Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: scoring it

OK, it's time to wrap up the Anything Goes Commute Challenge and analyze the results!

Solo ride
Group ride
Solo auto
Company bus/ride home
Solo ride variants
Pannier ride
Overall time (minutes)
50-58
50-58
25-35
42-50
75-90
50-58
Exercise time
50-58
50-58
0
15-18
75-90
50-58
Reading/relaxing
0
0
0
30
0
0
Cost ($)
-1.4
-5.4**
-1.4
-5.4
6.73
-2
)
-1
-5
-1.4
-5.4
Bliss factor
7
7
0
5
8
7
Positives
6
5
4
5
7
8
 Biggest downside*
Can’t carry heavy load
Early departure
Environmental impact
Dislike steep climb on ride home
Longer ride is impractical if I need to get to work early
Heavy bike harder to carry down stairs
*ie, the factor I find most significant
**our reimbursements changed- we now get a $6 payment for bike commuting, so I have updated the numbers accordingly

Take-aways from the table:
Most expensive: driving.
Fastest: driving
Most flexibility: driving
Least satisfying: driving (I didn't emphasize this in the posts, but it bugs me that I pollute and consume excessive resources by solo commute driving)
Most exercise: riding, especially the alternative routes which add on miles/challenge
Most fun: riding, plus social benefit when I commute with others
Least stressful: riding (except for the getting up early part), company bus/ride home option
Biggest challenge for riding: getting up early, carrying stuff (but, pannier system partly addresses the latter)

Things I didn't consider:
Taking public transit (cumbersome, requires multiple transfers)
Riding home from work (I always take the bus-ride home alternative)
Taking company bus to work (I should try this again)
Carpooling (I don't have obvious companions for this)

Overall:  I give the win to the bike commute.

Despite this, I bike commute 2-3 times a week at best. Definitely something to keep plugging away at, and this commute challenge has afforded me the opportunity to think about some other options for getting into work. The most obvious was getting my pannier-enabled commuter bike up and running so I can ride in when I have my work laptop at home (implimented! Yeah!). Another is to find an alternative route for post- 7am starts so I can ride in a little later if necessary, rather than driving because I dislike my normal cycling route at that time due to heavy truck and freeway traffic on a portion of the route.  I have an alternative route in mind that I'll try out soon. Update: I was pleasantly surprised to find alternative routes that I consider pleasant to ride in even with a departure as late as 7:30 am. It turns out that meandering out of the city a slightly longer way (taking me through four more neighborhoods) has fairly modest traffic. By comparison, my canonical direct route out of the city has heavy truck and bus traffic and chaos created by several freeway on and off ramps, and it is this aspect that makes the ride sort of harrowing after about 7am.


This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.


Anything Goes Commute Challenge: pannier commuting

Yesterday, I took my first trip in on my "new" commuting machine: my old road bike repurposed with a rack and single pannier.  My goal: ride into work with the clunker heavy laptop nestled in the pannier.  As noted, I won't ride into work with the laptop in my backpack as the weight bothers my back.

My pannier-equipped bike takes in the view on the Bay Trail.

My equipment: my first road bike, long neglected since I got my nicer road bike a few years back. To repurpose the bike as a commuter bike, we added a rear rack and a single pannier and I also upgraded the handle bars to a more comfortable set since the original bars never fit well.  The bike has been ready to go with rack and gear for a few months, but I'd been apprehensive about riding it in.  Mostly, I was worried that it would be less fun to ride in on the heavier rig: the old steel framed bike weighs in at about 25 pounds un-loaded, and the rack, pannier and leadbrick laptop add another 10 pounds (estimated). 

 View of San Bruno Mountain on my ride in - exceptionally clear this morning!
How did it go?

I had a surprisingly good time. It was pretty nice to ride in without a backpack!  The bike is indeed heavier, but it has lower gearing so I made it up my steep (18%) initial climb with no problems. The bike handles well in general and the addition of a single pannier didn't impact handling much except when I was out of the saddle when it felt a bit wobbly.  I felt sluggishly slow on the ride, but my ride in took 55 minutes which is within normal range albeit on the slow side of normal.  I did notice the weight while carrying the bike downstairs to exit my home in the morning and when lifting the bike to put it into the company bus on the way home from work.  But the weight was manageable.

My bike admires itself in the mirror in my work locker room. The pannier had plenty of room for my laptop, some work papers, and my clothes.

