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The Supercommuter
February 22, 2011 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Joe Simonetti is a 57-year-old psychotherapist who lives with his wife in Pound Ridge, New York. His commute takes him from the northern reaches of exurban Westchester County to his office just south of Central Park. It's about three and a half hours each way. By bike.

Single page version of the main article.

Mr. Simonetti was mentioned in New York Magazine in 2009: Supercommuter.

The article is by Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) (excerpt) which focuses in part on the ways driver psychology can cause us to take risks and have accidents. He also has a "How We Drive" blog on his site, which includes a post about the Outside article. Here's a video interview with him about driver perceptions and the potential dangers of advances in automotive technology on StreetFilms. (A transcript is available at the link.) Mr. Vanderbilt writes for Slate, too.

Mentioned: Milwaukee news cameraman, photographer and cyclist Jeff Frings' Bike Blog. Fring films his bike rides, then posts his (and other people's) worst encounters with car drivers. Here's a video.
posted by zarq (72 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Last but not least... a question posted to AskMe by Mr. Vanderbilt was used in his book, Traffic. There was a MeTa thread about it at the time.
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on February 22, 2011


For one thing, he does it only twice a week, weather permitting. For another, he doesn't ride home the same day; he has a crash pad in the city where he can shower and sleep.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:55 AM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


When I lived in Europe I was amazed to see people riding bikes who, in America, wouldn't be going anywhere without their Ford Crown Victoria. Even in the winter.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I once took care of a relative's place way out of town. I don't drive, and I had a day job, so I biked the 3 hours each way most days... after a while it's just normal. And getting to bike alongside a lake while the sun is just sneaking up above the horizon, and getting to experience that every morning, is completely worth it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


No thanks. My one way hour and a half commute to the Upper East Side by two busses and Subway is more than enough.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:58 AM on February 22, 2011


I applaud him. However, if he's at work for 8 hours and commuting for 7, in what sense does he "live with" his wife?
posted by DU at 8:03 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't dream of biking where I live unless I had a strong death wish. There are no decent bike lanes (hell, there are barely sidewalks in many parts of town), drivers here are insane, and there's surely a few who'd think nothing of taking out a bicyclist and doing a hit-and-run.
posted by blucevalo at 8:04 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"However, if he's at work for 8 hours and commuting for 7, in what sense does he "live with" his wife?"

In the article it states that he only does the commute one-way two times a week.
posted by docgonzo at 8:21 AM on February 22, 2011


So, basically here's an article about someone who bikes 6 hours a week. I'm not real impressed by his accomplishment, I know plenty of fairly casual bikers that do that much on a regular basis.
posted by tomswift at 8:23 AM on February 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


So, basically here's an article about someone who bikes 6 hours a week. I'm not real impressed by his accomplishment, I know plenty of fairly casual bikers that do that much on a regular basis.

Number one, he's 57. Number two, it's not like there's a bike path through the lovely meadows from Westchester to Central Park.
posted by spicynuts at 8:26 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


As someone who also velo-commutes to work, albeit only a 10 mile round trip, I applaud him.

As someone who does this every day though, I say, show some commitment sucker!
posted by Panjandrum at 8:28 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have a cousin that used to regularly (4-5 days a week) commute 3 hours each way to work in DC. Mostly driving, occasionally part of a van pool. It came as no surprise to us that he got divorced shortly after his last kid left for college. Sure, you get to buy a bigger house in the exurbs and maybe your kids go to better schools, but I can think of few things that are worth 15 hours of your day, every day, for your entire life.
posted by electroboy at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2011


I agree - I applaud his approach, but his employment and arrangements allow him to make this choice at a fairly minimal level of sacrifice. I'm not sure there's much to be learned here that applies to the commuting and living situations of most Americans.

Number one, he's 57

....and?
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, what's weird is the play of this article. In the way it's billed and structured, in the emphasis on his accomplishments, which I agree are not incredibly exotic, it emphasizes his choice of commute. But the real interesting and contributory bit is about the filming he's done that shows how cyclists experience drivers. It would have been more interesting had he focused on that and how it can generate evidence in support of enhanced traffic safety for cyclists and drivers.
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The lesson here is that driving is a choice and excuses are excuses. You absolutely do not have to drive all the time. You just choose to. Stop pretending and own the choices you make.
posted by srboisvert at 8:47 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Number one, he's 57

....and?


