“The commute home is what I really enjoy,” says Al Knopik of Buckley. His ride takes him by wetlands. “Right now you see the ducks out, but when it got darker, you’d see the owls.”
His 20-mile commute south along the Green River and Interurban trails happens mid-evening, because he works until 8 p.m. Knopik is a driver for the U.S. Postal Service, picking up mail from the Seattle branches and taking it to the distribution center near Tukwila.
He commutes from Tukwila to the Auburn Park & Ride, where he drives home after storing his bike in a locking, weatherproof “bike box” provided by the transit folks.
Doug Canfield of Edmonds ties in a different mode of transportation with his bike commute.
“I moved near the Sounder station in Edmonds, and realized I could get to work on the train if I could solve the last three miles of my commute from King Street Station downtown to my office on Harbor Island,” he recalls. Canfield works for Mountaineers Books in an office park nearly below the West Seattle Bridge, an area that is not well-served by Metro buses.
“I wasn’t sure if it was reasonable to think I could do even that small ride through the winter,” he recalls, but he bought a used bike, tried the ride, and biking to work became a new habit. “I was saving money over driving, I was free from the stress of bumper-to-bumper car traffic, and riding was really, really fun,” he says.
Knopik has a relaxing commute now, too, but it wasn’t always that way; he used to work in SoDo and commuted in a lot more traffic, especially on Airport Way South.
“You’re always looking in the mirror” in traffic, he says. “You know that people on the road are in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s in the evening. Are they going to see you? Have they had a drink or two?” He relied on flashing bike lights and extra alertness.
It’s a different type of anxiety on the early commute, Knopik says. “I’m always hoping I don’t have a flat tire, hope I don’t get held up by a train. I’m more concerned about getting to work on time.” He gives himself an extra 45 minutes.
These are the typical discoveries of bike commuters:
- Finding a good, safe route
- Facing winter weather
- Figuring out how to get to work on time, and where to store your bike
- Tackling the cost issues
During Bike to Work Month in May, many people will address these problems, and there are good resources to help.
Tapping into Resources
To help you devise a route, try the destination finder in Google Maps, and click on the bike icon for Google’s best route advice. It’s not always perfect, but it’s a start. Then, get a city of Seattle or county bike map (available for King, Pierce, Snohomish and other counties). The maps show bike trails and major biking streets, and they even have little hash marks on the routes to indicate the steeper hills.
Routes, transportation alerts, tips and links to maps can be found on the Bicycle Alliance of Washington’s commuting web page.
The state of Washington has put out a great bike-commuting pamphlet, available as a PDF.
Cascade Bicycle Club has a commuting team that can steer you toward many resources, including a list of the “10 essentials” every bike commuter needs.
If you’re just starting to commute by bike, it might be good to find a bike buddy or mentor like Knopik, who has a lot of experience.
Healthy Side Effects
“I used to commute back in the early ’70s, with a JCPenney 10-speed,” he recalls. That ended when he wrecked the bike, but he took it up again five years ago as a way to get exercise and fresh air to conquer a nagging sinus infection. “I found that when I biked, I worked my lungs a lot more than anything else I do,” he says. The infection disappeared.
Canfield, who less than two years ago started commuting on a $100 mountain bike bought off Craigslist, also found a welcome change to his health. “I had been a runner for 35 years and accumulated a raft of aches that come from pounding the pavement that long,” he says. “Those pains disappeared once I switched to riding, and I lost 12 pounds without even trying!”
Getting a Gear Upgrade
Canfield also realized that his gear needed an upgrade. “I had no bicycle supplies at all,” he says. “For the first few months I stuffed my jeans leg into my socks and used a snowboard helmet to protect my head. I looked like a dork.” But he found riding so much fun that he invested in a better bike and “collected all the winter clothing, fenders, lights and other gear that make the ride enjoyable in almost any conditions.”
How you dress while riding can change the ride’s comfort considerably. Knopik says he often sees people dressed too heavily, or in the wrong kind of clothes.
“Wear the bicycle clothes,” he advises. “There’s a reason for the Spandex. It has a chamois in it, so it’s more comfortable. The jersey dissipates your moisture so you’ll be cooler.” He keeps a dry shirt and jacket in his car so he can at least change into those before he drives home.
The right type of bike, properly sized for you, also is essential. “People will be out there on a Kmart bicycle, a mountain bike set up with big, knobby tires,” Knopik says. That would be slow going, and the bike wouldn’t be customized to fit. At the very least, he says, get smooth tires that roll faster.
Although a new bike may be expensive, he advises buying it at a local bike shop, even if it costs more. At a good bike shop, you’ll get ongoing advice and service to help you succeed. For instance, his local shop, Bonney Lake Bicycle Shop in Sumner, holds a free basic maintenance class on the first Sunday of every month, which is great for new riders. “It teaches you how to properly clean the bike, lube the cables, clean and lube the chain, how to change a flat tire—the basic things you’re going to need.”
Canfield upped his commute length, now riding the entire 20 miles home two days a week on the Interurban Trail north, and sometimes taking the train all the way to Everett and riding south to get home. He took to the sport of riding so fast that he joined Cascade’s spring training series, and soon was riding with the very fast groups.
But wait, it gets better: “Last August, just 11 months after I bought my first bike in 20 years,” Canfield says, “I rode 390 miles from my house in Edmonds over the North Cascades to Spokane and loved every minute of it.”
Bill Thorness is the author of Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Classes: Get the Kids Mountain Biking
Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Cascade Bicycle Club are offering a number of bicycling programs this spring for youth ages 8 to 14. The Dirt Rider Club is a weekly after school program starting at Duthie Hill Bike Park in Issaquah on May 5 and at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore on May 12. The series of five two-hour classes, 4-6 p.m., costs $95. This summer, Evergreen will hold basic skills classes and Cascade has weeklong bicycle camps.