The lesson I learned: overcoming barriers to alternative commuting can be pretty easy. A corollary lesson: sometimes the biggest barrier is mental, in my case, my concern that it would suck to ride the clunkier bike loaded with a laptop, pannier and rack.  Thanks to Dan for helping to set up the bike and prodding me to do this ride (for months), and thanks also to LadyFleur and the Anything Goes Commute Challenge for the added motivation to actually ride the "new" bike in!

It was easier than I expected to put the heavier bike into the bus storage compartment for the ride home
 The Stats:
Route: surface streets, bike/pedestrian trail
Distance: 10.4 miles for basic route
Elapsed time: 50-58 minutes (depending on light cycles)
Exercise time: 50-58 minutes basic trip
Reading/relaxing time: 0
Bliss factor: 6
Cost per trip: -$1.40 ($0.60 basic bike cost estimate* -$2 company reimbursement for riding my bike to work**)
Enables: Can carry heavy laptop and work papers, panniers get all of the weight off of my fussy back (no backpack), exercise, 1.5 breakfasts, earlier start to my work day, fixed departure time from work on company bus (forces me to leave work rather than working into the night), lower environmental impact, stress prevention/relief
Disadvantages: bike is a bit heavier to carry down stairs and put into bus storage, probably would not want to ride bike when riding with a faster group, dislike commute in heavy morning traffic so must leave before 7:00 am for enjoyable commute, must leave by 6:30am to make 8am meeting once or twice a week, must pack clothing (I leave shoes and sweaters at work).

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: solo or group ride (alternative routes)

My primary commute route is pretty short at around 50 minutes of riding. It is also quite pretty flat for the SF Bay Area at just 350 vertical feet of climbing. I have several alternative routes that I take to increase the mileage and riding challenge (more exercise!) and for variety.  For the Anything Goes Commute Challenge, I'll describe the two alternative routes that I rode this past month.


Sunrise at the cemetary on Dawn of the Dead route
"Dawn of the Dead"
I take the SF2G classic route, which goes out of the city on Mission or Alameny, then circles around the backside of Mount San Bruno up on Hillview Avenue. It goes through Colma, the city of cemetaries, and if you time it right, you arrive at the cemetaries just at sunrise (hence the name). I also love the hilly ride up on Hillview near all of the plant nurseries. After a screaming descent, I continue across the freeway and head to work on the Bay Trail.

Distance: about 14 miles
Climbing: about 900 vertical feet
Time: ~75-80 minutes (depending on lights)
Advantages: adds some climbing and nice views once you hit Colma, 14 miles is a good ride distance (more miles but not insanely long commute time), cemetaries and nurseries are interesting
Disadvantages: long slog out Alameny or Mission is very slow if you leave after 6:15am due to lights and traffic, traffic on Hillview can be heavy, lots of glare from sunrise makes visibility poor

Riding above the fog on San Bruno Mountain commute ride
San Bruno Mountain
I love this little mountain that sits right in the middle of my commute. While my standard routes circumnavigate the base of the mountain, I sometimes go right over the mountain on the way to work. On my ride this month, I headed out of the city on Mission, then turned left on Crocker which climbs steeply up the backside of the mountain. A bike legal dirt path winds around the ridge line, affording wonderful views over the city, the bay and the summit.  A fun descent down Guadalupe Parkway drops you onto Bayshore, and a left on Tunnel Avenue connects you back onto the canonical route to work.

Distance: about 17 miles
Climbing: about 1300 vertical feet
Time: ~90 minutes (depending on lights)
Advantages: longer miles and more climbing = good exercise, great views up on the mountain, Guadalupe descent is a lot of fun
Disadvantages: 90 minutes is a little long for my commute if I have early meetingslong slog out Alameny or Mission is very slow if you leave after 6:15am due to lights and traffic, Crocker is steep!

The Stats:
Route: surface streets, bike/pedestrian trail, dirt trail on San Bruno Mountain
Distance: 14-17 miles (900 -1300 vertical feet of climbing)
Elapsed time: 75-90 minutes (depending on light cycles)
Exercise time: 75-90 minutes basic trip
Reading/relaxing time: 0
Bliss factor: 7-8
Cost per trip: -$1 ($1 basic bike cost estimate -$2 company reimbursement for riding my bike to work*)
Enables: Exercise, 1.5 breakfasts, earlier start to my work day, fixed departure time from work on company bus (forces me to leave work rather than working into the night), lower environmental impact, commute variety, stress relief

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: company bus

My employer provides company bus service to and from work, with routes that run all over the SF Bay Area. Two of the bus routes have stop that are ~2 miles from my house, so I use this bus ride-bike ride combination to get home on days when I ride my bike to work in the morning.  I put my bike in the luggage compartment below the bus, relax on the bus on the ride into the city, then ride home from the bus stop.