And the point made was that the pster knew lots of people who do more than this guy. My point is that how many of them are 57 and have to basically ride through the Monaco Grand Prix to get their 6 hours of biking in?
posted by spicynuts at 8:47 AM on February 22, 2011


I like Jeff Frings' video.

HEY!!!
posted by orme at 8:47 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I biked more than that a week when I was younger, that is, when I was 57.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:00 AM on February 22, 2011


My point is that how many of them are 57 and have to basically ride through the Monaco Grand Prix to get their 6 hours of biking in?

It's a truly terrible place to ride; on that I agree. But I had a different take on the importance of his age and just didn't find it significant. I do have a colleague who bike-commutes; he's 52. His ride is less than 10 miles, but he cycles all weekend, too. In this neck of the woods, I've run across many, many more middle-aged male cyclists than any other description. It seems to be a pastime that attracts men in their 40s-60s who have a lot of money to spend on high-end bikes; when I was training for triathlon I discovered that this demographic accounted for about 60% of any road riding group I joined. I suspect this might be the case outside of core city areas where cycling is often the choice of younger people without children, and often because it's more convenient and less expensive than driving.

So in my mind, a 57-year-old, highly focused suburban professional is exactly the kind of person I'd expect to be doing this.
posted by Miko at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2011


On the "57" issue, when I took up road biking as an adult (I used to ride in high school, then took a while off), I started riding with the Marin Cyclists, and couldn't understand why all of these sixty-somethings were kicking my ass, 'til one of 'em took me aside and explained that they were all retired and had nothing else to do but ride.

I know a whole bunch of sixty (and even a few seventy) somethings who can pull 200 miles in under 14 hours.
posted by straw at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2011


You absolutely do not have to drive all the time. You just choose to. Stop pretending and own the choices you make.

I don't drive. I don't bike either. I don't begrudge people who drive or bike. And yes, sometimes, depending on where you live, you have to drive.
posted by blucevalo at 9:18 AM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've never felt like this on the blue. Do you guys know people 57?

Fifty seven is hardly near deaths door. And while I applaud this guy, I'm the same age and I commute 16 miles round trip every day, rain or shine (OK, its CA so it's not that special) , do distances (5 double centuries last year) and fun rides on the weekends. I rode 7477 miles last year, and I'm no big deal at all.

Cycling does attract us slightly older folks. It doesn't bang a person up like running, or even tennis. And though it is true that bikes can be costly, they don't really cost more than many other hobbies.
posted by cccorlew at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do have a colleague who bike-commutes; he's 52

I guess I formatted my response poorly. It's not the age by itself...it's a combination of the age and the nightmare route. So I apologize if I insinuated he was ancient.
posted by spicynuts at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2011


The article isn't clear if he does two 3.5 hour one-way trips a week, or 2 round trips to Manhattan each week, which would be a total of 4 3.5 hour trips.

The distance is said to be 50 miles each way in the article, but Vanderbilt says that it's 65 miles "for him", even though the article said that he didn't ride any extra distance to Simonetti's place, but put his bike in a car.

But anyway, 2-4 50 mile rides or 2-4 metric centuries a week over less than friendly terrain is admirable. It's more than I'm doing or, more than likely, more than most people reading this thread are doing.
posted by maudlin at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2011


Further...I'm 41...I would NOT do this route at 41. I would do 200 miles in a weekend upstate in Dutchess or Putnam or Ulster. I may have done this route when I was in my 20s and was aggro and pissed off enough to see it as a death match and to use that attitude to be hyper-vigilant and thus safer. At 41 though, I just don't want to ruin a nice ride with the intensity of focus it would take to keep safe.
posted by spicynuts at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2011


Ageism is the one prejudice that is permissible on MetaFilter.
posted by fixedgear at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


My three-hour ride covered countryside, highways, and a scaryish ten-minute cut through a railyard under a cloverleaf to get from the secondary highway to the city streets. The wide shoulder isn't too bad, the scariest part of the highways were the bridges, which are so not coo for cyclists - one bridge I remember had a 1-ft wide strip of safe metal with open gaps into the water running alongside. Point is, just because there are no "cyclist-friendly" roads, doesn't mean it's a heroic feat to bike it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:33 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


tomswift: "So, basically here's an article about someone who bikes 6 hours a week. I'm not real impressed by his accomplishment, I know plenty of fairly casual bikers that do that much on a regular basis."

