thought that perhaps it would be nice to share some of my experiences as well as stories from other commuters I have encountered.  Also, look for reviews of some great commuter gear in this series to help you along the road.

Mark Twain once said “Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it… if you live.”  I don’t know that he actually meant it the way I took it, but regardless, it is this quote that sat in the back of my mind during my first weeks commuting.  Don’t be fooled, riding in traffic on the open roads, for even a short distance, can be dangerous.  With all the distractions out there for drivers these days, all it takes is an innocent, poorly timed glance at a vibrating cell phone to result in a terrible accident.  I love to suffer on the bike, and my route to work offered plenty of occasions to do so.  However, commuting offers a new variety of suffering than what most cyclists might be used to. In addition to the uphill route I was riding every day, I had to contend with the horrifying campus traffic made up of students that aren’t familiar with our roads, routes, (or rules in general it would seem sometimes).  I had to cross bridges that offered mere inches between cars and the wall for me to navigate.  I didn’t have the choice to stop, or give up when the ride got physically tough…I had to get to work and I had to get there on time!

Overcoming Fears

At the same time, if I was going to make this work, I had to overcome any fear of the traffic around me.  Each day was a battle, but one I knew I could win.  There is something about the thrill of that fight, so early in the morning, that made me excited just to get up.  I would mount my steel steed, place my helm upon my head, crank the Rush (don’t judge me) and hit the road.  In my city (and most in the United States) it is illegal to ride on the sidewalks, and my route offered few actual bike lanes to offer protection.  I quickly had to become comfortable with my place in the lane.  Eventually it became an exhilarating addiction.  I would pull up next to cars at red lights and race them off the line for position.  I was always careful, but I couldn’t help daring to challenge the massive metal beasts that roamed the concrete jungles with me.  Sometimes I won, sometimes they won… ok mostly they won…either way it is a blast.


It is these feelings of excitement, dread, and the spirit of competition that drove me (no pun intended) to start this series.  Commuting to work isn’t just about saving money, or getting in shape.  Commuting is a way of life.  Commuting is a new challenge.  Commuting is an entirely new aspect of cycling that some of you have yet to discover.  Some commuters challenge themselves like I did, some find it more relaxing, and some can’t handle the fear and have to get back behind the wheel.

In these articles we will explore what it takes to be a commuter, how to be safe, and what commuting means to those that are already a part of this elite group of mildly crazy individuals.  I invite you to strap on your helmet, ring your bell, and ride with me!

Aaron Madrid lives in Lafayette, Indiana and is a bike lover and cycling commuter.  A lifetime geek he now spends his time with his family or out riding his bike…occasionaly finding time to read comic books and play video games. You can read his previous guest posts on Loving the Bike, “A Self Proclaimed Geek Takes on Cycling” and “#bikeschool: Bike Prices”. Also be sure to find him on Twitter (@Aaronthestrong) or at www.GuerrillaGeek.com.



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19 Responses to “ Loving the Commute: Edition #1 ”

  1. Heather H on January 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Finally catching up on my blog reading…Great post Aaron! I’m very much looking forward to Commuting Edition #2! I’ve been bike commuting in Austin for about 3 years now, I love it! I don’t ride every day (the bus is easy for me too) but often enough that people expect to see my bike in the office and when it’s not they ask “how did you get here today?” 🙂 I work at a university, so I completely understand riding through the insanity that is a college campus!! Yikes!!

  2. Bravo Tango on December 23, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Outstanding article, very motivating. 

  3. Mark Beaconsfield on December 12, 2011 at 7:55 am

    This is brilliant. I keep returning to this to read all the comments. It is great to hear everyones thoughts on this subject. Aaron, you have done well. Not only have you brought this subject out in the open, you have inspired others to begin/resume commuting by bike.

  4. Freddie on December 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I enjoyed your quote “There is something about the thrill of that fight, so early in the morning, that made me excited just to get up.”  I felt that way when I first started to commute on my bike, but then it became more of a challenge.  I took some time off from it and just got into it again a few months ago.  I hope to continue commuting all winter and it is interesting to read your perspective as well.  When is the #2 coming out?

