By Walter Mugdan
For nine years I’ve been using a folding bicycle for part of my daily commute. I live in northeast Queens, five blocks from the Long Island Railroad. I ride from home to the LIRR, fold up the bike, put it in a carrying bag and board the train. At Penn Station I carry it backpack-style up to street level. I unfold it, hop on and ride about four blocks to the Hudson River Park bike path, where I can cruise downtown away from car traffic. At the other end I have a few more blocks on the city streets to get to my office.
The bike commute has been a wonderful change after 27 years of riding the subway. I didn’t have the discipline to go to the gym regularly, but the 20 minutes I ride most mornings and evenings are enough to keep me in good shape. I’m not tempted to skip a day; the bike commute is so much prettier and more relaxing than the subway that I feel disappointed when weather prevents me from riding.
I don’t ride when it’s raining or snowing, but I don’t mind the cold. My goal is to stay on the chilly side of comfortable, which cuts down on sweating. I wear a polo shirt for riding, and keep clean dress shirts in the office. Mornings are usually cool enough so I don’t sweat much. A quick pass with a wash cloth generally suffices … in any case, my colleagues haven’t complained as yet.
Commuting by bike is healthy in another, less obvious way. I’m pretty sure I’ve had fewer colds since exchanging my regular subway trip for the bike ride. The subway system is great, but during rush hour you’re usually crammed in with lots of other folks, some of whom are inevitably sharing their germs.
I’m also saving a subway fare with each bike ride. I get in about 250 one-way bike trips per year, saving me over $600. Of course, I had to buy the bike in the first place, and there are maintenance expenses (adjusting the gears, new brake pads, fixing the occasional flat). Still, there’s no question I’ve saved a lot of money since 2002.
Admittedly, it’s not a completely hassle-free way to commute. My bike weighs about 23 pounds, so carrying it up and down stairs at Penn Station requires some extra effort; I could use the elevator, but getting exercise is kind of the point. The trip takes about 5-8 minutes longer than the subway when the subway runs well; but often it doesn’t. I’ve had one accident; it was my fault, but I always wear a helmet so I was alright. And once every few years I get caught in a rainstorm. But these are small inconveniences compared to the fun I have on the bike.
Have you tried commuting by bike? If so, please share your experiences below.