7 hours a week.

maudlin: " The distance is said to be 50 miles each way in the article, but Vanderbilt says that it's 65 miles "for him", even though the article said that he didn't ride any extra distance to Simonetti's place, but put his bike in a car."

I took this as a reflection that bikers can take shortcuts which a car can't travel. Throughout NYC, there are Greenways.
posted by zarq at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2011


zarq: " 7 hours a week. "

Actually... excuse me. 14 hours a week. He commutes back and forth to the city two times a week, at 3.5 hours one way.
posted by zarq at 9:42 AM on February 22, 2011


My dad loves to cycle. I have a treasured memory of the time when, at 10, I showed my brand new ten speed and he grabbed it and took off on it.

At 72, he's retired, so he doesn't *have* to cycle anywhere, but as soon as possible every spring he's out there. On his seventieth birthday he biked from his and my mother's place to my oldest brother's farm and back. It's a half-hour drive between the two places, so this was a distance of at least twenty miles/sixty-four kilometres each way. And he has a severe case of rhematoid arthritis. But he says a lot of the time he is just cruising along, not having to pump. With all the means of travel we've invented, the bicycle remains the most energy efficient means of transportation possible.
posted by orange swan at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2011


..I would NOT do this route at 41

Me either. I see that this is what he likes to do, but for me, this isn't where I'd want to apply the effort. Breathing all that exhaust, probably blowing out tires fairly regularly - no thanks. I'd rather ride to a train stop and take commuter rail from there, maybe ride more on weekends.

But who knows - maybe this is the way he can make his life schedule work and still get in a couple long rides. It's definitely not for everyone.
posted by Miko at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2011


I take 3 1/2 hours to get to a psychotherapy office twice a week too. Baby steps to the hallway...Baby steps to the elevator...
posted by Hoopo at 9:58 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I do an hour each way every day, when the weather permits. (If I didn't need to bring my laptop, even that's not much of an issue).
The funny thing about my commute (from northern NJ to midtown west NYC) is that it takes me exactly the same amount of time whether I use bus & subway & walk, or I use a bike.
The only difference is the need to shower after the commute as opposed to before.

(and at 43, I still find NYC traffic more exhilirating than scary)
posted by bashos_frog at 10:04 AM on February 22, 2011


I used to do a 12 mile each way bike commute across London, five days a week. The upside was that I could eat anything at all that I wanted and never put an ounce. The downside was that I developed a physique that was half rugby player, half Iggy Pop.
posted by rhymer at 10:12 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The lesson here is that driving is a choice and excuses are excuses. You absolutely do not have to drive all the time. You just choose to. Stop pretending and own the choices you make.

Statements like this are utterly unhelpful. This would be my route if I biked; it certainly wouldn't be undoable...if my knees weren't trashed (from long rides and overtraining in high school, plus poor genetics) and my back were more reliable.

Now, I could change jobs, and likely someday I will. At the moment, however, that's unrealistic to the point of being a no-go. So I drive; I sometimes carpool with a co-worker. Our commute (on 280, not 101) is beautiful and the traffic is relatively light and fast - it's generally 30 minutes door-to-door for me. Would I rather lose 6 hours of my day to satisfy the judgments of people like you? Not likely.
posted by rtha at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


bashos_frog: " (and at 43, I still find NYC traffic more exhilirating than scary)"

I would think that if it weren't for the cars, trucks and pedestrians, Manhattan would be a fantastic place to ride. It's almost all flat paved roads and there are many paths near the water and through parks.
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on February 22, 2011


I used to find Manhattan traffic exhilarating. The longer I did it, though, and the more I did it because I *had* to and less because I *wanted* to, then the senseless carelessness of drivers became a lot less exhilarating. The dangerous environment just became an obstacle to my sense of wellbeing. Add in a few minor injuries, one totaled bicycle, and too many injuries to friends, and well... I just came to see it as a public health hazard.
posted by entropone at 10:37 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha: You might consider joining the sf2g people. You can bart to milbrae and bike the rest if you're nervous about making it on your first go. They do No Rider Left Behind on most Fridays, so that's a good day to start out.

I thought it would be the most boring thing in the world, but it was actually really beautiful and fun.

If you're interested, you should join the mailing list and maybe you'll be subconsciously convinced to give it a shot one day.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:46 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


> a physique that was half rugby player, half Iggy Pop

And that's bad how?
posted by scruss at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would think that if it weren't for the cars, trucks and pedestrians, Manhattan would be a fantastic place to ride. It's almost all flat paved roads and there are many paths near the water and through parks.

