My 10-minute commute, or, no excuses

A few weeks ago, Velouria posted about the way bicycles are generally viewed as leisure instruments, a way of getting around that is less efficient than driving. This is sometimes true, but sometimes not; in compact cities with traffic or parking problems, it is less likely to be the case. It’s no secret that I use my car sometimes. In Nashville there are plenty of places I can’t get to safely or quickly by bike, and since traffic here is generally minimal and parking nearly always free, there are few incentives to spend the extra time or take a ride that would be stressful, dangerous and/or end at a place with nowhere to safely park my bike (this is a shame, but that’s a digression for another post).

But it got me wondering whether it was true that my commute to work by bike takes longer than it does for me to drive, so I started paying more attention to the time it was taking me to get there.

The first time I rode my bike along my commute route was a Saturday in April; my friend P. was along on her Dahon. It felt like flying; the speed, the rush of air!

Then I realized maybe I was wrong about the “speed”: It took almost 20 minutes for me to ride the 2.5 miles to my office. Over the next three years, I seemed to get a bit faster, but my mental rule of thumb was that my commute by car took 10-12 minutes while commute by bike took 15-17 minutes. Not a big difference, but enough that on days I was running late I would often take the car to save that all-important 5 minutes. I take different routes by bike and car, and the driving route is shorter, so that played a part in my perception of driving as faster as well.

Terribly illustrative blurry iPhone photo of my watch and two of the reasons I am sometimes running behind in the mornings: a book and a coffee mug.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: My average bicycle commute is actually about 12 minutes, and I timed my first 10-minute ride to work a couple of weeks ago. Whereas my drive time has not gotten any faster over the past 3 years, my cycling times definitely have.

Although I know this won’t be true in all cases, it’s something to keep in mind for those who list time as a reason not to try riding to work. Now “humidity” and “heavy rain” are looking pretty lonely on my excuses for not riding list.


31 thoughts on “My 10-minute commute, or, no excuses

  1. Astroluc1 says:

    damn… I’d love to have a 2.5 mile commute! Mine is 7 miles… distance aside, though, I live in the same city as Verloria, so it is usually much faster to go by bike :)

  2. Ipstenu says:

    My biking got curtailed right as it got back in swing with a dislocated kneecap (unrealted to the biking). After physio and rehab and all the fun stuff, I still don’t get to bike much :(

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nice post! Funny how many excuses fall away for me when I sit down with the numbers instead of my assumptions. When I commute or run errands by bike, I also notice that I’m happier and calmer than the folks trapped in their cars and frustrated with traffic. How do you measure that? Congrats on the faster times!

    • LGRAB says:

      Yes, biking does have additional benefits! And numbers do tell. I had suspected for a while that I was getting faster, but “three songs” was kind of a vague way of measuring time. :)

    • We all strive to have a higher quality of life and everything we do is, at least in theory, aimed at that result. If we manage to find a means of transportation that increases our quality of life rather than decreasing it, it is an achievement that has a great deal more value than most people realise.

  4. If the route is a densely urban one, it usually takes me the same amount of time or less to ride my bike to a destination as it would to drive. Boston is pretty bad as far as traffic and parking. For a suburban/ low traffic route, it takes me about 50% longer to cycle – usually a 30 min vs 45 min difference. I can completely understand how someone living in an area with huge distances between destination chooses driving instead of cycling in order to save time, especially if they must travel numerous times a day.

    • LGRAB says:

      Yes, it’s the “multiple trips” that really kills me. On days I have to run an errand at lunch or go to an appointment, for example, it’s often impossible to ride my bike to work.

  5. Dave says:

    For me, in Portland, parking is often one of the biggest motivators to ride a bike. Well, that and the fact that I don’t have a car anymore. But when I still did, it was often much easier to find bike parking than car parking. Downtown, there is no free parking anywhere for cars (though it is still much cheaper than many large cities, apparently). Elsewhere, there is free street parking on every street, basically, but in commercial areas, it is always really full, and you often have to drive around for several minutes just to find parking, and you end up several blocks away from where you are going.

    On a bike, there is almost always bike parking open right on the street you are going to, often right in front of or within a block of where you are going. I very rarely have to look for open parking when going out to eat or shopping or whatever (residential parking is another issue…

    Another thing I’ve noticed while riding in the central city in Portland, is that over a 4-5 mile trip, if I ride absolutely as hard as I can, still following traffic rules – I only shave off about 2-3 minutes total over riding very casually and just taking it easy. That’s convinced me that, except for a short trip where I’m really late, I never have reason to push myself hard, unless I really want to. 2-3 minutes is very rarely worth the effort for me.

