Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Myth Buster: It Takes too Long to Travel by Bicycle

Throughout the warmer months of summer and portions of spring and fall, I find myself, at times, struggling with transportation, errand-running type rides. I think I spend so much of the winter anticipating long, training rides that I can suddenly drop off the map when it comes to just enjoying being out on a bike or getting routine duties accomplished by bike. Sometimes I use the excuse that I am too tired from a long training ride, other times that it's too hot, and other excuses include a variety of cards I seem to randomly pull out of a hat, but the most common excuse I find myself using is lack of time. 
For some individuals, time may be a very valid reason not to ride. There are a plethora of articles and blog posts on the web that will contradict these beliefs, but I fall victim to the thought that riding a bike takes so much longer than a car ride just like anyone else can. When I'm in this state of mind, I build up a short trip to be something that will take an eternity to complete and then end up in the car, believing that I'm saving myself a lot of time. I tell myself that I don't live in a large city like a lot of transportation bicyclists, so therefore everything is too spread out, making it impossible for me to realistically make more trips by bike. However, this is completely invalid as I live pretty much at the center of nearly everything I would need to get to - this includes grocery stores, big box retailers, farmers market, the post office, banks, restaurants, friends' homes, the gym and other workout facilities, pet supply stores, and so on. While I won't claim that I can make every destination I need to get to by bike without some sacrifice of time, many of the trips I take regularly can easily be done on a bike without the loss of any significant amount of time.
How can I leave these faces behind, as they watch me go? Yet another excuse I can find myself using to not make a trip by bike.
After making a few errand rides recently, I decided to actually test it out to see if my excuse of time is valid or not. With the aid of Google Maps, I plotted out a destination. I needed to pick up a few supplies so I mapped out directions on Google, simply to see what would be my estimated time of arrival. Google informed me that this trip would take 7 minutes (one direction, in current traffic) via motorized vehicle. That seemed pretty quick to me, so I was off vroom-vrooming before anyone could convince me otherwise. Of course, first I had to find my purse which seemed to have vanished, and my keys were not where they were supposed to be, so I was delayed a few minutes for an unexpected hunt. From the moment I started the car until the moment I arrived and locked the vehicle, it took 10 minutes. Google wasn't too far off. The return trip was closer to Google's estimate and took just 8 minutes, for a round trip total of 18 minutes.

The following day, I needed to return a couple of the items I had purchased, so I decided to go via bike. Once again, I mapped out on Google to know how long the ride should take. Google estimated my one-way trip via bicycle to be 12 minutes. Just five minutes longer than the estimate for the same exact route via car. A recent news article has captured the eye of many cyclists in the area, and threats of ticketing those on a bike have become more real to many riders, so I found myself stopping even at spots that are so quiet that I would normally just slow down, look, and meander through. However, from my time of departure until the moment my bike was locked took almost 12 minutes exactly. The return trip was a bit shorter at just 10 minutes, which included unlocking the bike, arranging my purse and strapping it down, and actually traveling home again. In total, that was 22 minutes for the same trip via bicycle.
My actual travel time (round-trip) was 17 minutes, 20 seconds, which is faster than Google's estimate (based solely on travel time).
I wasn't killing myself on the ride. I just went a comfortable pace that would allow me to arrive without being drenched in sweat (because it was already hot, even in the morning hours). The ride was only a four minute difference for a round trip errand (and when based on actual travel time as Google estimates, it's easy to see that I went faster than anticipated). When I think about it, I can easily waste four minutes doing completely pointless activities throughout almost any day. I probably lose easily 10 times that amount on some days (perhaps more, given the right circumstances). It is both liberating and crushing to realize that my own sometimes readily available-to-use excuse is pretty well busted. How can I claim to not have the time to make a short-distance trip by bike when there is scarcely a difference in travel time? 

For me, sometimes I think the biggest benefit to making these kinds of trips by bicycle is that I plan my day better and instead of making multiple in and outs via car, I figure out what I need to accomplish and complete all of the errands at once while out on my bike. When I have the "benefit" of using the car, it's far too easy to get lazy with preparation and I can find myself making multiple trips throughout the day. In reality, I could do the same thing on a bike, but I think I am far less likely to forget things when I am making the trip by bicycle.