I'm lucky in that I have a choice starting from Ft. Washington of a dedicated riverside bike path, or basically heading down Broadway. So if my mind is preoccupied I can stick to the 'safer' bike path. The scare quotes are because the bike path has been the only place where I've had accidents. One was a woman who felt because it was legal to have her dogs off the leash on a heavily commuted bike path at the bottom of a downhill, that it was a good idea to do so. I did manage to avoid injuring the innocent doggies, though.
City traffic seems a lot more predictable than the walkers, joggers, skaters, etc. encountered on the bike paths, especially if you try to actually follow the traffic laws yourself.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:00 AM on February 22, 2011


From the main article, sort of a tangent:
Last September, in Maryland, Natasha Pettigrew, a Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, was training at dawn for a triathlon when she was fatally struck by a Cadillac Escalade. No charges have yet been filed against the driver, who said that she thought she'd hit an animal until she got home and found Pettigrew's bike lodged under her car.
There are so many things wrong in that paragraph I can't even begin. America, my heart goes out to you.
posted by tractorfeed at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2011


rtha: You might consider joining the sf2g people. You can bart to milbrae and bike the rest if you're nervous about making it on your first go.

Yeah, I know about that from biking friends, and it sounds like an awesome thing. The knees and the back really make it a nope-can't-do-it, though. (And the four hours it would take out of my day is an additional disincentive, I'll admit.)
posted by rtha at 11:36 AM on February 22, 2011


And the four hours it would take out of my day is an additional disincentive
I hear this kind of thing a lot from people regarding bike commuting, but for myself at least, I find that riding a bike leaves me at the end of my commute with more energy, and driving or taking a bus leaves me grumpy and demotivated. Even though my commutes are roughly time comparable, I would gladly give up an extra hour or two more for the psychological benefits. Not every hour is created equal, it seems to me.
posted by bashos_frog at 11:48 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I really liked the Jeff Fring's video - apparently if a cyclist is a coworker, local news is bike friendly!

It looks like he doesn't have a choice, because he's on 45-55mph road, but I often find that if I ride in the position he is in, with "just enough" room for a car to pass me without crossing the yellow line, then cars will try to squeeze in between... if I ride out just far enough that they put a wheel across the line, they'll go way across it and give me plenty of space. Also, if the traffic is sparse enough, turning your head to look at cars seems to make a huge difference in how much space they give you. (Either because a face makes you human, or they're misbehaving "to your face" ... or maybe it's just some kind of Caesar Milan car-whisperer dominance thing)

I also think it's funny that I say "HEY!" in the exact same way. I wonder if cars can hear it?
posted by kevin is... at 11:49 AM on February 22, 2011


I find that riding a bike leaves me at the end of my commute with more energy

I find that exercise leaves me with more energy too, but not everyone wants to devote that much extra time to it. People who write or make art or play music, raise young children, take night classes, or are renovating a home, for instance, find their pastimes rejuvenating and rewarding as well. That doesn't mean that biking four hours a day would make them equally happy. For some people, using less time to commute and more for making choices is a good option. Using less time can mean just living closer to work, if you can, but if that's not possible it may mean using bus, car, or rail.

I'm on the fence right now and it's given me a strong sense of the complexities of commuting choices. I have a job about 28 miles from where I live - I got this job last year, after 10 years of having a minimal commute of about 10 minutes, whether I drove or rode my bike (because the bike route was more efficient). I alternate between walking to the train station (1.3 miles, usually about 18 minutes) and taking the train (33 minutes) and then walking to my office (10 minutes), for a total of 122 minutes, OR driving (40 minutes door to door). Round trip, that's an two hours and two minutes by train, 80 minutes by car. It seems like the train would be the better option for a healthy lifestyle and natural exercise, but walking at that speed in office clothes is not a good enough workout for me, and biking it is almost nil, besides which I can't really bike well in the kind of clothes I have to wear to work, and changing at the office isn't going to work for a variety of reasons. So, oddly, I get a better workout, and am more likely to actually do it when I drive to work, save the 40 minutes, and go by the gym on the way home for a solid hard run. It also means I avoid the tedium of walking home, changing clothes, and turning around to walk to the gym - something that seems so redundant and dull that I don't feel like doing it by the time I finally get home. I do like that I get to read on the train, but not in the car; however, by saving 40 minutes a day, I can read more at home. That's what I do with the extra 20 minutes in the morning when I drive.

