Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:55 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2011 bike-to-work goal reached

Bicycle commute turns out to be far easier than most people think


There's a good chance you've seen me riding around town on my bike, even more so during the past year. The first week of 2011 was relatively snow free and mild. On Jan. 7 of last year, I realized I had ridden my bike three out of the first five work days of the year. My Facebook status from that day reads, "Here's my bike-to-work-year goal: to average 3 out of 5 days. 60% of my commutes."

I thought that goal would be a tough challenge, but reachable if I persevered. I imagined days when it would be hard to motivate, days when it would be too wet, days when I had too many parental taxi obligations and days when starting the car would just be more appealing.

Yet, I am happy to report that I had a remarkably easy time getting motivated for my daily commute and achieved a final score of 78.4 percent. Meanwhile, though this benefit was anticipated, I enjoyed the satisfying side effect that I have driven my car a total of 3,800 miles in 12 months: 315 miles a month in my rather inefficient Isuzu Rodeo equates to about one tank of gas per month.

Many people have commented on noticing me biking, and invariably they mention how "hard core" or "dedicated" I am. I thought I'd try to dispel those myths because it's really pretty easy and comfortable. Also, I'd like to see more people joining me in experiencing one of the consistently enjoyable parts of my day.

I only live about one and a half miles from work, which makes a daily commute much more achievable. Studies show that up to a four-mile ride is realistic for frequent commuting. Of course, when I get to work there's still the town errands which need to happen, so I often get the treat of a mid-day ride to do a post office run or a bank deposit. Then there are the days when we need more milk or other staples at home, so 1.5 becomes 3.5 when I swing by Safeway to stock up. Other mornings I start the day volunteering at West Homer Elementary, so I begin with a four-mile ride.

Usually biking to work takes about the same amount of time as driving, and on really cold days it's actually quicker because I don't have to wait while the car warms up and the windshield defrosts. Granted, I have invested in winter gear that staves off the cold and I would not enjoy the winter months anywhere near as much without studded tires, pogies, clear sunglasses (to keep the wind from my eyes in low light) and bright, rechargeable lights. I have capacious waterproof panniers, too, but those are the only extra purchases I've had to make outside my basic Alaska winter outdoor gear. I just wear my regular work clothes under snow pants, jacket and winter boots, not all that much different than if I were driving.

My biking project has resulted in even better teamwork within our family. My sons, Ian, age 14, and Dexter, age 11, have been involuntary, yet uncomplaining (mostly), participants along with me. In order for me to be able to leave the car at home, they also have had to get around town by bike. On days Dexter had baseball after school he stuffed his gear in with his school books and biked to school, biking home after practice. He soon figured out that if he biked to school he left the house at the same time as when he went by bus, but covered the four miles more quickly, earning him an extra 20 minutes of outside playtime before school started. He then started coordinating with friends along the way, so that they could meet up and bike to school together.

Better planning to achieve maximum efficiency of trips has crossed over to when I drive, too. I think this is another reason why my driving mileage decreased.

Another benefit of spending so much time out in the elements has been that I've had the opportunity to notice how friendly Homer's weather is most of the time. It's rare that I had to set off in rain, and many days were pretty comfortable T-shirt weather. This definitely was a windy year though and I'm still trying to figure out how it's possible to have to battle a head wind in both directions.

On the whole, other road users have been courteous, considerate and friendly. On the occasions I encounter road rage and other unpleasantness I try to keep in mind the majority of drivers who treat cyclists as legitimate traffic. I thank you for all the times you have passed carefully and given me a little extra space.

Meanwhile, I continue to be perplexed by the ire cycling provokes for some people. I've been told that I don't have a right to use the road because I don't pay taxes to do so. That's silly reasoning on two counts: First, bicycles are defined as traffic in the Alaska driver's manual, giving cyclists the same legal "right" to be there as any other vehicle. Second, I, along with most adult cyclists, also own a motorized vehicle, which means I pay the same taxes for roads while causing much less wear and tear to the pavement.

Of course, riding on the road comes with the same responsibilities for all road users. I do my best to follow the rules of the road and to create as little delay as possible for faster vehicles. If ever I seem to be getting in your way or slowing you down, I apologize. Please know I am attempting to be as out of harm's way as possible.

Rather than being a chore in any way, my bike to work year was a real treat. I became reluctant to drive at all and enjoyed figuring out ways to maximize bike time. I imagine I'm going to bike a similar amount in 2012, I just won't be as pedantic about tracking my stats.

Catriona Lowe has lived in Homer since 1995. She works at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, is a member of Homer Cycling Club and Alice's Scoundrels broomball team, and an enthusiastic fan of all things outdoors and non-motorized. She says with each year she is amazed by how many new experiences the area still has to offer.

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