I've heard co-workers comment that they don't take the buses or public transit because of the inconvenience of having fixed departure times from work, as compared to the flexibility of a solo car commute when one can leave at any time. But, I haven't found this to be a big issue, since the buses leave about every 45 minutes starting at about 4pm  through 7:30pm. If I miss one, well, I work for another 45 minutes and get the next one. And for me, the fixed schedule had a surprising up-side: getting me out of the office and home a bit earlier. You see, I tend to get a burst of energy late in the day and just stay and stay and stay at work. So, having a fixed deadline to get up and out of the office counteracts these workaholic tendencies. I really enjoy getting home on the early side (for me).

I feel fortunate to work for an employer that supports alternative transportation: the buses are just one of a suite of benefits that include van pools and other group commuting incentives, reimbursement for not driving in (I get $2 $6 (update) each way), a corporate bike fleet for trips around campus, shuttles to/from BART and CalTrain, showers/towels/bath products on campus, and secure bike parking.  An employee survey at our company showed that alternative transportation support is one of the favorite benefits offered by our company and I understand why.

The Stats:
Route: bus ride into the city, city streets bike ride home from the bus
Distance: ~8-13 miles on the bus (depending on route), 1.8-2.2 mile bike ride home (depending on route)
Elapsed time: 30 minutes on bus (depending on traffic), 12-15 minute ride home (depending on route)
Exercise time: 12-15 minutes
Reading/relaxing time: 30 minutes
Bliss factor: 5
Cost per trip: -$2 (0 cost to me for the bus - $2 company reimbursement for taking the shuttle and riding home from the shuttle stop*)
Enables: Exercise, fixed departure time from work on company bus (forces me to leave work rather than working into the night), relax or chat with co-workers on the bus ride home, lower environmental impact, little evening ride home invigorates me after a day spent indoors at a desk

Disadvantages: fixed departure time (but see upside, above), 4-5 block steep climb up to my house sucks if I am tired.

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: solo drive

Not much to say here, except that I still do way too much of this.  My commute is on the short side for S.F. Bay Area commutes. I live in a neighborhood with good freeway access and I reverse commute, so traffic is typically on the light side and I rarely face jams. My employer offers copious free parking, further enabling my slothful car commuting.

The Stats:
Route: surface streets, freeway
Distance: ~12 miles
Elapsed time: 25-35 in the am, 30-35 in the pm
Exercise time: 0
Reading/relaxing time: 0
Bliss factor: 0
Cost per trip: $6.73 (ref: Fed. govt. mileage reimbursement)

Enables#:  faster trip into work, flexibility and fast trip into work if I oversleep (see solo ride post for my preference to leave early and my frequent early morning work meetings), can carry things e.g. heavy laptop, can run errands after work, can go to appointment (eg, dentist) before or after work

Disadvantages: need to exercise after work when I am tired (frequently, I fail at this), environmental impact, occasional heavy traffic/unpredictable commute time, enables my workaholic tendency to work very late since I can leave work at any time

#A note on the "enabling" aspect of my solo drive: . I don't really need to run errands on the car-trip home from work, since shopping, gym, etc. are all within 3 blocks to 1 mile of my place and it's just as convenient to ride home, then walk or drive to the store, gym etc.  So, I place very low value on the errand convenience factor noted above. (As an aside, I pass a bunch of shops on my bike ride home but rarely stop since I don't typically commute with a bike lock)

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: group ride

It's usually more fun to do something in a group, and bike commuting is no exception!  There is a surprisingly large community of San Francisco bike commuters going south in the morning, and I've been pleased to join various groups for the early morning ride in.

Waiting at a red light in the Mission district with the SF2G FFFF (first friday friendly frolic ride), a NRLB ride that attracts a large group
At the moment, I ride with SF2G about once every two weeks-- I'd like to increase that number to once a week or more over the summer. I join their FFFF "no rider left behind" ride and slower "style 3" rides. I'll also leave earlier than a faster ride and see how long it takes them to catch me, then attempt to hang with the faster group when it passes (kind of a group ride, right?).  I also commute with co-workers every now and then- either by plan or by just running into someone on the road.
 