It's all tradeoffs - we all try to work out a situation we're happy with, but you always trade something off. I'd really like to get back to where I have no commute to speak of; that's the most efficient thing of all. Depending on your partner/family employment/school situation, you can't always line that up just right. Sure, we should encourage people to find a green commute. But we should also recognize that the one resource we are unable to grow or change is the 24 hours in a day, and we want to - and should try to - spend them in ways most rewarding to us. For some, like this guy, that means long long bike rides. For others, it might mean gardening, kid time, research and reading, or a different kind of workout.
posted by Miko at 12:06 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


A 50 miles commute is a lot. So much hardly anyone could see themselves in the same situation. I did a 7 mile (bike-) commute some years ago, and my co-workers were split on wether it was fanatic or fun. A very nice colleague of mine did 20 miles two times a day, and everyone agreed he was crazy. But fit. As someone above wrote, what about the family?
Also - the infrastructure is important. Recently in Italy, I saw a group of cyclists on the highway. What where they even doing there? No normal person would do that, or even do what Simonetti is doing, and I think its important for bicycle safety that it is normal, and that access for bikes is normal.
That all said, I ride my bike 40-60 minutes every day, like most everyone else here. I often see top government officials doing the same thing, because my daily route crosses theirs. No bodyguards, no limos.
posted by mumimor at 12:47 PM on February 22, 2011


kevin is...: "I often find that if I ride in the position he is in, with "just enough" room for a car to pass me without crossing the yellow line, then cars will try to squeeze in between... if I ride out just far enough that they put a wheel across the line, they'll go way across it and give me plenty of space."

Yeah, I've learned to do this, too. Almost every time, I get plenty of space from passing cars. I still get a few idiots who pass way too close, especially after intersections. I just have to remember to take the lane at intersections every time.
posted by maudlin at 1:01 PM on February 22, 2011


"There are so many things wrong in that paragraph I can't even begin. America, my heart goes out to you."

I'm not sure what "American" thing you're referring to, the fact the person got hit, the fact someone could drive a frigging car with a bike lodged under it and not know it, or the fact that, for some reason, charges haven't been brought yet. But, no matter which, I'm not sure any of those are a reflection of, or limited to being American. I suspect there are idiots fairly well distributed and poor decisions made around the globe in about the same proportion in one location as the other.

Thanks for the correction on the number of hours, I was relying on info further up the thread that stated it was one way, twice a week (and, yes, I did drop the .5 when I did the math).

And, I'll chime in as well to state that I know as many older riders as I do young, many of them in their 50's or 60's. I also know a number of long distance canoe/kayak folks in that age range. That demographic, as stated, often has the time and disposable income to participate in these activities.
posted by tomswift at 1:04 PM on February 22, 2011


"confusion over the laws pertaining to cyclists unfortunately echoes throughout the entire legal system" (from Bob Mionske) -- I'll echo this after dealing with all the different insurance after mr. epersonae was in a crash with a truck while riding his bike last summer.*

Also: the cop issued him a ticket w/out taking a statement from him, either on the scene or even with a follow-up call. The judge was NOT amused at the no-show by both the cop & the driver when mr. e contested. (It was, ridiculously, a ticket for passing on the left. Wha?)

* As I understand it from him, the driver pulled out from the curb & abruptly turned left at the intersection. Mr. e was going fast down a steep hill, hit the rear corner of the truck and flipped over it entirely, hitting the back of his head squarely on the pavement. With no helmet. So not in a great condition to give a statement when the police showed.
posted by epersonae at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My spinning instructor is 60 and instructs our class 5 days a week plus a core workout that kicks my booty every time. The man can do 5 minute "planks". He is doing the tour de france this summer. Where is his article?
posted by janelikes at 1:21 PM on February 22, 2011


janelikes: "My spinning instructor is 60 and instructs our class 5 days a week plus a core workout that kicks my booty every time. The man can do 5 minute "planks". He is doing the tour de france this summer. Where is his article?"

Why not write one yourself?
posted by zarq at 1:39 PM on February 22, 2011


Why not write one yourself?

That's all we need, more "Here's a dude I know that does a thing that's totally a trend" articles.
posted by electroboy at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2011


I'm not sure what "American" thing you're referring to...