While I'm not claiming I will never travel via motorized transportation, because frankly for our family and situation it would be unrealistic (which doesn't mean I don't daydream about it at times), there are definitely many trips that could be taken by bicycle locally and I think I just needed a reminder and some actual facts to assure me of something I already knew:  Riding a bicycle is nearly always more pleasant, definitely allows me to appreciate the seasons, and really doesn't provide much time loss over motorized transportation on short-distance rides. Most of all, I want to remember that this is why I wanted to ride a bicycle. While training rides and athletic feats can be a great challenge, I enjoy riding at a slower pace and appreciating what is around me - taking in the sights and sounds, while also getting the day's goals completed.

What do you think? Are there excuses you use not to ride a bike? Do you believe them to be valid, or do you think sometimes there are other alternatives that seem to outweigh the benefits of traveling via bicycle? I would be curious to hear others' thoughts.


  1. Hey, it looks like your puppy and older dog are getting along just fine!

    My commute is about six miles, which takes me nearly 30 minutes by bike, including waiting at red lights and everything else. When I arrive on campus, I ride right into my building, park under the stairs, and walk up the four flights to my office. So, it's a true 30 minutes from the time I leave home until I head up the steps.

    Driving only takes about 12 minutes, depending on traffic. But that's just driving time. In winter I have to wait for the engine to warm up. I always have to hunt for a parking spot and then walk nearly a quarter mile to my building. When you add it all up, I only save about ten minutes each way when I drive. I'm happy to sacrifice those 20 minutes a day. I'm happier and healthier because of the ride. I arrive with a clear head and feeling energized. Besides, if I didn't ride, I'd have to make time for exercise, so I'm pretty sure I make back those 20 minutes any way.

    Last thing: Which Garmin do you have? I've been thinking about a GPS bike computer, but haven't been able to sort out which ones meet my needs and which would be total overkill.

    1. Kendra,

      It's nice to know that your commute via car or bike isn't much of a difference time-wise. I know that longer commutes can sometimes have time adding up quickly, but I do think that (especially with the points you mention), it's not necessarily so time-saving in the car though. I know safe bike parking can be another deterrent for people, so I'm glad you have a good place to keep your bicycle while working.

      The Garmin in the photo is an Edge 500. I also have an Edge 200. Honestly, there is very little noticeable difference between them (at least to me) and the only reason I wanted to try out the 500 was because it is supposed to have a more accurate elevation sensor. I know there is the spiffy new 1000 that people are trying out that has maps and direction capabilities, but because I know where I'm going most of the time (and I have my phone with me if I really needed directions), I didn't think anything quite so fancy was necessary for myself. There are so many options that it can be completely overwhelming. I just got tired of looking and went for the 200 initially because it was a less expensive version. I think I would've been fine with the 200, but I have some weird obsession lately with knowing how many feet I climb and wanted a more accurate way to know. I also wrote a brief post here about a few of the main differences between these two models, if that would be helpful. I wish you luck in finding the right one for you... there is certainly a ton of info out there to be found.

      As for the pups... yes, the girls are definitely getting along better now. In fact, the puppy has been playing pretty hard with the Lab (tearing at her skin, jumping on her when she's asleep, etc) and the Lab has played right along. Very glad to see them getting along and just playing together. I was very concerned about them for quite a bit.

  2. I don't know exactly what your local setup is like for work and doing errands, but where I live in D.C. it is easier to complete most errands by bike. Driving and parking are a huge pain, and also, I dislike driving so I look for pretty much any excuse not to do it. I basically only keep my driving skills up to get to remote bike ride starts and because I don't want to feel trapped or without the ability to drive if and when needed. I have done a workaround for some things not always accessible or convenient by bike. For example, I have a regular delivery of produce that is dropped off for me in my complex. Other items I will also have mailed to me... this is how I avoid most clothes shopping. I seldom go to regular stores now, although going by bike gives me a chance to find out how pannier-friendly my purchases are.

