For two days last month, the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday after it, I tested the idea of commuting to work on my bicycle. Prompted by national Bike to Work Day,
which attracted more than 10,000 riders in the D.C. region May 18, I decided to get off my butt and on my bike to see if this could work for me.
It’s impossible to miss the increasing number of people cycling to and from work these days, doing their bit for the planet, saving money and, of course, getting some exercise. The number of bikes on the road in the District has increased about eightfold in less than 10 years. I think we can agree this is a good thing.
But here’s what the bike-to-work advocates never seem to emphasize: This works well only if you live fairly close to your job. It’s another matter entirely if you live in the suburbs and work downtown, as I do. According to the Household Travel Survey conducted in 2007 and 2008 by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, the average bike commute is just 3.9 miles, and bicycles account for only 1.1 percent of commutes that cross the District line.
It is precisely 17 miles from my front door to The Washington Post, according to the Cateye Velo 5 cycle computer strapped to the handlebar of my Scott hybrid. I bought the bike a year ago, an impulse purchase if ever there was one, at a time when I was sure I soon would be riding to work. I’ve ridden it exactly three times since.
Nevertheless, I’m not too worried about the physical exertion necessary to get to my desk. My recent weekend runs have been in the 12- to 15-mile range, so I’m sure I can bike a few miles farther.
I do have other concerns. I have no idea how long the ride will take. (It turns out to be about 90 minutes door to door, plus a quick shower. I was late to work both days.) Eleven miles are on the rocky, sandy, bumpy canal trail; it would be easy to fall. A flat tire seems a very real possibility. I haven’t changed a bike tire in perhaps 20 years. I don’t even have a hand pump, just some pressurized carbon dioxide capsules and an adapter that the kid at the bike shop told me would be easy to use.
But it is easy to push these worries to the back of my mind as I settle into the joyous rhythm of riding. The route to work is almost completely flat or downhill. The backpack containing my work clothes is not heavy, and after a couple of miles on paved road, I soon have the canal trail almost to myself, especially on the Friday before the holiday weekend, when Washingtonians have deserted their city.