I'm referring to the fact that there are very few places one can easily live in the US and not have a car. And the fact that Americans drive enormous cars and have gotten subsidies for buying extremely fuel inefficient SUVs. And the fact that it's notable that someone braves cycling fifty miles through an infrastructure that is entirely hostile to his endeavor, one that is built around the car. And the fact that people drive cars that are so big that they can kill another human and not even realize it.

I'm from the US, but I've lived in Amsterdam, Paris, and now the UK, and every time I go home for a visit I'm struck by how many cars there are, how huge they are, and how few people are cycling. Paris and London have low-cost bike borrowing schemes, and people of all ages use the bicycles, and in Paris at least there is just not the same kind of drivers vs. cyclists mentality. My wish for the US is that the same kind of cycling schemes will catch on, and that cities and suburbs will make the same kinds of investments in infrastructure that is more welcoming to cyclists, so that maybe one day commuting to the city from Westchester on a bike won't seem like a crazy idea.
posted by tractorfeed at 1:51 PM on February 22, 2011


I developed a physique that was half rugby player, half Iggy Pop.

Which half was Iggy Pop? Was it his famously large penis? I've been riding for years, but no penile growth so far.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:56 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You absolutely do not have to drive all the time. You just choose to. Stop pretending and own the choices you make.

If God had wanted me to cycle to work, he wouldn't have bought me a Honda Civic.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:11 PM on February 22, 2011


tractorfeed, sorry, I misread your original comment... my apologies.
posted by tomswift at 2:12 PM on February 22, 2011


maybe one day commuting to the city from Westchester on a bike won't seem like a crazy idea.

I'm pretty sure a 6 hour roundtrip commute is always going to seem like a crazy idea.
posted by electroboy at 2:28 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


He is doing the tour de france this summer. Where is his article?

Who's he racing for? Kidding, I kid!

That's all we need, more "Here's a dude I know that does a thing that's totally a trend" articles.

I know, he's probably one of those paleo diet guys, right? See above.
posted by fixedgear at 2:55 PM on February 22, 2011


My husband bikes to work every day, even in the bitter cold, even in that midwestern blizzard last month. We have a toddler and one on the way. It's only around 3.5 miles for him -- downhill on the way to work, uphill on the way back. It does take more time than driving, and it's less convenient for me: I can't ask him to pick up diapers on the way home, for example, and when we had an emergency he had to come home and get a car to drive to meet us at the emergency because he couldn't bike to the place in question. Obviously we can't trade off the spawn unless we arrange it in advance since he has no car with carseat.

But, he gets good exercise every day biking (he's much healthier) and it makes him happy, so I figure it's mostly worth the hassles. Otherwise he might have to go to the gym three or four times a week, which would take more time and not be part of his normal, if slightly extended, workday. Having him bike to work instead of drive is just a different kind of logistics w/r/t the kids; there's still all the hassle with carseats and everything else. If we plan in advance he CAN take the car, but he doesn't like to. He opted to bike mostly for environmental reasons.

The two things I don't like are when he bikes and unexpectedly stays late -- he doesn't mind biking home at 10 p.m. but IT REALLY BOTHERS ME because not all of those neighborhoods are great places at 10 p.m. -- and that when he gets home from a strenuous ride (windy and uphill winter rides, or hot and uphill summer rides), he STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN and doesn't always want to hop right in the shower without getting to rest first. NOT ON MY UPHOLSTERY, MISTER.

We are still a two-car family because he frequently has to drive out to rural courthouses, and when he takes the kidmobile (my car), I have to take his car. My work isn't bikeable; it's across a highway bridge with no bike option. In theory it's cut our costs, but in practice it turns out bike people have a lot of toys they want to buy. :P He has a spreadsheet showing how much he's saved in gas and it does outweigh the cost of the toys, but still.

He got a little feature on the local news because the camera crew happened to catch him downtown on the day the big blizzard blew in last month, and he was one of the last guys downtown, about to BIKE HOME in the blizzard. He actually makes it to and from the office much more easily after big snowstorms than cars do; but day two or three when the roads are mostly cleared but very icy is when it's dangerous for him. A lot of people's reactions were, "OMG, that guy's poor wife." And while it does annoy periodically, and I do worry about assholes running him over and killing him, I realize that's unlikely, he takes a pretty safe route mostly through residential neighborhoods, and I really appreciate that he's gotten very fit with very little extra time commitment. And it makes him happy. And it saves the planet.