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks for reading, Freddie! I believe #2 should be up next week! Keep an eye peeled. 🙂 

  5. Anonymous on December 9, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I am a lifelong bicycle commuter, lucky enough to have ridden a bike to school and back as a kid, and pretty much just kept doing that as I grew up. So far I’ve displaced over 150,000 car miles, saved 10,000 gallons of gas, and $25,000. I’m still pedaling strong. Hang on, I’ve got a lot to say about this subject…

    Since I always have ridden, I’ve never really confronted the “fear factor” of starting. I learned how to ride with traffic and earn the respect of motorists early. I knew by age 18 I was going to spend a lifetime doing this, so I developed habits that minimize risk. Move with the traffic, act as much like an auto driver as you can. Don’t disregard traffic signals, and for goodness sake, don’t pass motorists on the right unless you’ve got your own full clean lane! Drivers are scared shitless of hitting you because of the weight of liability, and that fear often manifests itself in anger and aggression. The more predictable you are, and the fewer surprises you present to the motorist, the less fear, and aggression, drivers have. You CAN earn the respect of most motorists. When you commute, you often end up on the same streets at the same time with the same people, over and over. If you treat them with respect, follow the laws, remain predictable, and don’t hold them up unless it’s a real safety issue, they will respect you back. It really does work that way. 

    If there was any single warning I could give anyone, it’s “Stay Away From Wal-Marts!” My previous job’s commute took me right past a Wal-Mart. Of the 5 miles each way, over 90% of all altercations with motorists over an 8-year timespan happened within a quarter mile of that Wal-Mart. It’s a depressing window into some of the ugliest sectors of our society. Avoiding areas around Wal-marts will reduce potential motorist conflicts significantly. 

    I am a big fan of integration, as opposed to segregation, of bike and car traffic. Especially as commuters, we’re using the same roads, for the same reasons, to get to the same places, as motorists are. In a very fundamental sense, going the bike lane / bike path route relegates cyclists to being 2nd class citizens. I’ve personally seen a marked rise in a “Get off the streets and onto your little bike path” attitude by motorists over the last dozen years as these things have been built. Some national parks are currently in the process of outlawing bicycle use on park roads if there’s a ‘parallel pathway.’ I see the bike lanes as the worst: they are usually nothing more than debris collection areas. Then, when you’re forced to ride outside of them to avoid hazards, drivers get very aggressive about the cyclist not ‘staying in their place.’ Don’t be fooled into giving away your rights to the roadway for perceived safety. If the road is wide enough, just take the damned paint stripe off. You will actually benefit from having car tires keep debris swept clean for a wider area of roadway, and there’s still plenty of room to co-exist. 

    OTOH, one of the pitfalls of accommodating bicycles is a “one solution” approach. Bicycles are entirely unique because of the speed variability and flexibility. Bicycles have one foot in the pedestrian world, and one foot in the automotive world, and are the only things that span the entire gamut in between. There is no one solution. Sometimes, integration is best. Sometimes, segregation is best. The trick is keeping an open mind, figuring out what works best where, and providing the flexibility needed to take advantage of whatever works best. Even I will switch between sidewalks or pathways and roads depending on relative speed and traffic density. The ability to transition gracefully between ‘pedestrian’ mode and ‘car’ mode is vitally important, because effective commuting usually requires it. It’s a feature few cycling infrastructure projects adequately address, and it’s something most cyclists could do better at as well. 

    The last point I’d like to make in my incredibly long-winded post is the importance of health benefits and lifestyle integration. Because I’ve got cycling integrated into my lifestyle, I get exercise every single day. All those benefits are integrated into my lifestyle. Instead of paying for a gym membership and taking extra time to go there and do that, I save money by riding my bike for transportation instead. Once you get your riding legs on, you’ll find out that in-town commuting rarely takes more than 50% more time than driving. For my current commute, if I take the shortest route, there is no time difference. When it snows, I can hop on my mountain bike with big knobby tires and beat almost any car via alternate routes. 

    And sandwiches taste a lot better than gasoline. 🙂

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks for reading and for your GREAT comments! I agree with a lot of what you have to say about traffic integration versus segregation. Bike commuting presents a lot of unique challenges to to both the cyclist and drivers, as well as those that handle city planning! Several cities have had trial runs of a pavement marking that designates the lane as “Shared” ( I had the privilege of installing about 10 miles worth of them several years ago in Bloomington, Indiana), but communicating the meaning of the markings, and the laws around them presented a new set of problems. (http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=4286822) I believe that goals like this are the only way to create a safer environment for commuters. The responsibility for safety falls on everyone involved, and sadly that is something that a lot of people seem to have trouble with. 