  6. Layrun Hill is my Fuji says:

    I have a 6-mile bike commute in Chicago, and do not own a car. By bike, it’s 20-25 minutes. If I take public transportation, it takes me an hour to get to work. I don’t know how long it takes to drive, as I have only done it once, but I assume it’s probably about the same amount of time as biking.

    That being said, this may be my first winter as a bike commuter to save myself the extra half hour of nuts-to-butts El Train commuting!

  7. I’m with Dave–when you factor in travel time + parking, in a downtown area bikes are faster and more convenient.

    I have a really short commute and lots of meetings back and forth in our downtown. I analyzed the time, factoring in all the elements of getting from point A to point B, and biking is the hands-down winner (or transit, in the winter).

    I also try to bear in mind that the perceived greater speed of the car can be wiped out in an instant by a traffic snarl I can easily get around on my bike by switching to the sidewalk (I walk my bike when I’m in pedestrian spaces but I’m still moving while the cars are stuck).

    No form of transportation is guaranteed a speedy and hassle-free passage, but somehow we all fall into the trap of thinking that cars have fewer of those than other forms of transportation when really they don’t and they’re inflexible in their usage.

    Check out this great video Momentum Magazine posted that shows what it would be like if bikes operated like cars:


  8. NancyB says:

    My commute is 13 miles each way, suburban riding. When I drive it takes about a half an hour, when I bike just about an hour. I’ll second those observations about longer distances, my bike commute is perfect, long enough to be good excercise but not too long to take too much time in my day. That said, there are mornings I wake up (usually Friday) and just don’t want to do the mileage.

  9. Kara says:

    I am in the same boat. I think my car commute is shorter than it is. What I always forget is that it may take 10 minutes to get to work, but then I have to take 5 minutes driving up to the top of my parking structure. While on my bicycle I just pull right up front and walk right in.

  10. Dave says:

    I think another thing that we forget about Urban travel particularly, is that your average speed over a trip somewhere in a car is always much less than your possible top speed. So, just because you can go 35mph in between stoplights doesn’t mean you average 35mph over the whole trip – usually it’s more like 15mph if you’re driving on surface streets and not freeways – which isn’t that much faster than you average on a bike. Add in that it’s easier to avoid traffic backups and to find parking with a bike, and you’ve pretty much made up the extra time in most cases. Plus the simple lack of frustration of getting stuck in traffic makes it seem so much better, to me. Even if I’m moving more slowly, I’m not stopping nearly as much.

    Of course, as has been stated, that’s all different in suburban and rural areas where the streets are big, there aren’t frequent stops, and traffic moves fast.

  11. Erica Satifka says:

    I don’t drive, but I do take public transportation. At my old job, my commute was 45 minutes to an hour and a half, with one transfer, and I know I could have beaten that by bike (although I never tried). In the suburbs, unless you’re going straight downtown, it is almost always faster to bike instead of take public transportation… if there even IS public transportation, it usually only gets you from the suburb to the city center. Of course, both are painfully slow. But even now that I live in a city (Baltimore) again, the bike is still faster, sometimes even on direct routes. For instance, it takes me only a half hour to get to the Inner Harbor on streets (same as the train), 45 minutes on a trail, and that’s also my exercise for the day. (Also, no waiting!) I think that people tend to compare bikes to whatever form of transportation they primarily used before starting to cycle, and most people drive which is why it seems slow by comparison. But compared to walking and PT, the bicycle seems scary fast to me.

    • LGRAB says:

      Yeah, I never drove to work in Chicago – most people don’t drive to work because parking is insanely expensive downtown. So my route-time comparison is public transportation. When I started bicycling, taking public transit took me an hour, since there was extensive construction on the L tracks and I had to transfer lines and then walk a couple of blocks. Now the construction is complete and my new work commute does not require a transfer, so taking the L is about 25 minutes, while bicycling is about 30-35 (along my quiet route). Not enough of a time difference for me to take the L when in a rush and I HATE waiting for the train. I am super impatient now because I’m so used to jumping on my bike and going. If I really need to shave 5 minutes off my commute, I ride Betty Foy, brave the direct route, and haul ass.

    • LGRAB says:

      p.s. In case it’s not obvious, this is Dottie. :) Disqus calls me “LGRAB” when I reply to a comment via email.

    • LGRAB says:

      I didn’t even mention public transport in my post because it would take me so long to get to work using it—I’d have to ride downtown and transfer to another line. Still probably only a 10-mile trip, but it would take me at least 45 minutes. It’s quicker to walk to the office!
      When I visit Chicago, which is really the only city with decent transportation that I’ve also biked in extensively, it seems like the time it takes you to bike somewhere is generally equal to or less than the time it takes to get there on the El or bus.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I live in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my commute by bike takes 12-15 minutes (2.5 miles). That’s roughly how long it would take me in the car. So why not drive?
    Parking on the college campus is SUPER expensive, I hate driving, and I like getting at least a little fresh air each day.