And it makes him feel all morally superior to people, like me, who drive places, but that's really a benefit for him, not me. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:02 PM on February 22, 2011


(Oh, PS -- my husband is a transplanted Floridian who can't stand the cold. He bikes when it's -10.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:03 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: re "diapers on the way home" - he might want to look at a cargo bike. I love my Xtracycle to a degree that's possibly unhealthy. :) (Pics) And seriously, the best thing about commuting with it is being able to stop by the store on the way home.
posted by epersonae at 4:09 PM on February 22, 2011


During my first year of grad school, I never took public transit or a car to school even once. Every single day that I went to school I biked. The trip was from downtown Toronto to York university (just shy of 40km roundtrip, and very hilly). I did this from the summer of 2007 to May of 2008, and I did it on an old heavy beater of a mountain bike.

I was always well protected - in midwinter I looked like I was wearing a hazmat suit - I'd have thermal underwear, jeans, gators, gortex pants, ski goggles, face mask, etc. I remember biking home one evening in a snowstorm - hardly a car out on the road - those that were were going about 10km/h and often stuck. I did some of my finest biking that evening - took me a bit over 2 hours to get home (fastest time I did was 35 minutes from campus to downtown), but boy did I learn something about balance and controlled fish tails.

My friends thought I was absolutely insane - but I'd just tell them that it invigorated me and was totally fine. This was ontop of a schedule of lifting heavy weights at the gym twice a week, indoor rock climbing 2-3 times a week, and playing other sports on a regular basis such as squash, kickball and ultimate frisbee.

In May of 2008, I had a flat on the way home that was unfixable - I had a spare tube but the tyre was shredded and wouldn't stay inside the rim. So I took the bus home, and that night, noticed that my frame had cracked in one of the forks. So I started taking public transit to school from that day on, and immediately noticed how much more mental energy I had in the lab and in class. Travel time was about the same, but in terms of mental effort space, public transit was far shorter, and left me more room (and probably brain glucose) to function normally.

I've never biked to school since...

which taught me something about myself. I wasn't doing this out of any intrinsic love. The thing that was motivating my insanity was simply to see how many days in a row I could do it. Granted, I didn't have to be up on campus every day of the week, but I wanted to see how many days I could go without taking public transit (I biked absolutely everywhere - not only school - I think I took transit 2-3 times in total during that year). Once the streak was broken, due to the flat tyre and busted frame, there was no point anymore. I could no longer wear my badge of pride to others.

I also lost about 25 pounds of weight - much of it muscle mass. I simply couldn't keep up with the calories necessary to maintain my bodyweight.

Now I enjoy biking for errands and recreationally.

I rarely felt any danger from other cars. For me, the most dangerous part about biking is the door prize: car doors opening while I'm riding by. After experiencing such an event while riding downtown one summer at about 35 km/h, I always assume that every single parked car is going to open its door, and give it due berth or slow down to a crawl. The commute to campus didn't involve cycling past parked cars, and for the most part, the other cars were respectful. One notable exception was on the way home one winter where a TTC bus (toronto transit) almost squeezed me off the road. I had about a three feet of room between the right side of the bus and the icy snowdrift to my right. My left handlebar was literally inches away from the side of the bus. Given the velocities involved, had my wheels made contact with the ice, the results would have been catastrophic, especially given the fact that this was on a bridge crossing a ravine 20 metres below. I chased down the bus and gently explained to the driver what he had done. He looked awkward and nervous and nodded in apology.

I make it a general rule in life to assume, by default, that other people are decent and rational creatures. This ensures a healthy attitude towards them that is often reciprocated as such, and this holds on the road just as much as it does in conversation. In my experience, the vast majority of drivers (at least in the areas of Toronto where I bike regularly) are overwhelmingly charitable. If I were to count the number of times I've screwed up vs. been screwed over, I'd have to say that I've been the careless idiot more often than the victim.
posted by spacediver at 4:12 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is it about cyclists that can turn sane, law-abiding drivers into shrieking maniacs?

The fact that every cyclist thinks that what they're doing is awesome enough to make traffic laws not apply to them.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:27 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is it about cyclists that can turn sane, law-abiding drivers into shrieking maniacs?

The fact that every cyclist thinks that what they're doing is awesome enough to make traffic laws not apply to them.