      As for the comments on Wal-Mart…that is hilarious, and made my day. For me the most difficult part of the commute, traffic-wise, is through our large college campus. The first 2/3’s of my ride takes me into the campus and then through it…and between students who aren’t that familiar with pedestrian laws, and a local populace making the same commute as me that don’t like contending with the “visitors” to our city…it makes for an interesting ride. Look for more on that in future editions! 

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on December 9, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Wow, what a comment.  This could have easily been one of the segments in our Loving the Commute series that Aaron will be putting out over the next little while.  I thought you brought up a lot of great points and found your comments on Walmart super funny.  I knew there was a reason that I never go there.  I also loved your last quote about sandwiches tasting a whole lot better than gas.  Nice.

      Thanks for your input and I sure hope you’ll be back to read the rest of the posts in this series….and our other posts as well.  Keep the long-winded comments coming.

  6. Bob A on December 9, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I changed jobs last Feb that allowed me to start to #bikecommute. (My 250 mi commute wasn’t so bike friendly.)  I live in a suburb w/ a couple miles of state highway between my town and the Mad City, so I started by driving into town to a shopping center and biking from there (about 1/2 and 1/2).  Once it warmed up and daylight returned, I started riding all the way (about 10.5 mi).  I love it and continue to #bikecommute even now (17F for this morning’s ride).  With the right gear, you don’t have to worry about the cold.

    At least here, I have found that there is minimal time difference between commuting by bike v car, unless you want to pay out the nose to park in a lot/ramp close to the office.  To get free parking, you need to a) be at least 1 mi away and b) be aware of all the restrictions.  Parking that far out negates any time advantage traveling by car might provide.  You also need to account for finding a spot to park in.

    Thanks for starting this series Aaron! I look forward to reading more.

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks for reading Bob! I might hit you up for some personal stories some time if you are game!

  7. ilike bikes1035 on December 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

    I got myself a folding bike last spring, and started bike commuting shortly thereafter. I really like the ride, and with the folding bike, I can still drive when I need to. I actually have to drive part of my commute every day, since it takes me on the interstate, and there’s no good way around, but shortly after exiting, I park in a public lot, and ride the rest of the way in to work. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the cars, and it’s a really relaxing part of my day, despite the traffic.

  8. Eagster on December 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I have been wanting to do more commuting.  I have done it a few times this year, but always seem to resort back to the car.  I have been needing a nudge and this just might do it.  I’ll see how I feel on monday morning and get back at it.  I will watch for more of these commuter posts in the future.

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      That’s the best compliment I could hope to get! Thanks for reading!

  9. PedalmanTO on December 9, 2011 at 7:41 am

    First and foremost, congratulations on becoming a commuter. It takes awareness of the road to commute by bike but if more people give it a chance it will change their day for the better.
    For those that have fear Aaron, consider taking them on different routes to and from their work/school to help them. It will help them with that first bit of confidence and it’s a great way to show people the joy you’ve received by way of the bike. Trust me, everyone involved will learn something and feel great.
    Keep the Rubber Side Down my friend.

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Thanks Ian. Those are exactly some of the things I did when I first started commuting! I will certainly be talking to some folks about their routes in coming editions of the series. Thanks a lot for reading and commenting!

  10. Mark Beaconsfield on December 9, 2011 at 7:19 am

    As a person who has lived thier life car free. I can relate to this. Commuting is very different to training or recreational riding as it is usually done on busy roads at a busy time. If you add the fact that you also have a time limit, things can be pretty scary. Well done Aaron, this is a great subject to share with everyone and I cant wait for the next installment.

    • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 7:30 am

      Thanks Mark! I’m not quite 100% car free, but I’m working on it! 🙂 The idea of being car-light was one that, for me, was inspired by this very website! Thanks for reading my friend!

      • Darryl is Loving the Bike on December 9, 2011 at 8:52 am

        Wow, that is a huge compliment Aaron.  You never told me that going car-light was inspired by this site.  That really makes me feel good and I’m so proud and excited for you and your future of commuting.

        Thanks for putting this great post together and I’m looking forward to the rest of the commuter articles in this series.  Awesome.

        • Aaronthestrong on December 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm

          That car lite post was one of the VERY first I ever read on the site! Thanks for putting together such a great outlet for all of us following the way of the bike!


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