  13. Amy says:

    I’m actually in the longer by bike group. Well, for part of the day anyway. In the morning, I work about 1/2 mile from home, so it takes me about 5 minutes to ride there, lock up and get inside. Absolutely no excuse to drive! But in the afternoons it’s a different story. Then it’s a 5 mile commute (one way), but b/c of it being through a rural, VERY hilly area, it takes me 35-40 minutes to get there by bike (and only about 22-25 to get home! It’s more uphill going to than from.) But by car it takes 13 minutes. So if I ever have to run an errand, or need to be back by a certain time, then I have to drive. Most days I get to bike ride, but it really is a luxury here that most people don’t have.

  14. Karen says:

    You’re being honest. Generally, most rides here in Flagstaff are longer on my bike than in the car so I just have to carefully plan. I’ve had a few occasions when traffic was really backed up that the bike ride would have been quicker but usually it takes 5 – 10 minutes longer. That said, the bike ride is usually much more pleasant and definitely more economical. Now when we have snow and ice on the road at the end of November I will definitely be car pooling with my husband and skiing home.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Y’all are forgetting to factor in the 30 minutes of exercise you are supposed to be getting every day. Cycle commuting reduces that. Driving does not unless you have a long walk from your parking spot. Trisha needs to take a biking detour if she wishes to take a pass on the gym!

  16. Stephen Hodges says:

    I have to wonder if anyone has done a genuinely empirical study of getting around in an urban downtown area via bike vs. car. There would be a lot of variables to control for, but it would be interesting. My guess is that, at worst, it would be a wash.

    My distance and time numbers are similar to Trisha’s, but the benefits I get by bicycling I think easily outweigh those created by driving, including (obviously) exercise, economy, and ease of parking, to name just a few. Today, for instance, I bicycled about seven blocks downtown one way to have lunch in a beautiful and quiet church courtyard, where I read for about 15-20 minutes. By the time I could have driven, parked, and walked, I was easily able to reach it by bicycle, and I didn’t have to change into bicycling clothes.

    Of course, it helps that I live 2.5 miles away from my employer and the university where I’m taking a class. If it were substantially farther, the resistance to bicycling would be probably significantly higher.

  17. lem says:

    I have to ‘visit’ to my ‘official’ office in town about 10-12 days a month to meet my clients/business
    associates. This is where my ‘conference room’ is.(My ‘home-office is my ‘sanctuary’ to preserve my
    sanity ). I commute between them (about 6miles apart by road) and I have never bothered if I could reach there faster by car,(Believe me I own a car … reluctantly).

    * The gentle breeze that skim softly over my naturally smooth and soft ‘non-treated-with-commercial-facecream facial dermis’ :p :D
    * the cool wind beneath my trailing chest-nut tresses while I bike along and that elicit ‘aprreciative and respectful wolf-calls’ , sexy smile or cheeky whistle from libido-overcharged macho male homo -sapiens.
    *The mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread or cupcakes.
    *The hunger-inducing aroma of sizzzling garlic from some home-maker’s kitchen.
    * The sight of weeping mulberry or willow that lined an artificial gravel river; colourful pansies, clematis, camellias, daffodils , fuschias, lavendar etc in manicured private gardens that line my route.
    * the colorful , graceful but delicate butterflies flitting like lost souls evoking some strange feeling of quietude and peace.
    * the ocassional kingfisher that perches on railings that lined some canal and
    *many other delights I have encountered and am encountering give me cause to leave my car alone and not bothered about my travelling time. What if I have to start my ‘journey’ 20 to 30 minutes earlier to reach my destination in time? Which way would I have such enjoyment/pleasure without depleting my bank account.?
    Have I digressed …. if I have , a thousand apologies,huh !?

  18. Dhin says:

    I’ve had a tricky two weeks on my bike to school with my guys. A friend was helping me with a project and I would drive every few days for the first time in ages to pick her up and bring her home with me. what a disaster time wise and ugh being in the car.
    Riding is just the same time wise for us as parking and etc. take forever when it comes to dropping off at school. And the guys are super cranky.

  19. Charhpk says:

    I ride about 10 miles each way to and from work. One thing I have found is that whether I physically push it or I ride slow and steady (which is a lot more relaxing I might add) my commute time doesn’t change very much. I try to ride like I did when I was 12 and not take my cycling to seriously. If that makes sense?

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