We haven't done this in six months or so. Well played, sir!
posted by fixedgear at 4:39 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fact that every cyclist thinks that what they're doing is awesome enough to make traffic laws not apply to them.

No, that's every driver.

EVERY SINGLE ONE.

NO HYPERBOLE WHATSOEVER.
posted by entropone at 6:07 PM on February 22, 2011


Westchester? Why didn't he just swim?
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2011


Yes it's hyperbole and it came off as harsher than I meant it to, but that's what's going through a driver's mind when a cyclist goes by. And I personally would like to see a LOT more bikes on he roads, it doesn't change the fact that cyclists (from a driver's point of view) are by far the most unpredictable thing on the road, and very very fragile as well, and we really don't want to hit them or cause them to do anything else which may cause injury, which leads to highly distracted driving because all we're focused on is "don't hit the cyclist don't hit the cyclist" because well, some not-insignificant fraction of cyclists have taught us that you might just run that red light or swerve right in front of us or something.

That's what I was trying to say. I apologize. I'm not very good with snark.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:44 PM on February 22, 2011


I ride 30 miles round trip to work, rain or shine (ok I'm in the bay area), every day I go to that location (not every day but almost). The people I work with think I'm totally insane, but it's really not a big deal at all. I enjoy the alone time and mental clarity, and I arrive at work in the morning calm, awake, and full of energy. On the way home it gives me time to decompress and I get home with work cleared out of my head. Half the ride is through an exurban hell hole full of SUVs and glass filled shoulders, but I find it impossible to be anything other than happy with the wind blowing in my face, no matter how many assholes cut me off. All problems seem to be put in perspective when the only thing you can do at that moment is push the pedals one more time, one more time, one more time.

I do kind of look like a rugby player + Iggy Pop, but on the plus side I can eat however many donuts I want.
posted by bradbane at 9:11 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who works in Pawtucket, RI and lives in Cambridge, MA. His commute is 47 miles long, and at first he would drive, but came to hate traffic and so sold his car and has been, for the last few years, doing a multi-modal commute of riding his bike to the commuter rail, then riding from the commuter rail station to his office. In bad weather he pussies out and carpools (I say this with affection, really).

Three years ago, I got him interested in long distance endurance cycling and he decided, in the summer, that he'd just ride home on Fridays, for training. While the old Rt. 1 highway might have been the straightest, fastest shot, he asked me to help him design an alternate route that would've actually been pleasant ride and we cobbled together a fairly nice 50-ish mile route. Knee issues surfaced later the next year that kept him from doing much with the long distance stuff, but he still likes doing that commute in the summer. He's 30-ish.

I know other guys who do similar things to the fellow in the article. They're mostly middle aged, pushing their 50s and 60s, and they'll drive to their exurban office on some days, and ride on others, doing some kind of half-and-half thing. Some of them do it year round. Others don't. They don't get magazine pieces written about them, but, like the rest of us, they all sort of get the 'crazy' tag from their coworkers. It is whatever it is. None of us do this purely for training or the environment or contempt for driving. We do love cycling and this is a way to incorporate something that we love into our everyday routine.

I agree with various posters who point out that this isn't for everyone, and as much I as love cycling, I'd ask everyone who wants to use this as "SEE! DRIVING IS SUPERFLUOUS AND UNNECESSARY!!!1" to just take a deep breath, step off the soapbox, get on your bike and find a better example or argument. Not everybody has the privilege of finding a job that they love within an hour's bike ride of the neighborhood that they prefer to live in. Life is about tradeoffs and balance. I think most of us can agree that any round trip commute that will occupy 7 hours of your life is way out of balance, regardless of transportation mode.
posted by bl1nk at 7:34 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a rugby player, I can tell you that we have no prohibition on eating donuts. It's practically mandatory if you play in the front row.
posted by electroboy at 7:39 AM on February 23, 2011


Also as an ex rugby player I can say that cycling on a hybrid or mountain bike will not bulk you up, though riding a road bike with drop bars will ... horizontal posture = more weight supported by arms and shoulders.

The donut consumption as a cyclist is relatively higher, but ruggers can still drink most cyclists under the table and still be relatively functional the next day.
posted by bl1nk at 8:42 AM on February 23, 2011


ruggers can still drink most cyclists under the table and still be relatively functional the next day.

You sir, have issued a challenge I look forward to winning.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:55 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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