Here's some of the grit in my canonical route-- waiting for a red light on Bayshore Avenue. Multiple lanes, highspeed traffic, freeway entrances and exits and lots of trucks and busses.
The group rides are fun for a lot of reasons, including the company, the challenge (I always ride faster up the little hills when with a group!), and for the draft in the headwind-y bits. I also really like the reinforcement of commiting to a group ride in advance-- this helps get me up and out in the morning and keeps me out of the car. Riding with a group also breaks up the tedium of doing the same route again and again.

A prettier bit of the commute.
 The Stats:
Route*: surface streets, bike/pedestrian trail (primary route)
Distance: 10.4-12 miles for basic routes
Elapsed time: 50-58 minutes (depending on light cycles)
Exercise time: 50-58 minutes basic trip
Reading/relaxing time: 0
Bliss factor: 6
Cost per trip: -$1.40 ($0.60 basic bike cost estimate -$2 company reimbursement for riding my bike to work)
Enables: exercise, social interaction, fitness challenge, positive reinforcement of likeminded bike commuters, helps me get up and out of the house early!

Disadvantages: SF2G tends to leave very early, tied to a schedule in the morning, must pack clothing, fixed departure (but this also has an upside).

*I hop off early on this route, since I only go to South San Francisco

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.

Anything Goes Commute Challenge: solo bike trip (primary route)

Well, I just noticed that LadyFleur's Anything Goes Commute Challenge has a deadline of April 30, so I am going to hammer out a few entries.

Sunrise moonset view as I start my urban commute. I leave early--between 6am and 7am-- to minimize the traffic encountered on my route.
 I started riding to work last year after ten years of car commuting. I'm not a newbie to bike commuting- riding was my primary mode of transport for about 13 years, most recently when I was in law school riding up and down the east bay hills with my casebooks in my panniers. I returned to cycle commuting last year as a way to integrate exercise and commuting and to get some JOY in my morning commute.

The "suburban" part of the route features view of Mount San Bruno and the lagoon in Brisbane.
 My canonical route is the most direct route between my home in San Francisco and my work in South San Francisco. The ride is 1/3 city riding, 1/3 semi-suburban and 1/3 blissful Bay Trail.

On the Bay Trail approaching work. I LOVE this part of the ride, where I take in the views and enjoy the many twists and turns of the Bay Trail.
It's not all pretty on this route, which features some fairly gritty urban riding, and my next post "group rides" will have some photos from the gritty bits of the ride. To minimize some of the traffic congestion on the gritty part of the route, I leave early- between 6am and 7am. It turns out that I really like getting to work on the early side and I really, really like leaving work by the fixed company-bus schedules. I tend to stay late to finish up work otherwise. More on this in my "company bus commute" post.

The biggest benefits to bike commuting for me? The exercise and stress relief. My best days at work start with a bike ride. I have noticeably lower levels of stress throughout the day. Endorphins in action? I don't know but whatever the mechanism, I'll take it!

 
The Stats:
Route: surface streets, bike/pedestrian trail
Distance: 10.4 miles for basic route
Elapsed time: 50-58 minutes (depending on light cycles)
Exercise time: 50-58 minutes basic trip
Reading/relaxing time: 0
Bliss factor: 7
Cost per trip: -$1.40 ($0.60 basic bike cost estimate* -$2 company reimbursement for riding my bike to work**)
Enables: Exercise, 1.5 breakfasts, earlier start to my work day, fixed departure time from work on company bus (forces me to leave work rather than working into the night), lower environmental impact, stress prevention/relief
Disadvantages: can't carry heavy laptop for longer morning commute (hurts back), dislike commute in heavy morning traffic so must leave before 7:00 am for enjoyable commute, must leave by 6:30am to make 8am meeting once or twice a week, must pack clothing (I leave shoes and sweaters at work).

*I am using LadyFleur's $0.05/mile bike cost estimate, which I don't remember how she calculated.

 **my benevolent employer pays me to use alternative transportation to work, e.g., bike, company bus, public transit, vanpool, etc. I get $2 to bike commute (each way).  I'll elaborate in my "company bus" post.

This post is part of my Anything Goes Commute Challenge series. Click here to read more posts in the series.