The First Step: Commute by Bicycle

So you want to ride your bicycle to work. Cool. Believe it or not, you’ve already taken the hardest step. The only other difficult part is actually doing it. Fear not, I’ve been through this and it’s easier than you might think.

Rewind to the year 2005. I was living in the third-ring Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids and working for a large company just seven miles away by car. Although it initially seemed like a great distance, I’d been riding in the park after work and had gotten to the point where I didn’t feel totally dead after seven miles. And the efficiency of actually getting exercise WHILE getting to work instead of using up precious time at home was too elegant to pass up. I had a bicycle. I had a backpack. The company had bicycle racks out front, and even had a locker room with a shower. How hard could it be? Very: I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I could safely ride a bicycle from here to there because the roads I drove day in and day out were highways, some clearly marked “non-motorized traffic prohibited.”

Nowadays it’s pretty easy to set google maps to “bicycle” mode and expect something that might get you where you want to go. I don’t recall this being an option in 2005, and even today it’s occasionally “sub-optimal.”

So let’s pretend it’s 2005 again, or pretend it’s today and google’s bicycle routing just let us down. The old way of thinking is to say “I can’t ride a bicycle on the highway, so I can’t ride a bicycle to work.” And you’d be right. Go back to driving your oil-burner and revel in your self-pity. Or… ask what you CAN do. Hmm. Plan B: put google maps in “walking” mode, and see what still looks bad. Better; driving this way I see a signed bicycle route out the car window, except for that stretch where Coon Rapids Blvd splits from East River Rd. Bummer. But wait: zoom in on the map, and there’s a paved trail through the Coon Rapids Dam Park. Take a pleasant ride through the park and voila! We found a way to get there without risk of getting killed riding on the highway!

So, you ask, how was actually commuting to this job by bicycle? I never actually found out, because I changed jobs and the new one was three times farther away. Just two weeks after I started working the new job, however, I made my first bicycle commute, an unbelievable 50 miles round trip, and lived to tell about it.

Lesson learned: if you want to commute by bicycle, and you try hard enough to find a safe route, you might be surprised.

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