I figured, hey Alabama's among the top-50 most bicycle-friendly U.S. states, so why not pedal my way to work every day?
Like the city in which I live and work, there are a number of peaks and valleys associated with being a bicycle commuter. Here are but a few:
- Exercise, yo - Since I work online, and work out about 1/10 as often as I post on Twitter, most of my time is spent hollowing out the perfect indention in my chair at the office or the recliner in my living room. Riding the bike at least gets some blood circulating before and after my work day.
- It's a great way to wake up - It's like coffee, but on a bike. We all know that it's possible to get in your car and drive to work in a virtual stupor every day and rely on caffeinated beverages to jolt your heart into actively pumping blood through all your veins and arteries. It turns out, there's a better way to wake up. On days when I bike to work, I feel significantly more alert and can usually hold out until 10:30 or so before my first infusion of caffeine. That's progress.
- Beating a Porsche - There's a stretch of road between my home and my office with red lights at every block. In other words, no matter what your mode of transportation, you're not going anywhere fast. It's a great feeling, pulling up beside a hot-shot in a Porsche at a red light and catching him again at each of the next four lights. He's driving a mid-life crisis, I'm pedaling something which will extend my life, and we're arriving at the exact same time. I win.
- Money (That's what I want) - Since my daily commute is so short (less than 2 miles each way), the money that I save on gas is limited. I still drive other places, and to work if it's raining or I'm expecting to need my car that day. However, since that two mile stretch is full of traffic lights and pot holes, by biking I get to save my car from some of the highest-impact driving where my gas mileage is the worst. Also, Birmingham is undergoing extensive roadwork all over Southside, which is apparently designed to remind any Serbian refugees living in the area what driving in a war zone was like. Avoiding that wear and tear on my car can only help its longevity.
- The peaks - Ha. Get it? OK, not that funny, but still, the biggest downside to biking to work has to be the hills between my condo in the Highland Avenue area and my office on 2nd Ave South. Most of these hills you wouldn't even notice in a car, and would be a mild annoyance on foot, but riding on a bike magnifies even the slightest rise in elevation. Yes, I have gears. Yes, I (kindof) know how to use them. Riding uphill still sucks.
- Going home - I love riding to work in the mornings. Love it. It wakes me up, the day hasn't turned beastly hot, and most of the ride is downhill or flat. After work, none of these things apply, except the flat portions of my ride are still flat. I sweat. A lot. There's more traffic on the roads. I absolutely need to take a shower before partaking in any post-work merriment that may be on my calendar (at least I did in August). I'd rather ride to work 10 times than ride home once. I'm looking into some kind of a zip-line structure to make that possible, but until then, I'm stuck getting sweaty every afternoon.
- That "I'm about to die" feeling - I know the rules of biking on city streets. I know I'm not supposed to ride on the sidewalk and I should stay to the left hand side of the lane to discourage cars from passing me while traffic is coming head-on. I just can't do it. Not all the time anyway. Drivers suck. Half of them are busy texting anyway, and if they ran me over, they'd just think it was another lovely pothole in the city streets. The constant fear of death has to be a negative on this list.
So, there you have it. Riding a bike to work saves me money, burns calories, acts as pseudo-caffiene and lets me laugh at people who drive Porsches. But it also makes me sweat like mad and causes legitimate fear for my personal safety and well-being. I'm calling it a net positive at the end of August, which is saying something. If I can stand it now, I might actually enjoy it in October. Now there's something to look forward to.