    1. I can see how living in DC, or any big metropolis would be easier on a bike. While there may be more traffic to contend with on the roads, I would think speed would actually be much faster for the very reasons you've mentioned.

      Because we don't deal with a ton of backups on roadways here, at least generally speaking, or excessive motorized traffic I think it can become easy to think that the bike will just be a slow option, but it really isn't.

  3. It's really amazing how little difference in time there is for short trips. Especially in (even small) urban areas.

  4. I've had a really busy schedule so far this month, a bit busier than usual. I'm also a slow rider, so I've been spending about 3.5 bike hours/day for the 30+ miles I do going from one pet-sitting/dog-walking job to another. It seems like a lot of time on the bike, but some day I'm going to do a time comparison of driving vs. biking on my regular routes. I'm sure driving will be faster, but I'm not convinced it's that MUCH faster on the kinds of streets I travel on. (I live in a suburban area a bit north of Atlanta, GA.)

    Of course, the heat and humidity are fairly high right now. They're starting to take a bit of a toll on me! :(

    1. I think that's awesome that you ride to your pet walking jobs, Janice. I know a couple of pet sitters/walkers who think they have to have a car to get where they're going, so it's nice to know someone who gets the job done on two wheels. I'm sure you're right that it's probably a bit faster in a motorized vehicle, but as you said, it may not be as much of a difference as one would think.

      I do not do well in humidity and heat, so I can understand how it would be taking a toll on you. Hang in there. Have you seen those bandannas you can freeze and wrap around your neck to keep you cool? Might be worth a look to help you out during the really hot days/weeks.

  5. Safety and weather play a role in whether I take a bike and where. I live in an area that is pretty hostile to cyclists. When I am on a bike, I enjoy a variety of ways to ride. Some days I want to go a bit faster but most days I like to enjoy the scenery and go just fast enough for me. Going by bike is much more pleasant than going by car.

    1. Safety is really important so I think it's great that you recognize where it is safe and places that it may not be quite as safe. Your well-being is, of course, of utmost importance.

      I don't think you're alone in regard to hostility toward cyclists. Even in supposed bike-friendly cities, there seems to be rampant outrage (often for no reason) directed at those on a bike. That's why I try to be extra friendly to motorized traffic so they don't continue the perception/belief that those on two wheels don't follow the rules or are discourteous.

      I will definitely agree with you... going by bike is definitely more pleasant though. :O)

  6. I'm working on getting myself to use my bike for more grocery-shopping sorts of errands. I have two panniers, so I can definitely do a smaller grocery shop. Pretty much I go once every two weeks, but I would say that the biggest reason why I haven't stopped using my car is that I need to get cat litter pretty regularly. That takes up one bag alone (mostly). I do my utmost best to use my car only once every two weeks and get everything out of the way and do not need to set food it in again until two weeks later.

    I'll admit, the grocery-getter bike is my first bike and I do not like how he's set up in terms of body position. That will be changed at some point, but not likely during the busy season at the bike shop.

    If I had myself set up to accomplish larger grocery shops (like a trailer+panniers) and I felt comfortable on my bike, you betcha I'd be using it more often. I can easily get on the bike trail to get to where I need to go. :)

    Any other time I use my bike for transportation, I just need to be properly set up for larger/heavier objects.

    1. Josie,

      Sounds like you could use this trailer. It was really easy to do and it was pretty cost effective. I completely understand needing to buy big-bag items (for me it's a large bag of dog food every two weeks), and that is definitely a tough load on a rack or in a pannier.

      Personally, I've started going to the grocery store more frequently and not buying quite as much. I've found we are far less wasteful when I go more often and only buy what we'll use over a period of a few days at most. It's been a little strange to get used to in some respects, but I definitely am happier not to be throwing out rotten veggies/fruits.

      Being comfortable on your bike is the most important aspect though, especially carrying more weight. It can create an unwieldy problem I've noticed, so if I'm not set up right or comfortable, then I'm really in trouble. I hope you are able to get yourself set up better (but I also understand having to wait when the mechanic is busy during the current season). :O)


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